Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Ann Meyers’ tag

1978-1981 New Jersey Gems

leave a comment

Ann Meyers New Jersey GemsWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1981

Arenas:

Team Colors: Royal Blue & Jersey Orange

Owners:

WBL Championships: None

 

The New Jersey Gems were one of eight founding franchises in the pioneering Women’s Professional Basketball League in the winter of 1978-79.  The WPBL was the first professional basketball league for women in the United States.  Of the eight original clubs, the Gems were one of only three to survive for all three of the league’s seasons.

New Jersey GemsThe Gems featured two of the highest paid and best known players in the early years of the women’s game – Ann Meyers and Carol Blazejowski – but never seriously contended for a league championship.  They finally made the playoffs during the WPBL’s third and final season, but were shown a quick first round exit by the league’s third great star, Nancy Lieberman and her Dallas Diamonds.

In the WPBL’s inaugural season, the Gems fielded a largely anonymous roster and were the worst team in the league with a 9-25 record.

In November 1979, new Gems owner Robert Milo signed former UCLA star Ann Meyers to a three-year contract worth $130,000.   (Average pay in the WPBL at the time was around $10,000 per season).  At the time Meyers was the closest thing to a household name in women’s basketball.  A silver medalist on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, Meyers led UCLA to a national championship as a senior in 1978.  She burst into national headlines in September 1979 when the Indiana Pacers of the NBA signed her to a rookie contract, making her the first female athlete to sign with a major American professional sports team. The Pacers cut Meyers after a brief trial and she moved into the Pacers’ broadcast booth until Milo came calling two months later.  Meyers would go on to win co-MVP honors in the WPBL in the 1979-80 season. The Gems finished 19-17, narrowly missing the playoffs.

Carol BlazejowskiMeyers declined to return for the 1980-81 season, later telling The Christian Science Monitor that her paychecks stopped arriving in the summer of 1980.  Her pro career was over after a single MVP season.  The Gems replaced Meyers with another big name for their third season, signing former Montclair State star Carol Blazejowski to a three-year, $150,000 contract.

The Gems moved the South Mountain Arena in West Orange for the 1980-81 campaign and had their best season yet.  Blazejowski lit up the league as a rookie, leading the WPBL in scoring with 29.6 PPG.  The team finished 23-13 and made the postseason for the first time.    In the playoffs, the Gems ran into Lieberman and the Diamonds and lost 2 games to 1 in a best-of-three series.

Their Game 3 semi-final defeat in Dallas on April 6, 1981 turned out to be last game for the franchise.  The WPBL quietly faded away sometime in late 1981.  No formal announcement about the league’s fate was ever made, but the WPBL never staged a fourth season.

##

Former Queens College All-American Donna Geils played for the Gems during the 1979-80 season.  Under her married name Donna Orender, she later served as President of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) from 2005 to 2010.  Former Gem Carol Blazejowski also became a high-ranking executive in the WNBA, serving as VP/General Manager and later President of the New York Liberty franchise from 1997 to 2010.

The Gems also featured identical twin forwards Faye Young and Kaye Young during the 1979-80 season.  The “Yogurt Twins”  brought much needed notoriety to the publicity-starved league by starring in a Dannon Yogurt ad campaign.  Faye Young went on to co-author Winning Basketball For Girls, a coach’s handbook which has been through numerous print editions over the years.  Kaye Young married Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and was known to Pittsburgh sports fans as Kaye Cowher.  She passed away in 2010.

 

New Jersey Gems 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 Drydale by Ann Meyers Drysdale

 

New Jersey Gems Memorabilia

 

Gems Video

Ann Meyers & Magic Johnson 7-Up commercial circa 1980

 

 

 In Memoriam

Gems forward Kaye Young died after a battle with skin cancer on June 23, 2010.  She was 54.

 

Downloads

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

1978-79 New Jersey Gems Season Ticket Brochure

February 1980 “Gemstones” Team Newsletter

March 1980 “Gemstones” Team Newsletter

 

Links

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

###

 

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: