Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘WPBL’ tag

December 5, 1980 – Dallas Diamonds vs. New Jersey Gems

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Dallas Diamonds vs. New Jersey Gems
December 5, 1980
Moody Coliseum
Attendance: 2,217

 

This is a really awesome find that comes to FWIL courtesy of Tom Davis, a former assistant coach from the Houston Angels and Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981).  Tom has shared his files for the Diamonds 1980-81 season home opener against the New Jersey Gems.  Scroll to the bottom for the some fascinating downloads.

What’s special about this game is that it was the pro debut for two future members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame – Nancy Lieberman of the Diamonds and Carol Blazejowski of the Gems.  The struggling league was counting on the duo to breathe renewed life into the organization (after the similarly hyped Ann Meyers failed to do so the previous season).  Although they were both just rookies, Lieberman and Blazejowski were far and away the two highest paid players in the WPBL.

Only 2,217 fans showed up at Moody Coliseum on the campus of Southern Methodist University to see the pro debut of the Diamonds’ new superstar.  Perhaps they were justifiably skeptical.  Dallas finished in dead last place  at 7-28 the previous season without Lieberman.  As the season went on, Diamonds’ crowds grew and occasionally topped 6,000.

Carol Blazejowski was the game’s high scorer, netting 24 points on 8-22 shooting from the floor, plus a perfect 8-for-8 from the stripe.  Nancy Lieberman was nearly identical, pacing the Diamonds with 21 points.  She was 8-20 shooting and hit 5 out of 6 from the line.  Dallas took the night though, winning 102-87 thanks largely to a 34-16 run in the 2nd quarter.

The two teams would meet again in the WPBL playoff semi-finals the following spring, with Dallas coming out on top in the Best-of-3 series.  The Diamonds later lost to the Nebraska Wranglers in the league championship series in April 1981.  Those were the final games in the league’s short history.  It folded later in 1981.

The death of the WPBL ended Carol Blazejowski’s pro career after just one season.   She entered the Hall of Fame in 1994 on the strength of her legendary amateur career.  Nancy Lieberman continued to find places to play sporadically through the 1980’s and 1990’s, including a brief and ill-fated revival of the Dallas Diamonds in 1984, a stint in the men’s United States Basketball League in the mid-1980’s and finally a valedictory appearance in the first year of the WNBA in 1997 as the league’s oldest player at age 39.  By that time, “Lady Magic” was already a Hall-of-Famer, having joined Blazejowski there in the 1996 induction class.

Diamonds coach Tom Davis squirreled away the official scorer’s reports, line-up cards and press releases from this game some 30+ years ago.  You can view and download them all here…

 

==Downloads==

December 5, 1980 Dallas Diamonds Game Notes

December 5, 1980 Dallas Diamonds vs. New Jersey Gems Lineup Card

December 5, 1980 Dallas Diamonds vs. New Jersey Gems Official Scorer’s Report

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Written by AC

August 9th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

1978-1980 New York Stars

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New York Stars ProgramWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1980)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise.
Died: Summer 1980 – The Stars cease operations.

Arenas:

Team Colors: Royal Blue & Silver

Owner: Ed Reisdorf & Terry Reisdorf

 

The New York Stars were one of the earliest women’s professional basketball teams in the United States, formed in 1978 with the inception of the Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981).  Although the Stars would exist for just two years, the team enjoyed a number of highlights, including a league championship, doubleheaders with the New York Knicks in the Madison Square Garden, and a pair of striking twins who were cast in national advertising campaigns.

The Stars played their first season in the winter of 1978-79 on the campus of Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.  Iona’s Mulcahy Center (known today as the Hynes Athletic Center) was tiny, holding less than 3,000 fans.  But this was sufficient for the first year of the WPBL, where most clubs struggled to draw more than 1,500 fans per game.

The Stars were a strong club during their first year, finishing 19-15 before losing to the eventual champion Houston Angels in the 1979 playoff semi-finals.  Local product Althea Gwynn, a 6′ 2″ center out of Queens College, was New York’s best player, leading the circuit in rebounding and finishing third in scoring with 23.2 points per game.

To the extent that the media took an interest in the Stars and the WPBL, they largely ignored the league’s emerging black stars like Gwynn, in favor of a handful of telegenic blonde players, including Iowa’s Molly Bolin, Chicago’s Janie Fincher and, especially, Kaye and Faye Young, identical 5′ 11″ twins out of North Carolina State who played for the Stars from 1978 to 1980.  The Young sisters were even cast in a nationwide Dannon Yogurt ad campaign – one of the earliest first endorsement deals in women’s pro basketball.

The Stars lost $350,000 playing in the obscurity of New Rochelle in 1978-79.  For the club’s second season, the Stars upped their profile by moving to Manhattan and signing former New York Knicks star Dean Meminger as Head Coach.

“With rental costs of $300,000, we don’t expect to make money,” Stars President Ed Reisdorf told Sports Illustrated in 1979.  “but the Garden is the sports Mecca of New York and the world.  We are no longer a secret.”

The Stars played all of their 1979-80 games in the Garden, splitting time between the Main Arena (typically as the matinee half of doubleheaders with the Knicks) and the more appropriately sized Felt Forum for most stand along matches.

The Stars were even strong under Meminger, posting a league-best record of 28-7 in 1979-80.  The Stars defeated the Iowa Cornets in the WPBL championship series in April 1980, but these would prove to be the final games the Stars franchise ever played.  The club went shut down during the 1980 off-season and did not defend their title in the WPBL’s third and final season in the winter of 1980-81.

The WPBL itself folded in late 1981, unable to launch a fourth season.

##

Kaye Young married her college sweetheart from North Carolina State University, NFL linebacker Bill Cowher, in 1981.  She was better known as Kaye Cowher to Pittsburgh Steelers fans during her husband’s Super Bowl-winning tenure as Head Coach of the Black & Gold.  Sadly, Kaye Cowher passed away from skin cancer in 2010 at the age of 54.

Seventeen years after the demise of the New York Stars, women’s professional basketball returned to Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1997 with the formation of the NBA-backed Women’s National Basketball Association and the arrival of the New York Liberty franchise.

 

==New York Stars Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1978-79

1978-79 12/14/1978 @ Chicago Hustle L 137-107 Program
1978-79 12/17/1978 @ Iowa Cornets L 99-87 Program
1978-79 1/12/1979  @ Minnesota Fillies L 96-90 Program

 

==Downloads==

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

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December 4, 1979 – Dallas Diamonds vs. Minnesota Fillies

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Dallas Diamonds vs. Minnesota Fillies
December 4, 1979
Dallas Convention Center Arena
Attendance:

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs
8 pages

 

This rare program – actually an eight-page fold-out pamphlet – is from the early pioneering days of women’s professional basketball in the late 1970’s.   The Dallas Diamonds were a 1979 expansion franchise during the sophomore season of the Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981).  This program comes from the team’s third home game at the dimly-lit Dallas Convention Center, played on December 4th, 1979 against the Minnesota Fillies.

A slim historical record of this game exists in the Diamonds 1980-81 media guide, noting that the Diamonds lost this game 102-91, despite a 29-point effort from 6′ 3″ Dallas center Alfredda Abernathy, the team’s #1 draft pick out of Alabama State University.

The team’s former PR Director, Nancy Nichols, wrote a wonderful retrospective on the Diamonds for Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas in 2005.  You can read it here.  Nichols notes that attendance was poor that first season, averaging somewhere around 1,500 per night according the Nichols.   Team owner Judson Phillips, a 28-year old Dallas-area McDonald’s franchisee, expected to lose $100,000 on the team over its first three seasons.  He lost it in the first two months instead.

On January 18, 1980, less than halfway through the Diamond’s 36-game schedule, Phillips called a press conference and announced he was folding the team in mid-season.  (The WPBL already lost expansion franchises in Philadelphia and Washington to financial collapse the previous month).  The league managed to keep the team going for a few more days until an angel investor stepped in.

A 33-year old local real estate executive named Michael Staver saw the press coverage and came forward to save the Diamonds.  Staver kept the Diamonds going through 1981 and forged them into a model franchise by WBL standards, but the Diamonds vanished along with the rest of the league in the summer of 1981.

A revived version of the Diamonds came back in 1984 as part of the new Women’s American Basketball Association.

 

==Downloads==

December 4, 1979 Dallas Diamonds vs. Minnesota Fillies game program

December 4, 1979 Diamonds vs. Fillies article sources

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Written by AC

October 12th, 2012 at 6:51 pm

1979-1984 Dallas Diamonds

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Women’s Professional Basketball League (1979-1981)
Women’s American Basketball Association (1984)

Born: 1979 – WPBL expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1981 – The WPBL ceases operations.

Revived: 1984 – WABA founding franchise.
Dead Again: December 1984 – The WABA ceases operations.

Arenas:

Team Colors: Blue & Silver

Owners:

 

 

This is really a  page for two separate but closely linked teams called the Dallas Diamonds.  The original Diamonds were an expansion franchise during the second season of the pioneering Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981).  Owner Judson Phillips, a Dallas-area McDonald’s franchisee, expected to lose $100,000 over three years of operations.  Instead he lost it in the first two months.  In January 1980, Phillips called a press conference to fold the team, but a local real estate executive named Michael Staver stepped in to save the franchise.

The Diamonds experienced their greatest success under Staver, moving from the obscure Dallas Convention Center to SMU’s Moody Coliseum and signing the biggest star of the women’s game in that era, Nancy Lieberman, as a rookie for the 1980-81 season.  With Lieberman on board, the Diamonds advanced to the 1981 WPBL Championship Series, where they lost to the Nebraska Wranglers.  However, the original WPBL never played another game.  The league shut down after Lieberman’s rookie season.

WPBL founder Bill Byrne came back with a new women’s league in 1984, hoping to get a boost from the anticipated strong performance of the U.S. women in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  The U.S. would compete against weak competition thanks to the Soviet bloc boycott.  The American women held up their end of the bargain winning Olympic gold.  But the Byrne’s Women’s American Basketball Association was badly under-capitalized and most of the Olympians chose to return to their far more stable overseas clubs rather than try their luck in a shaky looking domestic league.

The Diamonds were the only WPBL team to be revived three seasons later for the WABA.  Lieberman returned, as did Head Coach Greg Williams.  Moody Coliseum was the home arena again.  However, Staver was gone.  The new owner was Ed Dubaj, a Memphis-based NFL agent who managed the business affairs for a half dozen Dallas Cowboys players, including starting quarterback Danny White.  Unlike his rivals, Dubaj managed to sign the best players in the women’s game to join his team.  He started by re-signing Lieberman and then coaxed twin sisters Pam and Paula McGee from the University of Southern California to sign with the club.  Pam won Olympic gold with the U.S. women that summer and was one of the few Olympic team stars to actually join the WABA.

It’s strange to say that a league that lasted about eight weeks had a “best team”, but the Dallas Diamonds were clearly the class of the WABA, finishing the league’s abbreviated season with a 19-2 mark.

WABA cities began dropping out of the league even before the season began in October 1984.  By late November, it was all but over.  Bill Byrne was forced out by the disgruntled owners (as he had been in the WPBL) and Dubaj assumed leadership of the league.  The remainder of the season was cancelled and a hastily schedule championship game was played sometime in early December 1984, with the Diamonds defeating the Chicago Spirit.  Dubaj spoke of reorganizing for a second season in 1985, but the league was never heard from again.

