Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Women’s Basketball League (1978-1981)

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The Women’s Professional Basketball League was the first attempt to launch a nationwide professional basketball league for women. The league was a creation of sports promoter Bill Byrne, who had previous involvement in start-up ventures such as the World Football League (1974-1975) and the American Professional Slo-Pitch League (1977-1980).

The WPBL debuted on December 9th, 1978 with a game between the Milwaukee Does and the Chicago Hustle at the MECCA  Arena in Milwaukee.  Attendance was poor and media coverage was scant in many cities, but the league managed to complete its first season with all eight franchises intact.  There were also bright spots.  The Chicago Hustle drew a loyal crowd and broadcast games on WGN-TV.  The Iowa franchise was terrific on the court and developed a state-wide following, touring various gyms and arenas around the state in a custom 1964 Greyhound called “the Corndog”.  The expansion San Francisco Pioneers were well managed and well attended.

The wheels started to come off during the WPBL’s second season in the winter of 1979-80.  Under capitalized clubs in California, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. folded without completing their schedules and a fourth – Dallas – was narrowly saved after its original owner bailed.  Following the season, four  more clubs dropped out.

The league returned for a third and final season in 1980-81, but was plagued by more of the same problems.  Players struck over unpaid wages in New England and Minnesota and the league lost another team in mid-season when the New England Gulls went belly up.  The Nebraska Wranglers won the final WPBL championship in April 1981.  The league quietly shut down in stages over the months that followed, never formally announcing its demise.  It just faded away.

The 1979-1981 WPBL is also sometimes referred to simply as the Women’s Basketball League or WBL.

 

Women’s Basketball League Franchise list

Franchise Years Active WBL Champions
California Dreams 1979-1980 None
Chicago Hustle 1978-1981 None
Dallas Diamonds 1979-1981 None
Dayton Rockettes 1978-1979 None
Houston Angels 1978-1980 1979
Iowa Cornets 1978-1980 None
Milwaukee Does 1978-1980 None
Minnesota Fillies 1978-1981 None
Nebraska Wranglers 1980-1981 1981
New England Gulls 1980-1981 None
New Jersey Gems 1978-1981 None
New Orleans Pride 1979-1981 None
New York Stars 1978-1980 1980
Philadelphia Fox 1979 None
St. Louis Streak 1979-1981 None
San Francisco Pioneers 1979-1981 None
Washington Metros 1979 None

 

Women’s Basketball League Shop

Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women’s Professional Basketball League 1978-1981 by Karra Porter



You Let Some Girl Beat You? The Story of Ann Meyers Drysdale
 by Ann Meyers Drysdale

 

Downloads

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

 

Links

Good Seats Still Available Podcast #28
EPISODE 28: Women’s Pro Basketball’s “Machine Gun” Molly Kazmer

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Written by AC

March 25th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Posted in

3 Responses to 'Women’s Basketball League (1978-1981)'

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  1. As I look through the photos of the New Orleans Pride I am sad, because I see no pictures of key players. I was a key player for this team. But of course like all the colleges I attend on a basketball scholarship, they failed to recognize players like myself as outstanding role models for the program. I wonder is it because I came from a small high school in the state of Mississippi

    Wanda Ard

    8 Dec 16 at 4:14 pm

  2. I agree with Wanda Ard. I see no photos of her or Kathy Swilley.

    Becky Jones

    15 Jan 17 at 5:46 pm

  3. I played for the Chicago Hustle the first two years. I was wondering why it is the only team without a program or information. I have several pieces of memorabilia. Please update Chicago’s link. I am sure Doug Bruno, the original coach and current Depaul Women’s basketball coach has information as well. Please update the Chicago Hustle page…it would be greatly appreciated by the Hustle players.

    Liz Galloway McQuitter

    25 Jan 17 at 5:30 am

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