Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Houston Angels’ tag

1978-1980 Houston Angels

leave a comment

Houston AngelsWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1980)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise.
Folded: Postseason 1980

Arenas:

Team Colors: Powder Blue & Dark Blue

Owner: Hugh Sweeney

WPBL Champions: 1979

 

Trivia question: what city won the first ever championship for women’s professional basketball in the United States?

Answer: Houston, Texas, where the Houston Angels captured the league title during the inaugural season of the Women’s Professional Basketball League in April of 1979.  The WPBL was the first attempt to create a fully-fledged pro league for women. It lasted three seasons from 1978 to 1981.  The Angels managed to hang in there for the first two only.

At the WPBL’s inaugural draft at Essex House in Manhattan in July 1978, the Angels selected UCLA star Ann Meyers with the #1 overall pick.  But Meyers declined to sign with the league, preferring to remain an amateur for the 1980 Moscow Olympics (which the U.S. subsequently boycotted).  Meyers would later join the WPBL’s New Jersey Gems for the league’s second season in 1979-80.

Houston AngelsDespite losing out on Meyers, the Angels raced out to the WPBL’s best regular season record (26-8) under Head Coach Don Knodel.  Top performers Belinda Candler (19.9 PPG) and Paula Mayo (15.9 PPG) were both named All-Pro.  The Angels met the Iowa Cornets in the WPBL Championship Series.  The best-of-five series went the distance, with the deciding Game 5 held at the University of Houston’s Hofheinz Pavilion before a crowd of 5,976.  The Angels bested the Cornets 111-104, thanks to a 36 point, 22 rebound performance by Mayo.

Angels owner Hugh Sweeney was a Houston-area tennis promoter and former professional player (he had some notoriety as the last man to compete in pro tennis wearing long pants during the 1950’s).  Sweeney was not an especially wealthy owner and midway through the Angels second season, he and the team fell prey to a bizarre hoax.  In December 1979 Sweeney announced the sale of the team to an organization called Sports Resources International, Inc. for the sum of $1 million.  It was an eye-opening figure, as Sweeney and the other initial investors paid just $50,000 for their franchises when the WPBL formed in early 1978.

The press covered the sale announcement, but something seemed off. The principal investor of Sports Resources International was a fellow named Richard E. Klingler.  Klingler presented himself to the team at a practice session and behaved strangely. He barely raised his voice above an inaudible murmur in his remarks to the team, according to Karra Porter in her WPBL history Mad Seasons: The Story of the First Women’s Professional Basketball League.  Klingler, it turned out, was a blue collar laborer seeking media attention.

“He was like a machinist in a machine shop, and didn’t any more have a million dollars than you or me,” former Angels assistant coach Greg Williams told Porter.

Once the hoax came to light, it seemed to knock the wind out of the Angels organization.  Sweeney was out of money and needed the sale.  Shortly after Klingler evaporated in January 1980, Sweeney fell behind on rent payment to Hofheinz Pavilion to the tune of $8,800. The debt forced the postponement of a scheduled game against the Dallas Diamonds.   The Angels remained competitive on the court and the team managed to complete the season. Houston won the Western Division with a 19-14 record.  Paula Mayo and Belinda Candler were named to the All-Star team again.  The San Francisco Pioneers eliminated the Angels in the playoff quarterfinals, ending Houston’s run as league champions.

The team folded after the 1979-80 season, with the official announcement of the team’s demise coming in October 1980.

 

Houston Angels Shop

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

 

Houston Angels Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Former Angels owner Hugh Sweeney passed away in September 2008 at the age of 79.

 

Downloads

December 22, 1978 Houston Angels Inaugural Home Game Program

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

1978-79 Houston Angels Season Ticket Brochure

1979-80 Houston Angels Season Ticket Brochure

 

Links

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

###

 

Written by AC

January 9th, 2013 at 2:32 am

Follow

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

Join other followers: