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1968-69 Minnesota Pipers

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Minnesota PipersAmerican Basketball Association (1968-1969)

Born: June 28, 1968 – The Pittsburgh Pipers relocate to Minneapolis, MN
Moved: 1969 (Pittsburgh Condors)

Arenas: 

Team Colors:

Owners: William Erickson & Gabe Rubin

ABA Championships: None

 

The American Basketball Association began play in 1967 and established its league officers in Minneapolis. Former Minneapolis Lakers superstar George Mikan served as the ABA’s first commissioner. And the Twin Cities received one of the ABA’s eleven original franchises – the Minnesota Muskies. The Muskies, led by rookie center Mel Daniels, were outstanding and posted the second-best record in the league at 50-28. But Minnesotans ignored the team at the box office. The Muskies moved to Miami after the ABA’s inaugural season ended in May 1968.

Minnesota got another shot at the ABA just month later. Gabe Rubin, owner of the 1968 league champion Pittsburgh Pipers, sold a majority interest in his club to Minnesota attorney William Erickson. The Pipers had a superb roster of players, including the league’s reigning MVP Connie Hawkins, All-Star guard Charlie Williams, former Duke star Art Heyman and power forward Trooper Washington, who led the ABA in field goal percentage in 1967-68. Hawkins and Williams were both blacklisted from the NBA at the time due to dubious collegiate point shaving allegations.

Crucially, Pittsburgh Pipers head coach Vince Cazzetta did not move west with the team. Pipers’ ownership reportedly declined to pay his relocation expenses. Minnesota replaced Cazzetta with a man named Jim Harding. Harding was a collegiate coach, known for winning records and short tenures at a string of small schools. Harding was a drillmaster and self-described perfectionist, putting the Pipers through exhausting practices, banning soul music in the locker room and raging on the sidelines.

Minnesota PipersThe defending champs raced off to an 18-8 start in the fall of 1968. Connie Hawkins averaged nearly 35 points per game through the first month, including an ABA record 57 against the New York Nets on November 27, 1968. Jim Harding earned a spot coaching the Eastern Conference squad at the January 1968 ABA All-Star Game by virtue of the Pipers’ hot start. But Harding was beginning to unravel. Feuds with his players and Pipers management went public. In late December, Harding experienced chest pains and doctors diagnosed with him high blood pressure. He was ordered to take a six-week break from coaching the Pipers, but returned after three.

Meanwhile, injuries started to take a toll on the Pipers. Connie Hawkins missed 25 games after mid-season knee surgery. Minnesota’s record stood at 24-14 when Harding returned from his medical leave in mid-January 1969. The Pipers stumbled into the All-Star Break with a 2-5 record after Harding resumed his coaching duties.

Simmering tensions with the coach finally boiled over at the 1969 ABA All-Star Game in Louisville, Kentucky. Hawkins missed the game due to his knee problems. Trooper Washington and Charlie Williams represented the Pipers on the Eastern Conference team, along with Harding. Harding got into a late night physical altercation with Pipers founder and co-owner Gabe Rubin at the host hotel on the night before the game. The fracas left both men visibly bruised and scratched. Commissioner George Mikan removed Harding as coach of the Eastern All-Stars. The Pipers fired Harding  shortly thereafter. He never coached professional basketball again.

The Pipers faded in the second half and finished 4th in the East with a 36-42 record. They lost in the first round of the 1969 ABA playoffs to the Miami Floridians – the franchise that had been the Minnesota Muskies the year before.

Connie Hawkins averaged 30.4 points and 11.4 boards for the season. The Hawk earned First Team ABA All-Star honors for 1969 despite missing a third of the season. After the season, he settled his lawsuit with the National Basketball Association. The NBA ended his ban and paid him a $1.3 million settlement. He left the ABA and made his long-delayed NBA debut with the Phoenix Suns in the fall of 1969 . He was 27 years old. The Basketball Hall-of-Fame inducted Connie Hawkins in its Class of 2012.

The Pipers proved no more viable in the Twin Cities than the Muskies were the year before. At first the Pipers tried to cultivate a regional appeal by splitting games between the Met Center and the Duluth Arena. But the Duluth games were a box office flop and the experiment was abandoned by January 1969. After the 1968-69 season concluded in April 1969, co-owner William Erickson gave up on the Pipers and relinquished the club to founder Gabe Rubin. In the absence of any other options, Rubin moved the team back to Pittsburgh for the 1969-70 season. The franchise eventually went out of business in 1972.

 

Minnesota Pipers Shop

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


Met Center Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

 

Minnesota Pipers Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Power forward Tom “Trooper” Washington suffered a fatal heart attack on the sideline while coaching the minor league Pittsburgh Pit Bulls on November 20, 2004. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary.

Guard/forward Art Heyman passed away on August 27, 2012 at age 71. New York Times obituary.

Pipers Hall-of-Fame forward/center Connie Hawkins died on October 6, 2017 at the age of 75. New York Times obituary.

 

Links

American Basketball Association Media Guides

American Basketball Association Programs

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 26th, 2017 at 4:05 pm

1978-1981 Minnesota Fillies

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Minnesota FilliesWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1978-1981)

Born: 1978 – WPBL founding franchise
Folded: Postseason 1981

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Gordon Nevers

WPBL Championships: None

 

The Minnesota Fillies were one of eight founding franchises in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in 1978, which was the first pro hoops league for women in the United States.  Minnesota was one of only three clubs, along with the Chicago Hustle and New Jersey Gems, that managed to survive for all three seasons of the WPBL’s existence from 1978 to 1981.

The Fillies made their debut on December 15, 1978 losing to the Iowa Cornets 103-81 at the Met Center in Bloomington before an announced crowd of 4,102.  The Fillies debut season was a study in chaos.  Three different women and two men coached the Fillies through training camp and a 34-game regular season schedule.  The coaches included team owner Gordon Nevers, a former mortician with no previous basketball experience. The Fillies finished the 1978-79 season with a 17-17 record and missed the playoffs.

Minnesota FilliesThe Fillies finest season was their second one.  Nevers hired former University of Minnesota star Terry Kunze to coach the team and the Fillies responded with a 22-12 record.  They defeated the New Orleans Pride in the playoff quarterfinals, setting up a best-of-three series with their arch rivals, the Iowa Cornets, in the semis in March 1980.  The Fillies blew out the Cornets in Game One by a 108-87 margin, but Iowa won the next two games and ended the Fillies’ run.

Nevers’ financial problems sank the Fillies third and final season in the winter of 1980-81.  The club left the Met Center in favor of the smaller Minneapolis Auditorium because it was cheaper and better suited to the typical Fillies’ crowd of around 1,000 people a night.  Missed payrolls culminated in a March 21, 1981 protest by Terry Kunze and eight Fillies players prior to a game in Chicago.  The disgruntled Fillies walked off the court just before tipoff and refused to return.  Officials awarded  the game to Chicago via forfeit, dropping the Fillies record to a league-worst 7-25.  WBL Commissioner Sherwin Fischer suspended Kunze and the eight players indefinitely.

Minnesota finished out the season using replacement players.  The Faux-Fillies lost their first game by 48 points and finished the season 7-28.

Whether or not Nevers and his partners could have or would have re-capitalized the team for another season will never be known. The rest of the Women’s Professional Basketball League folded before a fourth season could be staged.

 

Minnesota Fillies Shop


Met Center Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

 

Minnesota Fillies Memorabilia

 

Downloads

1978-79 Women’s Professional Basketball League Brochure

 

Links

Full of Heart in an Empty House“, Sarah Pileggi, Sports Illustrated, March 10, 1980

Women’s Professional Basketball League Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball League Programs

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1987-1991 Minnesota Monarchs

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Minnesota MonarchsMajor League Volleyball (1987-1989)
Independent (1990)

Born: November 25, 1986 – MLV founding franchise.
Died: 1991

Arenas:

Team Colors:

  • Home: Navy Blue & White
  • Away: Scarlet & White

Owners:

 

The Minnesota Monarchs were the most popular team in Major League Volleyball, a largely forgotten attempt to start an all-women’s pro volleyball circuit in the United States in the late 1980’s.  (The previous attempt at a pro volleyball league – the International Volleyball Association of the 1970’s – was co-ed).

The Monarchs were one of six original franchises when MLV debuted in early 1987.  The league had a cable TV contract with ESPN, which provided some national exposure and succeeded in signing top Olympic players of the era from the U.S. and Canada.   The Monarchs were the best draw in the league, averaging around 2,000 fans per match in the Twin Cities.

The team was a doormat at first, finishing 4-14 during the league’s inaugural season of 1987.  In 1988, the team improved to 16-6.  The team improved to 16-6 in 1988, thanks in part to the acquisition of former Fresno State star Ruth Lawanson, who was the Monarchs’ top attacking player and won Major League Volleyball MVP honors in 1988.

In 1989 the Monarchs were off to a stellar 9-0 start, when the rest of the league imploded around them.  While the Monarchs were a decent draw in Minneapolis, Major League Volleyball’s anchor teams in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York were nearly invisible and taking large losses.  The owners voted to shut down the league in late March 1989, less than halfway through the planned regular season schedule.

Major League Volleyball was dead, but the Monarchs lived on for two more years largely thanks to the perseverance of veteran minor league promoter Lee Meade (ABA, WHA, World Team Tennis, among other stops), who served as a league executive during the Major League Volleyball years.  Meade announced that the Monarchs announced they were part of something called the Women’s International Volleyball League, but in fact there was no such thing.  The “league” designation was window dressing for an exhibition schedule that saw the Monarchs barnstorm Minnesota, the Dakotas and Wisconsin, playing matches against the University of Manitoba, the “Legends of Beach Volleyball”, and touring clubs from Holland, Japan and the Soviet Union.

It appears the Monarchs faded from existence sometime in 1991, after a second barnstorming season.

 

==In Memoriam==

Monarchs All-Star Judy Bellomo (1988-1989) died of cancer at age 23 on January 24, 1990.

Monarchs General Manager and chief promoter Lee Meade passed away on December 29, 2010 at age 82 of complications from diabetes.

 

==Links==

It’s Not Exactly The Midas Touch” – November 1990 Sports Illustrated profile of Monarchs executive Lee Meade.

Major League Volleyball Programs

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Written by AC

September 5th, 2013 at 12:24 am

1996 Minnesota Fighting Pike

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Arena Football League (1996)

Born: November 1995 – AFL expansion franchise.
Died: November 1996 – The Fighting Pike cease operations.

Arena: The Target Center

Team Colors:

Owner: Tom Scallen

 

This isn’t just about high-speed, in-your-face football action, it’s about saving an entire generation of Minnesota’s game fish from becoming shore lunch.”  – Minnesota Fighting Pike President Tom Scallen describing – obliquely – his Arena Football team’s offbeat nickname in November 1995.

I love this name and logo, but not nearly as much as I love Tom Scallen’s nonsensical explanation for it. As far as I know, Scallen did not contribute any of the proceeds of his Arena Football club to bolster the Minnesota’s fragile freshwater ecosystem.  Far from it – the team’s creditors were reportedly stiffed to the tune of $200,000 when the team tanked after a single season.  But anyway…

The Pike were a 1996 expansion franchise in the Arena Football League.  Scallen was/is a colorful Minneapolis attorney and businessman, the one-time owner of the Ice Follies, the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters.  Scallen also was the man who brought the NHL to Vancouver as the first owner of the Vancouver Canucks in 1970.  Scallen conducted a controversial public sale of Canucks stock during their first season of play.  Canadian authorities investigated and eventually sent Scallen to prison for nine months and later deported him, bringing his tenure as an NHL owner to a swift end.  (Scallen’s view – recounted to the Toronto Globe & Mail three decades later – is that the charges were politically motivated, designed to drive out American ownership).

Scallen’s Fighting Pike debuted in Minneapolis on May 4th, 1996 at the Target Center.  Their opponents were the Iowa Barnstormers, whose starting quarterback was future Super Bowl hero Kurt Warner.  But the better known quarterback at the time for the reported 14,840 Minnesotans on hand was Fighting Pike starter Rickey Foggie, pictured on the evening’s game program (left).  Foggie was a former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher star (’88) who enjoyed a long career in the Canadian Football League before returning to Minnesota with the Pike.

The Barnstormers got the best of it on this night, defeating the Fighting Pike 59-43.  It was the start of a downhill slide, as the team dropped eight in a row under former CFL and USFL coach Ray Jauch.  A late season rebound saw Minnesota finish its only season at 4-10.

The bigger problem was that the curiosity seekers who turned out on opening night failed to return.  Attendance never again topped 9,000.  Scallen shut down the team right after the season and the franchise was formally dropped from the Arena Football League in November 1996, one year to the month after it was awarded.  A 2006 retrospective by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune pegged Scallen’s financial loss at $400,000 and noted that creditors were left holding the bag for $200,000 in unpaid bills when the franchise was liquidated.

If the Fighting Pike had any real legacy, it was the the now forgotten club gave an opportunity to an unheralded kicker from the University of West Virginia named Mike Vanderjagt who had been released four times in the Canadian Football League.  Vanderjagt only lasted a few games with the Pike, before he was replaced by the immortal Ty Stewart.  But in 1998 Vanderjagt hooked on with the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and enjoyed a nine-year NFL career, that included an All-Pro selection in 2003.  He retired as one of the most accurate placekickers in NFL history.

 

==1996 Fighting Pike Results==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
4/27/1996 @ Texas Terror W 36-24
5/4/1996 vs. Iowa Barnstormers L 53-49 Program
5/10/1996 vs. St. Louis Stampede L 59-22
5/18/1996 @ Albany Firebirds L 85-30
5/24/1996 vs. Tampa Bay Storm L 41-16
5/31/1996 vs. Anaheim Piranhas L 49-23
6/7/1996 vs. Arizona Rattlers L 59-27
6/15/1996 @ Florida Bobcats L 63-28
6/28/1996 vs. Milwaukee Mustangs L 61-49
7/5/1996 @ Connecticut Coyotes W 44-40
7/12/1996 @ Orlando Predators L 56-12
7/19/1996 vs. Texas Terror L 54-51
7/26/1996 @ San Jose Sabercats W 40-31
8/3/1996 @ Memphis Pharaohs W 50-25

 

==Key Players==

  • Mike Vanderjagt

 

 ==Links==

Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs

1996 Minnesota Fighting Pike Statistics on ArenaFan.com

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