 

==Diamonds Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1979-80 12/4/1979 vs. Minnesota Fillies L 102-91 Program
1980-81 12/5/1980 vs. New Jersey Gems W 102-87 Game Notes Scorer's Report
1984 11/27/1984 vs. Chicago Spirit ?? Scorecard

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Diamonds owner Ed Dubaj passed away in November 2012 at the age of 72.

 

==YouTube==

In 2011, former WPBL and WABA star “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin posted this rare cable TV footage of a 1984 game between the Dallas Diamonds and her Columbus Minks on her Youtube page.

 

==Downloads==

1984 WABA Media Guide (complete .PDF)

1984 Dallas Diamonds Season Ticket Brochure

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

Women’s American Basketball Association Programs

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1978-1980 Milwaukee Does

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Milwaukee Does ProgramWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1980)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise.
Died: September 30, 1980 – The Milwaukee Does/Express cease operations.

Arena: MECCA Arena

Team Colors: Lime Green, Purple & White

Owners:

 

Trivia question: where & when was the first women’s professional basketball game played?

Answer: at the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee on December 9th, 1978.  The Milwaukee Does hosted the Chicago Hustle in the inaugural game of the Women’s Professional Basketball League.  The event drew a crowd of 7,824 curiosity seekers who watched the Hustle hold off a late Does rally to preserve a 92-87 victory.  By comparison the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA drew 8,467 to their first home game at the MECCA ten years earlier.

Although a handful of women had earned paychecks playing for touring All-Star teams such as the All-American Redheads (a sort of female Harlem Globetrotters), the WPBL marked the first effort to establish a nationwide franchised league for the women’s game.  The league was launched by male investors who spotted an opportunity with the rapid growth of the sport in the 1970’s.  The passage of Title IX legislation in 1972 resulted in an explosion of women’s collegiate programs and scholarships.  Women’s basketball debuted as an Olympic sport at Montreal just two years earlier in 1976 with the United States taking home the Silver Medal.

The euphoria of the big opening night lasted only four days before the Does organization began a very public descent into chaos.  General Manager Gene DeLisle fired Head Coach Candace Klinzing after a single game.  The quick hook was enough to catch the attention of Sports Illustrated, which cheekily pointed out that Klinzing’s bio in the Does’ game program concluded with the admonition “Give ’em hell, Coach. We’re with you all the way.”  The Does ultimately went through five coaches during the 1978-79 season, including DeLisle himself, a man who had never seen a women’s basketball game prior to Does training camp.

Attendance declined rapidly, with the Does second home game drawing an announced crowd of just 1,561.  The Does’ woeful play on the court didn’t help.  A January 1979 game against the Houston Angels drew only 641 fans to the 10,000-seat MECCA.  The two teams combined for 62 turnovers as the Does dropped to a league-worst 1-10.  The Does rallied somewhat in the season’s second half, but still finished last in their division with an 11-23 record in 1978-79.

Around the WPBL, many teams struggled to attract mainstream media attention.  The Does were an exception, attracting consistent and  in-depth coverage from both of Milwaukee’s daily papers, The Journal and The Sentinel.  This proved to be both a blessing and a curse, however.  Both papers took a keen interest in the front office shenanigans of the Does, running exposes of the alleged chauvinistic behavior and misdeeds of the club’s original executives (1978-79 season) and repeatedly publishing detailed summaries of the team’s creditors and outstanding balances owed.  Original owner Robert Peters rang up outstanding debts of nearly $600,000 during the 1978-79 season and was nearly forced into bankruptcy.  Somewhat miraculously, Peters managed to a find a buyer and sold the team to local businessman Herb Schoenherr in September 1979.

Schoenherr settled most of the Does’ outstanding bills and initially established enough credibility to lure in Larry Costello as Head Coach in October 1979.  Costello was something of an icon in Milwaukee.  Taking the helm of the Bucks expansion team in 1968, he coached the team throughout its Lew Alcindor/Oscar Robertson glory days in the early 1970, winning an NBA title in 1971.  Costello stayed with the Bucks until 1976 and came to the Does fresh off a one-year stint coaching the Chicago Bulls in 1978-79.  Costello was originally hesitant to join the Does, characterizing their first season as “a big mess” in an interview with The Milwaukee Journal, but Schoenherr won him over.

Under the new regime of Schoenherr and Costello, the 1979-80 Does got off to another slow start.  By late December 1979, the club was 2-10 and mired in last place.  On December 22, the WPBL terminated two under-capitalized expansion clubs, the Philadelphia Fox and the Washington Metros.  By virtue of having the WPBL’s worst record, the Does picked first in the dispersal draft of the disbanded clubs and selected 6′ 2″ center Charlene McWhorter from the Metros.

The crazy tale of McWhorter’s rookie season epitomized the precarious state of the fledgling league.  Originally signed to an $8,000/year contract with Washington, McWhorter never received a dime from the insolvent Metros.  Selected by the Does in the dispersal draft, she arrived in Wisconsin just as new Does owner Herb Schoenherr ran out of money himself.  Costello and his players stopped receiving paychecks in late 1979 and played the entire month of January 1980 without pay.  Meanwhile, McWhorter was selected to play in the WPBL midseason All-Star Game and won M.V.P. honors.  Midway through the season, she still had not received a paycheck from either club.  Years later, Karra Porter detailed the rest of McWhorter’s rookie story in her 2006 book Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women’s Professional Basketball League.  Chicago Hustle coach Doug Bruno set his sights on McWhorter, but the Does were not willing to trade their new star.  Knowing that Milwaukee wasn’t paying its players, Bruno unilaterally decided McWhorter’s contract was null and void and simply drove to Milwaukee to pick her up in his van.  To save face, the league re-framed Bruno’s jailbreak as a trade, with the Hustle tossing a pair of future draft picks to the helpless Does as compensation.

By February 1980, Schoenherr was financially exhausted and owed tens of thousands in back pay to Costello, his players and the MECCA Arena.  A two-game road trip to St. Louis and Los Angeles was cancelled as the team appeared ready to fold.  At the 11th hour, a new group led by Milwaukee plastic surgeon Dr. Arthur Howell stepped in with enough cash to complete the season.  That commitment apparently did not involve paying Larry Costello, who was asked to continue working without pay and resigned instead.  The Does limped through the rest of the 1979-80 campaign, finishing in last place once again with a 10-24 record.

In June 1980, during the WPBL’s summer offseason, Howell’s new ownership group re-branded the team.  For the 1980-81 season, the club would be known as the Milwaukee Express, with a new maroon and silver logo replacing the Does’ busty-deer-in-hot-pants motif.  Meanwhile, the rest of the WPBL continued to face a severe crisis of confidence.  The league directors set a deadline of September 30th, 1980 for each club to post a performance bond of $150,000 for the 1980-81 season.  When the deadline arrived, four clubs chose not to move forward, including the Express.  The turning point for Express owner Arthur Howell was reportedly the pessimistic results of a local market survey commissioned as part of the team’s re-branding efforts.

The Does/Express formally shutdown on September 30th, 1980 along with the Houston Angels, Iowa Cornets and New York Stars.

The WPBL trudged along for a third and final season, playing its final championship game in April 1981.

 

==Milwaukee Does Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1978-79

1978-79 12/9/1978 vs. Chicago Hustle L 92-87 Program
1978-79 3/23/1979 @ Iowa Cornets L 105-89 Program
1978-79 4/2/1979 vs. Chicago Hustle W 105-93 Game Notes

 

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Does and Bucks Coach Larry Costello passed away in 2001 at age 70.

 

==Downloads==

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

1979-80 Milwaukee Does Season Ticket Brochure

March 1980 Milwaukee Does Ticket Flyer

Milwaukee Does/Express Sources

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

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