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

1980-1981 New England Gulls

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New England Gulls ProgramWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1980-1981)

Born: 1980 – WPBL expansion franchise.
Died: January 27, 1981 – The Gulls fold in midseason.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Joseph Reither

 

The New England Gulls were a trainwreck of a women’s basketball franchise that operated for two months in December 1980 and January 1981.  It was no fault of the players, of course.   The Gulls had a couple of pretty good ones, including 6′ 3″ center Althea Gwynn and Canadian National Teamer Chris Critelli.  Former Boston Celtics star “Jungle” Jim Loscutoff was the Head Coach (briefly).

The Gulls’ problems started and ended with owner Joseph Reither, a Massachusetts liquor store owner who was allergic to making payroll and had an antagonistic relationship with the Gulls’ players.

Moving into the second month of the 1980-81 season, the Gulls were in disarray.  During the first week of January 1981, Loscutoff was either fired or quit with the team 0-6.  24-year old assistant coach Dana Skinner took over and led the Gulls to a couple of quick wins.  But Skinner’s primary duty seemed to be to negotiate with Reither on behalf of the starving Gulls players, who were unpaid for weeks and couldn’t afford rent, gas or groceries.  During a January 8th, 1981 home game against the Minnesota Fillies, the Gulls placed black patches on their jerseys and walked off the court in protest.  They were coaxed back to play the game after Skinner was able to secure a few hundred dollars from the gate receipts.

One week later, the Gulls were due to play a match at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine.  According to a 2011 Boston Globe retrospective by T.D. Thornton, Reither promised he was going to put some marketing muscle behind the game, the Gulls’ first “home” game away from their usual venue at Merrimack College’s Volpe Athletic Center in North Andover, Massachusetts.  A packed house in the big arena would allow the owner to get current on his salary obligations to the players.  But when Skinner traveled up to Portland a week in advance to look at the building, he found that the Civic Center authorities had no idea what he was talking about.  Reither hadn’t even booked the arena, according to Skinner, let alone organized the promised promotions.

On the night of the Portland match, only about 100 fans drifted around the arena.  For the Gulls it was the last empty promise.  Reither stood on one sideline and the Gulls’ players on the other in a standoff over playing the game.  Finally, Reither relented and offered the team the gate receipts of $500 – with the stipulation they had to pay the game officials out of their own pockets.  That was the last straw for the Gulls, who trudged back to the bus and rode home.  The game was ruled a forfeit in favor of their opponents, the San Francisco Pioneers.

Five days later, Women’s Professional Basketball League Commissioner Sherwin Fischer kicked the Gulls out of the league, a decision that was re-affirmed by an 8-0 vote of the other franchises one week later on January 27, 1981.  The Gulls became the league’s third franchise to fold in midseason in the span of 13 months.

The remaining members of the Women’s Basketball League managed to finish out the 1981 season but  the league went out of business soon afterwards.

 

==1980-81 New England Gulls Results (Partial)==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
12/4/1980 vs. New Orleans Pride L 99-86
12/9/1980 vs. Dallas Diamonds L 102-92
12/18/1980 @ Chicago Hustle L
1/4/1981 @ San Francisco Pioneers W 94-88
1/6/1981 @ San Francisco Pioneers L 92-87
1/8/1981 vs. Minnesota Fillies L 83-80
1/9/1981 @ Nebraska Wranglers W 96-90
1/11/1981 vs. San Francisco Pioneers L 104-102 (OT)
1/15/1981 vs. San Francisco Pioneers L Forfeit Program

 

==Links==

“Disorder On The Court”, T.D. Thornton, The Boston Globe, January 16, 2011

Women’s Professional Basketball Association Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball Association Programs

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1979-1981 San Francisco Pioneers

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Women’s Professional Basketball League (1979-1981)

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

Arena: San Francisco Civic Auditorium (5,141)

Team Colors: Columbia Blue & Gold

Owners: Marshall Geller, et al.

 

The San Francisco Pioneers were an expansion franchise in the Women’s Professional Basketball League.  The team opened for business with the league’s sophomore season in the fall of 1979.  The WPBL was the first attempt to start a professional women’s basketball league in the United States, so the Pioneers nickname was especially appropriate.

Stockbroker Marshall Geller and his partners – who included actors Alan Alda of M*A*S*H* and Mike Connors of Mannix – acquired the club for a $100,000 expansion fee.

The Pioneers came on strong at the end of the 1979-80 season and made the playoffs with an 18-18 record. They defeated the defending champion Houston Angels in the quarterfinal round before losing to the eventual champion New York Stars in the semis.  Former UCLA star Anita Ortega finished fourth in the league in scoring with 24.1 points per game.  Marshall Geller was named the league’s “Owner-of-the-Year”, as the Pioneers finished near the top of the league in attendance at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium.

San Francisco Pioneers ProgramDuring the Pioneer’s second season, the team was wracked with internal conflicts.  Geller fired Head Coach and General Manager Frank LaPorte two months into the season and replaced him with former NBA player Dean Meminger.  Meminger was the league’s Coach-of-the-Year the previous season after leading the New York Stars to the 1980 WPBL title, but the Stars had disbanded leaving Meminger available.  Pat Mayo, a tri-captain and a fan favorite pictured on the cover of the team’s 1980-81 yearbook above, was so disgruntled with the situation that she retired from basketball at age 23 shortly after Meminger’s arrival.  Meminger quickly dismantled the rest of the unhappy bunch and by the season’s midway point only four players remained from the Pioneers’ opening night roster.

One new arrival was “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin, one of the league’s top scorers and self-promoters.  She printed up posters at her own expense and sold them at games.  Posters of the attractive blonde became sought after souvenirs in cities around the league.  Bolin was available at mid-season because she had signed on with a rival women’s league called the Ladies Professional Basketball Association in late 1980.  The LPBA went belly up after just a handful of games and Meminger quickly called Bolin in to San Francisco in January 1981.  Bolin was so highly regarded in the league that she was picked for the February 1981 All-Star game in Albuquerque, despite playing in the league for less than a month after her return from the LPBA.  She led all scorers in the game with 29 points.

The late season tinkering wasn’t enough to right the ship and the Pioneers finished out of playoff contention a disappointing 14-22 in 1980-81.  Following the season, the WPBL drifted into a state of limbo.  The college draft was cancelled in June 1980 and various club quietly shut down.  No formal announcement was ever made, but the Women’s Professional Basketball League was done after three seasons.

 

==Slideshow==

 

==San Francisco Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1980-81

1980-81 1/15/1981 @ New England Gulls  W – Forfeit Program Roster

 

==Key Players==

 

==Downloads==

1980 San Francisco Pioneers Draft Choices

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Basketball Association Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball Association Programs

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Written by AC

February 17th, 2013 at 4:17 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.

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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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1979 Washington Metros

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Women’s Professional Basketball League (1979)

Born: June 1979 – WPBL expansion franchise.
Died: December 21, 1979 – The Metros fold in midseason.

Arena: Starplex Armory

Team Colors: Red, White & Blue

Owner: ?

 

I never thought we would find anything from the Washington Metros.  But we unearthed this simple little training camp media guide – more of a pamphlet, really – in Minnesota last week.  God knows why anyone saved it, but I’m glad they did.  You can download it here.

The Metros were a doomed expansion franchise in the Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981) during the league’s second season in the fall/winter of 1979-80.  It appears that the franchise was originally announced as an expansion team in June 1979 and a guy named Jerry Lewis who owned some dry cleaning joints in Baltimore originally stepped forward as the lead investor.  The original plan was for the Metros to split their game between the Baltimore Civic Center, the Starplex Armory in Washington, D.C. and the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland.

Anyway, after the June 1979 announcement of the franchise, I can find no further mention of Lewis or his alleged investment group.  Karra Porter, who compiled the definitive history of the WPBL in her 2006 book Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women’s Professional Basketball League, makes no mention of Lewis and the entire Metros franchise earns only three mentions in the 274-page volume.

In fact, it seems that the Metros went into the 1979-80 season without any ownership at all.

“I’m not really quite sure Washington ever had true ownership,” Chicago Hustle owner Sherwin Fischer told Skip Myslenski of The Chicago Tribune in 1981.  “My opinion is they started a team and planned on using the money that would come in through the turnstiles.”

Porter relates several tales in her book about where the team derived its minimal funding – one exec says the league funneled $100,000 from other sources into the operation of the Metros.  Founder and Commissioner Bill Byrne implies he ran the club on his personal credit cards after the original investors left him high and dry.  Either way, the result was that the Metros players never received paychecks for the entire two month existence of the club.

Two weeks into the season in late November 1979, the Metros acquired one of the league’s most popular players, Janie Fincher, in a trade with the Chicago Hustle.  According to Porter’s book, the trade was a personal disaster for Fincher.  The Hustle drew strong crowds, paid their players on time, and even broadcast some games on WGN television.  The attractive Fincher was the Hustle’s most popular player – many Hustle fans wore black armbands to protest the trade.  Fincher was packed off on a cross-country drive to join the Metros.  She had to sneak out of a hotel in the middle of the night after learning the credit card provided for her travel expenses was no good.

But Fincher’s arrival was a relief to her new teammates – her car was loaded with food, which the Metros had tremendous appetite for after two months without a paycheck.  The team barely trained together, since players couldn’t afford gas to get to the outdoor tennis court that the Metros used for practice in lieu of paying rent to an arena.

The Washington Metros adventure ended after 10 games on December 21, 1979 when the WPBL contracted the team in mid-season, along with another franchise in similarly desperate straits, the Philadelphia Fox.  It was a mercy killing.  The players were put into a dispersal draft and distributed among the remaining twelve franchises.  Fincher returned to Chicago, much to the delight of Hustle fans.

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The WPBL never really recuperated from the collapse of the Washington Metros and Philadelphia Fox midway through the league’s second season.  Even after this debacle, poorly vetted continued to infiltrate the league in Iowa, Milwaukee, New England and elsewhere.  The league hobbled through one more season and folded in late 1981.

Metros Head Coach Nat Frazier had a rough road with women’s basketball.  Frazier had a long and successful tenure as men’s head basketball coach at Morgan State University and also served as an assistant coach for the New York Knicks.  In 1984, three years after the WPBL went out of business, Frazier signed on with a new venture – the Women’s American Basketball Association – launched by WPBL founder Bill Byrne.  Frazier would coach the Baltimore franchise, later switched to Norfolk, Virginia.  But in a case of deja vu all over again, Frazier’s Virginia Wave would fold in November 1984 after only fourteen games.  This time, though, the entire league collapsed as the WABA failed to complete its inaugural season.

 

==Downloads==

1979-80 Washington Metros Training Camp Guide

Washington Metros Article Sources

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

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Written by AC

November 3rd, 2012 at 5:48 pm