Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1972-1985 Kansas City-Omaha Kings / Kansas City Kings

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Kansas City-Omaha KingsNational Basketball Association (1972-1985)

Born: 1972 – The Cincinnati Royals relocate to Kansas City & Omaha.
Moved: 1985 (Sacramento Kings)

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owners:

NBA Championships: None

 

The Kansas City Kings were a middling NBA franchise that had just four winning seasons during thirteen years in town. The club arrived in 1972 as the relocated Cincinnati Royals. Since Kansas City already had the Royals baseball team, the team re-branded itself as the Kings. At first, the franchise split its time between Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium and the Omaha Civic Auditorium, 180 miles to the north in Nebraska. The team was formally known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings from 1972 until 1975.

The Kings moved into the brand-new Kemper Arena in downtown Kansas City in 1974. For the 1975-76 season, the Kings abandoned their Omaha games and settled in at Kemper full-time.

The team’s best seasons came during the tenure of head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Fitzsimmons was named the NBA’s Coach-of-the-Year in 1979 as the Kings enjoyed their best season by record (48-34) and won their only division chamionships. The Kings made the playoffs four times in Fitzsimmons’ six seasons between 1978 and 1984. The franchise’s finest hour in Kansas City came during the 1981 playoffs. Despite entering the postseason as a 6th seed with a losing regular season record, the Kings knocked off the top-seeded Phoenix Suns and advanced to the Western Conference finals. They lost the semi-finals to the Houston Rockets in five games.

Off the court, the Kings continued to flounder as the 1970’s turned to the 1980’s.

Kansas City KingzIn June 1979, the roof at the five year-old Kemper Arena partially collapsed during a wind storm. Kemper was closed for 10 months and the Kings were forced to play most of the 1979-80 season back at tiny old Municipal Auditorium.

In the fall of 1981 the Kansas City Comets of the Major Indoor Soccer League set up shop at Kemper Arena. Playing a winter season that mirrored the NBA’s calendar, the Comets walloped the Kings at the box office. During the inaugural season in 1981-82, the Comets averaged 11,508 fans per game at Kemper. The Kings’ average was a paltry 6,644.  Year later, Kings’ coach Cotton Fitzsimmons was moved to comment on the Comets’ impact:

“Here’s something that’s not even a game,” said Fitzsimmons, quoted in The Houston Chronicle in April 1985. “They make up the rules as they go along.  But they’ve marketed aggressively and they’ve taken Kansas City by storm.”

Tragedy struck on the eve of the 1982-83 season. Forward Bill Robinzine, the Kings’ top draft pick in 1975 and a solid defender for Kansas City’s late ’70’s squads, committed suicide at age 29. Robinson last played for Kansas City in 1980. He was out of basketball at the time, hoping to land an overseas contract in Europe.

In June of 1983 a Sacramento-based group purchased the Kings from the team’s local ownership for a reported $10.5 million. The new group, fronted by Gregg Lukenbill, made little secret of their desire to relocate the Kings to California’s capital once the team’s Kemper Arena lease expired in 1985. The new owners made it official in January 1985, announcing the team would leave Kansas City at the end of the 1984-85 campaign. Barry Petchesky at Deadspin has an excellent account of the Kings’ final days as the team maneuvered itself out of town.

 

Kansas City Kings Memorabilia

 

Kings Video

 

In Memoriam

Power forward Bill Robinzine (Kings ’75-’80) committed suicide on September 16, 1982 at the age of 29.

Owner Leon Karosen (Kings ’73-’83) passed away on May 10, 1990 at age 73.

Head Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons (Kings ’78-’84) died of lung cancer on July 24, 2004. Fitzsimmons was 72. New York Times obituary.

Center Sam Lacey (Kings ’72-’81) died on March 14, 2014 at 66 years of age. New York Times obituary.

