Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Billie Jean King’ tag

1978 Anaheim Oranges

leave a comment

1977 Anaheim Oranges Pocket ScheduleWorld Team Tennis (1978)

Born: December 6, 1977 – WTT expansion franchise.
Folded: Postseason 1978

Arena: Anaheim Convention Center

Team Colors:

Owners: Dr. Jerry Buss, Frank Mariani & Billie Jean King

WTT Championships: None


The Anaheim Oranges were an expansion franchise during the final season of World Team Tennis in 1978.  Anaheim received a full-fledged franchise of its own after the Anaheim Convention Center hosted 10 league contests as a neutral site in 1977.

The Oranges were owned by Dr. Jerry Buss and his business partner Frank Mariani, who also backed the league’s other Southern California franchises, the Los Angeles Strings and San Diego Friars.  Tennis superstar and league co-founder Billie Jean King reportedly owned 29 percent of the franchise, though she played for the rival New York Apples team in 1978.

World Team Tennis was a co-ed league and featured top touring pros from all over the world who played in the league during breaks between Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and other summer tournaments.  Key players for the ’78 Oranges included Rosie Casals, Cliff Drysdale and 15-year old Tracy Austin, who appeared in three matches for Anaheim as an unpaid amateur.

The franchise folded along with the rest of the World Team Tennis organization in late 1978. Billie Jean King revived a lower-budget version of the league in 1981 and a re-boot of the Oranges (the “California Oranges”) returned to the Anaheim Convention Center that summer. The new Oranges lasted from 1981 to 1983 before fading into history.


World Team Tennis Media Guides

World Team Tennis Programs


1974 Toronto-Buffalo Royals

leave a comment

Buffalo-Toronto RoyalsWorld Team Tennis (1974)

Born: 1974 World Team Tennis founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1974


Team Colors:

Owner: John Bassett


The Toronto-Buffalo Royals were one 16 original franchises in World Team Tennis (1974-1978) in the summer of 1974.  The league was founded by Billie Jean King, her husband Larry, and serial sports promoter Dennis Murphy A few of the founding investors from Murphy’s World Hockey Association (1972-1979) signed on as investors in the new venture, including Royals owner John Bassett.  Bassett’s burgeoning sports empire included the WHA’s Toronto Toros and the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League.  All three of Bassett’s pro sports franchises were organized during a spree of activity in 1973 and early 1974.

The Royals’ star attraction was player-coach Tom Okker of the Netherlands, the 1968 U.S. Open finalist and a Top Ten-ranked singles player throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies.  Other members of the Royals’ six-person roster included Mike Estep, Jan O’Neill, Wendy Overton and Laura Rossouw.

In the “team” concept, each World Team Tennis club consisted of three male and three female players.  Matches consisted of a single set each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles, with one point awarded to a team for each game won within a set.

A July 30, 1974 contest against the Pittsburgh Triangles at The Aud in Buffalo illustrates the league’s unique scoring system.  The match opened with Pittsburgh’s Evonne Goolagong overpowering Jan O’Neill 6-2 in the women’s singles set.  Then Goolagong and partner Peggy Michel edged O’Neill and Rossouw 7-6 in women’s doubles to open up a 13-8 lead for the Triangles.  The Royals pulled ahead during the men’s portion.  Okker beat Pittsburgh’s Ken Rosewall 6-2in singles and the Okker/Estep doubles team bested Rosewall and Gerald Battrick 6-4 in doubles.  The Royals entered the fifth and final set of the night – mixed doubles – holding a 20-19 lead in points.  The Estep/Overton duo held off Pittsburgh’s Battrick/Michel pairing 7-6 for a final score of 27-25 in favorite of Buffalo-Toronto.

The Royals finished the 1974 season with the second-worst record in the league at 13-31.  The Royals went out of business shortly after the season as World Team Tennis shrunk from 16 original teams to only 10 for the league’s second season.


==Toronto-Buffalo Royals Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
7/9/1974 vs. Philadelphia Freedoms L 27-26 Program



World Team Tennis Media Guides

World Team Tennis Programs


September 13, 1978 – Boston Lobsters vs. Los Angeles Strings

leave a comment

Boston Lobsters vs. New York Apples
1978 World Team Tennis Championship Series
September 13, 1978
Walter Brown Arena

World Team Tennis Programs
112 pages


We recently unearthed this great little collection of material from the final days of World Team Tennis (1974-1978) in Wakefield, Massachusetts.  This collector had a “Super Tie-Breaker” game program from the 1978 WTT playoff best-of-five Championship Series between Robert Kraft’s Boston Lobsters and Dr. Jerry Buss’ Los Angeles Strings.  Billie Jean King, league co-founder and star of the New York Apples franchise, is pictured on the cover.

In addition, he had saved a complete set of game notes, a ticket stub, and a few Lobsters promotional flyers for the playoff series.  The series began in Boston at the Walter Brown Arena on the campus of Boston University.  And this truly was an attractive promotion for local tennis fans.  The Lobsters featured 1978 Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova.  The Strings had the unpredictable, profane and always entertaining player-coach Ilie Nastase and the young American superstar Chris Evert, who had won the women’s singles title at the U.S. Open just one week before this playoff series opened.

The Navratilova-Evert rivalry was just burgeoning and would go on to become the dominant storyline of women’s tennis in the early-mid 1980’s.  Unfortunately for Boston tennis lovers, Navratilova injured her shoulder during the U.S. Open and could not participate in either of the first two Championship Series dates in Boston.  She was inadequately replaced by 19-year Anne Smith, who was no match for Evert in either match.

