Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1978-79 Dayton Rockettes

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Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1979)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise.
Died: 1979 – The Rockettes cease operations.

Arena: Hara Arena

Team Colors: Kelly Green & Silver

Owner: Louis Deitelbaum

 

The Dayton Rockettes were one of eight original franchises in the Women’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981).  The WPBL, which debuted in December 1978, was the first professional basketball league for women, pre-dating the WNBA by nearly 20 years.

Even by the standards of this league, which scraped and scratched for media and fan attention without consistent success, the Rockettes were a particularly obscure franchise.  They played in the league’s smallest market in a minor league hockey arena.  The Rockettes encountered financial problems early in their maiden season and folded quietly in the spring or summer of 1979, earning a place in our One-Year Wonders file.

The Dayton Rockettes were 12-22 in their only season of existence.

FWIL is actively looking for a program or other memorabilia from this team to improve this entry.  Email andy@funwhileitlasted.net if you can help.

 

==Dayton Rockettes Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
1/4/1978 @ Chicago Hustle W 102-95 Program
4/1/1979 @ Iowa Cornets  L 115-84 Program Roster

 

==Downloads==

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

Written by andycrossley

November 10th, 2014 at 3:04 pm

1978-1981 Minnesota Fillies

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Minnesota FilliesWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1981 – The WPBL ceases operations.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Gordon Nevers

 

The Minnesota Fillies were one of eight founding franchises in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1978, which was the first pro hoops league for women in the United States.  The Fillies were one of only three clubs, along with the Chicago Hustle and New Jersey Gems, that managed to survive for all three seasons of the WPBL’s existence from 1978 to 1981.

The Fillies made their debut on December 15, 1978 losing to the Iowa Cornets 103-81 at the Met Center in Bloomington before an announced crowd of 4,102.  That first season was marred by a revolving door of head coaches.  Three different women and two men coached the Fillies through training camp and a 34-game regular season schedule.  The coaches included team owner Gordon Nevers, a former mortician with no previous basketball experience. The Fillies finished the 1978-79 season with a 17-17 record and missed the playoffs.

Minnesota FilliesThe Fillies finest season was their second one.  Nevers hired former University of Minnesota star Terry Kunze to coach the team and the Fillies responded with a 22-12 record.  They defeated the New Orleans Pride in the playoff quarterfinals, setting up a best-of-three series with their arch rivals, the Iowa Cornets, in the semis in March 1980.  The Fillies blew out the Cornets in Game One by a 108-87 margin, but Iowa won the next two games and ended the Fillies’ run.

The Fillies third and final season in the winter of 1980-81 was marred by the financial problems of owner Gordon Nevers and the league itself.  The club left the Met Center in favor of the smaller, older Minneapolis Auditorium, which was better suited to the typical Fillies’ crowd of around 1,000 people a night.  Missed payrolls culminated in a March 21, 1981 protest by Terry Kunze and eight Fillies players prior to a game in Chicago.  The disgruntled team members walked off the court just before tipoff and refused to return.  The game was cancelled and awarded to Chicago via forfeit, dropping the Fillies record to a league-worst 7-25.  WBL Commissioner Sherwin Fischer suspended Kunze and the eight players indefinitely.

The Fillies finished out the season using replacement players.  The Faux-Fillies lost their first game by 48 points and finished the season 7-28.

Whether or not Nevers and his partners could have or would have re-capitalized the team for another season became a moot point when the rest of the Women’s Professional Basketball League folded before a fourth season could be staged.

 

==Minnesota Fillies Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1978-79 1/12/1979  vs. New York Stars  W 96-90 Program
1978-79 2/16/1979 vs. Houston Angels L 105-95 Program
1978-79 3/27/1979 @ Iowa Cornets L 126-109 Program
1979-80 12/4/1979 @ Dallas Diamonds W 102-91 Program

 

==Downloads==

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

 

 

==Links==

Full of Heart in an Empty House“, Sarah Pileggi, Sports Illustrated, March 10, 1980

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

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February 9, 1981 – Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game

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Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game
February 9, 1981
Albuquerque Civic Auditorium
Attendance: 3,378

Women’s Basketball League Programs
8 pages

 

Very rare game program from the third and final All-Star Game staged by the Women’s Basketball League (1978-1981).  The WBL was the first nationwide professional sports league for women and this game showcased many of sport’s early legends including Carol Blazejowski, Molly Bolin, Nancy Lieberman, Inge Nissen and Rosie Walker.

Unfortunately, the WBL was on its last legs by this point.  A month earlier the New England Gulls franchise dissolved in midseason – the fourth time a league member failed to complete their schedule in the past two years.  Both of the league’s championship series finalists from the previous season folded prior to the season.  And the WBL’s most popular franchise, the Chicago Hustle, was pegging their future on a stock offering to the public.

Albuquerque, New Mexico played host to this exhibition, but it wasn’t a league city.  The All-Star Game came to the city thanks to the lobbying efforts of disgraced former University of New Mexico basketball coach Norm Ellenberger.  Ellenberger was exploring the viability of bringing a WBL expansion franchise to Albuquerque for the 1981-82 season.  The WBL’s interest in Ellenberger in 1981 was curious and perhaps a further indication of the league’s growing desperation.  Ellenberger was still operating under the dark clouds of “Lobogate”, the 1979 fraudulent transcript scandal that cost him his job and placed the Lobos’ basketball program on NCAA probation.  Ellenberger was investigated by the FBI and by state authorities in New Mexico.  Five months after this game he was convicted on 21 counts of fraud and filing false travel vouchers in state court.  The convictions were overturned in 1983 and Ellenberger’s record expunged and he later returned to coach in the pros.  But it’s telling that the WBL would consider looking past his very public legal troubles in 1981 if he could provide the league with a badly needed expansion fee.

The West All-Stars dominated the game 125-92.  Molly Bolin of the San Francisco Pioneers was the MVP with a game high 25 points.  Blazejowski and Lieberman pumped in 20 apiece for the West.  The tallest player in the league, 6′ 5″ center Inge Nissen of the Chicago Hustle led the East with 23 points.  The Monday evening crowd of 3,378 was the largest for any of the three All-Star Games staged by the WBL during its short existence.

The final Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game was also marked by tragedy.  Three days earlier the Nebraska Wranglers played their final game before the All-Star Break.  After the game, Wranglers player Connie Kunzmann met a local named Lance Tibke in an Omaha bar.  The pair drove off into the night together.  Soon afterwards, Tibke stabbed Kunzmann, fractured her skull and threw her into the Missouri River.  But no one knew this just yet.  Kunzmann failed to show for practice the next day, drawing an out-of-character fine.  Wranglers Head Coach Steve Kirk traveled to New Mexico as the coach of the East Conference All-Stars and repeatedly called back to Omaha for updates on his player, who was officially declared missing on Sunday, February 8, 1981.

On the early morning of February 10, 1981, a few hours after the All-Star Game, Tibke walked into a Nebraska police station and confessed to Kunzmann’s murder.  Her body wasn’t found for another six weeks.  Tibke was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison, but only served nine before his parole in 1990.

Norm Ellenberger never got his Albuquerque expansion franchise.  The Women’s Basketball league folded in late 1981 without launching a fourth season.   Ellenberger later became head coach of a men’s minor league basketball team – the Albuquerque Silvers of the Continental Basketball Association – who played out of the Civic Auditorium for two years in the mid-1980’s.

 

==Downloads==

1981 Women’s Basketball League All-Star Game Program

1981 WBL East All-Stars Roster

1981 WBL West All-Stars Roster

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Written by andycrossley

March 21st, 2014 at 4:37 pm

November 24, 1979 – New Jersey Gems vs. Chicago Hustle

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New Jersey Gems vs. Chicago Hustle
November 24, 1979
Thomas Dunn Sports Center
Attendance: 1,138

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs
4 pages

 

Second game from the pro career of former UCLA star and U.S. Olympian Ann Meyers, one of the great early legends of women’s basketball.  Meyers was a national celebrity in the fall of 1979 thanks to the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, who signed her to a $50,000 pro contract that September.  Meyers didn’t last long in Pacers’ training camp though and by the time the Women’s Professional Basketball League was set to open it’s second season in November, Meyers was the newest member of the New Jersey Gems franchise.

Earlier on the day of this very game, Meyers was featured in a segment on NBC Sportsworld seen by viewers nationwide.  But despite Meyers’ notoriety, the Gems didn’t see a big spike at the box office after signing her.  Barely 1,000 spectators turned out in Elizabeth, New Jersey on this Saturday night to see the Gems take on the Chicago Hustle.

Those who showed up saw an end-to-end, high scoring affair that confounded the common stereotype of the slow-paced, dull women’s game.  Meyers (28 points, 8 assists) matched Chicago’s Rita Easterling (27 points, 8 assists), the Most Valuable Player of the league’s inaugural season, point-for-point.  Meyers also led all rebounders with 13 boards from her guard spot.

The supporting casts made the difference, as the Gems had six players in double figures including forwards Debra Comerie (21) and  Wanda Szeremeta (20) both going over 20 points.  The Gems beat the Hustle 114-95.

This program and the accompanying materials were acquired from the collection of women’s basketball historian John Molina.  Check out the Downloads section below for some colorful original press notes and other Gems memorabilia from this game.

 

 

 

==YouTube==

 

 

==Downloads==

November 24, 1979 New Jersey Gems Scorecard

November 24, 1979 New Jersey Gems Press Notes

November 24, 1979 New Jersey Gems vs. Chicago Hustle Official Scorer’s Report

 

==Links==

New Jersey Gems Home Page

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Written by andycrossley

February 27th, 2014 at 2:19 pm

1979-1981 St. Louis Streak

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Women’s Professional Basketball League (1979-1981)

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

Arena: Kiel Auditorium

Team Colors:

Owner: Vince Gennaro

 

The St. Louis Streak were a two-season entry in the pioneering Women’s Professional Basketball League (1979-1981), the first professional hoops league for female players.  The Streak entered the WPBL as an expansion franchise during the league’s second season and played their home games at Kiel Auditorium, the former home of the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks.

The Streak’s finest player was a 28-year old first-time pro from Canada named Liz Silcott.  “Liz The Whiz” had a tempestuous history with the Canadian National Team, from which she was repeatedly dropped and reinstated during the 1970’s.  Silcott was viewed by many as an emotionally immature, un-coachable player and despised teammate who loathed practice and had little interest in defense.  She was also, without doubt, one of the most talent players of her era.  Silcott didn’t play during the first season of the WPBL in 1978-79, but signed a $6,000 contract to play for St. Louis in the 1979-80 season.

Silcott’s dreadful habits were on full display in the Streak’s training camp and she quickly came to loggerheads with the team’s fire-breathing Head Coach Larry Gillman.  Gillman was a 30-year screamer from the men’s college ranks who was viewed by Streak players with a mixture of fear and loathing, according to Karra Porter, author of the definitive WPBL history, Mad Seasons.

“<Gillman> is the worst that ever lived,” former University of Maryland star Martha Hastings put it simply to Porter, describing her experience with the Streak in their first season.  Others were harsher.

“Let me tell you the man had “666” written across his skull,” former Streak player Ann Platte told Porter.

Silcott went home to Canada in training camp and the Streak started their debut season 0-4 without her.  Then Silcott returned in late 1979 and led the Streak on a 10-2 run, which included a league record 50-point performance at home against the Minnesota Fillies.  The local press began to take notice of the team, which offered a public platform for Silcott and Gillman to continue their bickering.

By February 1980, the Streak were contenders, but coach and star were at a breaking point.  Silcott, the WPBL’s leading scorer at 33.1 ppg, was shipped off to the San Francisco Pioneers for a lowly 5th round draft pick and a role player who refused to report to St. Louis.  Essentially, Silcott was given away for nothing.  Without Liz the Whiz, the Streak collapsed and finished in last place with a 15-21 record.

Silcott finished the season on the suspended list for the San Francisco Pioneers after exhibiting the same recurring behavioral problems in her new surroundings.  She finished the 1979-80 season as the WPBL’s second leading scorer  -and never played another pro season.  In 1986, a former college professor spotted Silcott living in Montreal’s Dorval Airport and muttering incoherently about confronting the Prime Minister of Canada.  She was later diagnosed with a long-standing psychiatric illness.  According to Mad Seasons author Karra Porter, as of the mid-2000’s, Silcott lives in a group home in Canada, on medication and a disability pension and with little memory of her basketball career.

The Streak came back for a second season under Larry Gillman and fielded a team with eight rookies.  The team remained uncompetitive and finished out of the playoffs with a 14-21 record.  At the end of the 1980-81 season, the Streak folded along with the rest of the league.

Streak owner Vince Gennaro was a young businessman with a passion for baseball and data analytics.  He became an early champion of the Sabermetrics movement in baseball.   Today he is the President of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and a consultant to Major League Baseball clubs.

 

==Streak Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1979-80 3/1/1980  @ New Jersey Gems  ?? Program

 

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

October 6th, 2013 at 1:11 am