 

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2001-2003 Carolina Courage

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Carolina Courage WUSAWomen’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003)

Born: April 2000 – WUSA founding franchise
Folded: September 15, 2003

Stadia:

Team Colors:

Owner/Operator: Time Warner Cable

Founders Cup Champions: 2002

 

The Carolina Courage had an odd journey through the three-year run of the now-defunct Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA). The Courage franchise was originally pegged for Orlando, Florida when the WUSA announced its arrival in the spring of 2000. Stadium troubles forced the club north to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina later that year as the WUSA prepped for an April 2001 debut.

The Courage had a grim debut season at UNC’s Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, finishing tied for last place with a 6-12-3 record. Bright spots were U.S. National Team forward Danielle Fotopoulos (T-6th in WUSA with 9 goals) and playmaking Norwegian midfielder Hege Riise (3rd in WUSA with 8 assists).

The Courage completely re-tooled for the 2002 campaign thanks to the college draft and international player market. Carolina selected U.S. National Team defender Danielle Slaton of Santa Clara University with the #1 overall pick in the WUSA draft. German star Birgit Prinz joined Fotopoulos at the top of the attack. Riise’s Norwegian international teammate came across to bolster the midfield.

The Courage completed a worst-to-first transformation, defeating Mia Hamm’s Washington Freedom team in the 2002 Founders’ Cup final before 15,000 fans in Atlanta. The Courage overcame a first-half own goal by Fotopoulous to prevail 3-2, courtesy of scores by Fotopoulos, Riise and Prinz. Danielle Slaton won the league’s Defender-of-the-Year honors as a rookie. Kristin Luckenbill earned the Goalkeeper-of-the-Year award.

It all fell apart in 2003. Marcia McDermott, the WUSA’s only female head coach during the league’s first two seasons,  stunned the team by stepping down following the 2002 championship run. The Courage fell back to 7th place in the 8-team league and missed the playoffs.

One month after the season, the WUSA folded on September 15, 2003, having lost over $100 million in three seasons of play.

Women’s pro soccer finally in 2017 when the Western New York Flash of the National Women’s Soccer League  (NWSL) relocated to Cary, North Carolina. The NWSL franchise took the name North Carolina Courage, in a nod to the pioneering WUSA club.

 

Carolina Courage Memorabilia

 

Courage Video

 

Links

Women’s United Soccer Association Media Guides

Women’s United Soccer Association Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

February 16th, 2018 at 4:36 am

1991-92 Louisville Shooters

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Global Basketball Association (1991-1992)

Born: 1991 – GBA founding franchise
Folded: November 1992

Arena: Louisville Gardens

Team Colors:

Owners:

GBA Championships: None

 

The Louisville Shooters were an ill-fated pro basketball outfit in the forgotten Global Basketball Association. The GBA began play in November 1991 with eleven franchises. Most were clustered in small cities in the Southeastern United States, but the league’s borders stretched as far west as Wichita, Kansas and north to Saginaw, Michigan.

Team founder Jim Tilton was a realtor and University of Louisville grad without the personal resources to fund a pro basketball team. But Tilton secured some financial backing from former Cleveland Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien to get the Shooters off the ground in 1991.

The Shooters signed some decent talent, including  ex-Louisville stars Jerome Harmon and Milt Wagner, former Boston Celtic Kelvin Upshaw, minor league war horse Alfrederick Hughes, and guard Eldridge Recasner, a recent grad from the University of Washington. Former Ole Miss and American Basketball Association star Johnny Neumann signed on as head coach.

The team hit financial headwinds pretty much immediately. Less than two months into the Shooters first season, Jim Tilton announced the team was in search of new capital. The Shooters finished the 1991-92 GBA season with a 35-29 record, good for second place in the league’s Western Division. The team was due to play the league’s best team, the Mid-Michigan Great Lakers, in the first round of the 1992 playoffs. But the Shooters declined to participate in the postseason for financial reasons and forfeited the series.

New owner David Gleason took over the team in July 1992. Improbably, the Shooters returned and attempted to stage a second season in November 1992. But the club folded after playing just three games. The rest of the Global Basketball Association followed the Shooters into the dustbin of history a month later. The league went out of business on December 19, 1992.

Jerome Harmon and Eldridge Recasner both went on to play in the NBA. While Harmon’s career lasted just 10 games with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1994-95, Recasner played for the better part of eight seasons in the NBA from 1994 until 2002.

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Written by Drew Crossley

February 14th, 2018 at 4:25 am

1984-2004 Greenville Braves

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Greenville BravesSouthern League (1984-2004)

Born: 1984
Moved: 2005 (Mississippi Braves)

Stadium: Greenville Municipal Stadium

Major League Affiliation: Atlanta Braves

Owner: Atlanta Braves

Southern League Champions: 1992 & 1997

 

This long-time Class AA farm club of the Atlanta Braves spent 21 seasons in the small South Carolina city of Greenville (pop. 58,548 in 1990).

Atlanta’s farm system was an embarrassment of riches for much of the Braves era in Greenville. As a result, local fans watched a procession of future Major League stars come through Municipal Stadium during the 1980’s and 1990’s:

  • Tom Glavine (Greenville ’86),
  • Ron Gant (’87),
  • David Justice (’87-’88)
  • Kent Mercker (’88)
  • Steve Avery (’89)
  • Ryan Klesko (’91)
  • Chipper Jones (’92)
  • Javy Lopez (’92)
  • Andruw Jones (’96)
  • Jason Marquis (’99-’00)
  • Adam Wainwright (’03)

Former Greenville Braves Tom Glavine (Class of 2014) and Chipper Jones (Class of 2018) were both elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on their first ballots.

The 1992 Greenville Braves (100-43) were the first team in Southern League history to win 100 games en route to the league title. Catcher Javy Lopez hit .321 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs. 20-year old shortstop Chipper Jones (.346-9-42) was a midseason promotion from Class A and lit up the Southern League in the season’s second half. Grady Little earned Minor League Manager-of-the-Year honors from Baseball America and The Sporting News.

In 2001, the National Association of Professional Baseball League named the 1992 Greenville Braves #23 in their ranking of the 100 Greatest Minor League Teams of all time.

Unlike most of their MLB brethren, the Atlanta Braves own their minor league farm clubs outright and have done so for decades. Beginning in the 2000’s, Atlanta systematically pitted their long-time farm clubs across the Southeastern U.S. against other rival communities across the region in a quest for brand new taxpayer-financed ballparks. Invariably, the long-time host cities lost these contests. Macon, Georgia lost their Braves farm club in 2003 after eleven seasons. Gwinnett County, Georgia poached the Braves’ triple-A team away from Richmond, Virginia in 2009. And Greenville lost the Braves to Pearl, Mississippi in the spring of 2004.

On April Fools’ Day 2004, Greenville officials announced that their effort to keep the Braves in town with the potential of an $18 million new ballpark had failed. The Greenville plan called for the Braves to share revenues on ticket, suite and sponsorship sales to fund the ballpark’s construction. Meanwhile, city officials in Pearl, a small (pop. 25,000) down-at-the-heels suburb of Jackson, Mississippi offered to foot the entire bill for $28 million, 8,500-seat new stadium. The Braves would play one final lame duck season in Greenville during the summer of 2004 and then leave town.

More than a decade after the Braves’ departure from Greenville, a 2016 Bloomberg Businessweek dissection of Braves’ stadium financing schemes spun a fascinating tale of the team’s move to Mississippi. It’s worth a read. In December 2015, the Moody’s Investor Service cut Pearl’s debt rating to junk bond status, citing the unfavorable financial terms of the 2004 ballpark deal.

Greenville, meanwhile, went ahead and built their new ballpark anyway and immediately found a replacement team for the Braves.  The Greenville Bombers, a Class A Boston Red Sox farm club in the South Atlantic League, began play in April 2005. Fluor Field at the West End opened in April 2006 and the Bombers changed their name to the Greenville Drive that same year.

 

Greenville Braves Memorabilia

 

Links

The Braves Play Taxpayers Better Than They Play Baseball“, Ira Boudway and Kate Smith, Bloomberg Businessweek, April 27, 2016

Southern League Media Guides

Southern League Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

February 13th, 2018 at 6:37 pm

1975 San Diego Sails

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San Diego SailsAmerican Basketball Association (1975)

Born: June 1975 – Re-branded from San Diego Conquistadors
Folded: November 11, 1975

Arena: San Diego Sports Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Frank Goldberg & Bud Fischer

ABA Championships: None

 

San Diego furniture dealers Frank Goldberg and Bud Fischer took over the American Basketball Association’s long-troubled San Diego Conquistadors franchise in June 1975. ABA executives undoubtedly hoped the pair could work the same magic on the debt-ridden Q’s that they had with the league’s Denver Nuggets franchise. Those hopes were misplaced.

Goldberg and Fischer bought the ABA’s 5-year old Denver Rockets franchise in 1972. In their first full season of ownership, the Rockets finished tied for last place with the always woeful Conquistadors. The new owners then presided over a remarkable transformation. They re-branded the team as the Denver Nuggets in 1974. On the court, the Nuggets enjoyed a stunning reversal of fortune. Attendance jumped 50% while the Nuggets went 40-2 at home in 1974-75. Then, just as the Nuggets prepared to move into state-of-the-art McNichols Arena in 1975, Goldberg and Fischer sold the team to local investors and went home to take ownership of the horrid Conquistadors.

As they did in Denver, Goldberg and Fischer euthanized the brand identity of a last place club. The Conquistadors name, in dubious taste to begin with, was dumped during the summer of 1975. In its place came the “San Diego Sails” along with a jaunty new green, blue and white color palette. The team also had a stable lease at the 14,000-seat San Diego Sports Arena. This was in contrast to the Q’s who spent their first two seasons wandering around in small gyms thanks to a dispute with Sports Arena impresario Peter Graham.

But San Diego was not Denver. Goldberg and Fischer’s financial resources were depleted by big spending on the Nuggets’ 1974-75 roster upgrades and by an ill-conceived investment in a World Team Tennis franchise, the Denver Racquets. There would be no worst-to-first revival of the Q’s/Sails. The ABA itself was on its last legs heading into the 1975-76 campaign. The league’s Memphis franchise – another chronic headache – moved to Baltimore, only to embarrass the ABA by folding during training camp four days before the regular season opener.

The Sails’ first game at the Arena was a showcase: an inter-league exhibition against the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and their superstar center Bill Walton on October 15, 1975. But the contest failed to whet the appetites of local fans. Only 3,060 showed up for the Sails’ regular season debut on October 24, 1975 against Goldberg & Fischer’s former team, the Denver Nuggets.

The league schedule saw the Sails play much of the first month of the season on the road. By November 11th, the Sails’ record stood at 3-8. The team had played just three games at home with a combined attendance of only 7,126 fans. By now, the main focus of ABA clubs was pursuing a merger with the NBA. The Sails owners lost confidence in being included in an eventual merger deal. They folded the team on November 11, 1975 after playing just 11 games.

After the Sails’ demise, the club’s roster was put out to auction among the ABA’s eight remaining clubs. Guard Bo Lamar, and big men Mark Olberding and Dave Robisch were the only Sails players to receive bids. The exception was the team’s best player, All-Star center Caldwell Jones. ABA Commissioner Dave DeBusschere held Jones out of the auction as a “special case”. His contract was sold to the Kentucky Colonels in a separate transaction shortly thereafter.

The ABA’s troubled 1975-76 season ground on. The Utah Stars folded three weeks after the Sails on December 2, 1975 – the third ABA franchise to fold since the opening of training camp in October. The league folded in the spring of 1976, after four of the surviving seven teams were admitted via merger into the NBA.

 

San Diego Sails Shop

Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto

 

San Diego Sails Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Head coach Bill Musselman passed away on May 5, 2000 at the age of 59. New York Times obituary.

Guard Bob Warren died on August 25, 2014 at age 68. The Tennessean obituary.

All-Star Center Caldwell Jones died of a heart attack on September 21, 2014. He was 64 years old. New York Times obituary.

 

Links

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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