The series moved back to Los Angeles for a potentially deciding Game Three on September 19, 1978.  A Strings record crowd of 10,366 was on hand.  Navratilova played through her tendinitis and gutted out a 7-5 women’s singles set over Evert.  Anne Smith and Lobsters player-coach Roy Emerson defeated Nastase and Ann Kiyomura in the deciding mixed doubles match, keeping the Lobsters alive and forcing a Game Four.  But the Strings put the series away in Game Four two nights later, earning the fifth and final championship of World Team Tennis before a Forum crowd of 7,154.


One month later, Robert Kraft folded the Lobsters on the same day that New York Apples owner Sol Berg folded his club.  Buss followed two weeks later, shutting down the Strings in early November 1978, despite setting a league attendance record and winning the league championship.  The entire league was more or less kaput by Thanksgiving, ending one of the quirkier professional sports experiments of the 1970’s.

Billie Jean King was still sold on the concept of Team Tennis and revived the league in 1981.  It continues to play today, although in much smaller country club venues (compared to the big NBA and NHL arenas of the 1970’s league) and with much less media coverage.



September 13, 1978 Boston Lobsters Game Notes – World Team Tennis Championship Series

1978 Boston Lobsters Playoff Ticket Sales Flyer

1978 Boston Lobsters Media Guide




Boston Lobsters Home Page

Los Angeles Strings Home Page



1974-1978 New York Sets & New York Apples


World Team Tennis (1974-1978)

Born: 1973 – WTT founding franchise
October 27, 1978 – The Apples cease operations


Team Colors:

Owner: Sol Berg


The New York Sets/Apples were a pro tennis franchise active in Manhattan from 1974 to 1978.   The club was active for all five season of World Team Tennis (1974-1978), a funky little organization that attempted to graft the classic tropes of American professional team sports (team scoring, standings, cheerleaders, booing and cheering) onto the hushed, snooty atmosphere of the pro tennis tour.   The league was founded in 1973 by serial sports entrepreneur Dennis Murphy in partnership with the game’s greatest female star, Billie Jean King, her husband/business partner Larry King, and a few others investors.

Jerry Saperstein, son of Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein, originally held the New York franchise but quickly sold it off to Sol Berg.  WTT owners were inexplicably enamored with team names relating to the rules and equipment of the game.  Loves, Nets, Racquets and Strings were among franchise monikers.  New York ended up with one of the dullest and least imaginative – the New York Sets.

The Sets debuted on May 7, 1974, losing to the Hawaii Leis before an announced crowd of 4,990 at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum.  Under WTT’s novel scoring system, each match consisted of five sets – one each of men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.  There were no love or advantages – each game of a set was simply scored zero, 1, 2, 3, game.  Match scoring was simply the cumulative games won from each of the five sets.

The Sets finished in the cellar in 1974 with a 15-29 record.  Fans were largely indifferent – the club drew an average of just 2,869 for 22 home dates during the summer.  But the Sets’ fortunes changed in February 1975 when the Sets traded for league founder Billie Jean King, whose Philadelphia Freedoms franchise was about to go under.   King, still a formidable player at age 31, made the team an immediate contender.  The Sets made the playoffs in 1975 and won the World Team Tennis championship in 1976, sweeping the Oakland-based Golden Gaters.  The decisive match drew 5,730 to the Nassau Coliseum in late August.

In 1977 the club moved into Manhattan, splitting dates between the 17,800-seat Madison Square Garden and the more intimate 3,700-seat Felt Forum tucked inside the Garden. To celebrate the move, the club also re-branded, dropping the dreadful “Sets” nickname and becoming the New York Apples for the 1977 season.

The Garden was favored for bigger matches, such as a June 6, 1977 match against the Phoenix Racquets which showcased the two biggest stars of the women’s pro tour: Billie Jean King of the Sets and Chris Evert of the Racquets.  The match drew a league record 13,675 fans.  The Apples repeated as WTT champions in 1977 and attendance surged 38% with the move to Manhattan, topping 100,000 for the season and an average of 4,939 per match.

For the 1978 season, the Apples added a male superstar to pair with King, adding 23-year old Vitas Gerulaitis, who ranked as one of the top five males in the world at the time.  The Apples also added a 21-year old rookie out of Douglaston, New York named Mary Carillo.  Carillo would go on to become one of the great broadcasters of tennis and a highly respected reporter on HBO’s Real Sports and NBC’s Olympics coverage in the 1990’s and 2000’s.

There would be no third straight title for the Apples in 1978.  The New Yorkers ran into another star-studded team in the playoff semi-finals – the Los Angeles Strings led by Evert and the temperamental Romanian Ilie Nastase.  Here JoAnne Russell of the Apples takes on Evert in the decisive August 24th, 1978 semi-final match:

The Strings ousted the defending champion Apples on this night and went on to win the final championship of World Team Tennis in September 1978.  This televised match turned out to be the final one the Apples franchise ever played.  Team owner Sol Berg shutdown the Apples on October 27, 1978 in tandem with Boston Lobsters owner Robert Kraft.  Berg and Kraft cited an inability (or unwillingness – it wasn’t totally clear) of WTT owners to sign the biggest stars of the men’s and women’s game as their reason for withdrawing.



1978 New York Apples Media Guide

1975 World Team Tennis Season Advertising Rates Brochure



World Team Tennis Media Guides

World Team Tennis Programs





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

Join other followers: