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1995-1996 San Diego Wildcards

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San Diego WildcardsContinental Basketball Association (1995-1996)

Born: July 1995 – The Mexico City Aztecas relocate to San Diego, CA
Folded: January 5, 1996

Arena: San Diego Sports Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Doug Logan

CBA Championships: None

 

San Diego, California is not a wise location to start a professional basketball franchise.   The city has already lost three major league basketball clubs, which has got to be the record, right?   The NBA’s San Diego Rockets (1967-1971) and San Diego Clippers (1978-1984) barely made themselves at home before packing up and heading to greener pastures.  The American Basketball Association washed out in the 1970’s with the San Diego Conquistadors/Sails (1972-1975).

The San Diego Wildcards were a minor league club, part of the Continental Basketball Association.  At the time, the CBA played the role that the D-League does today, operating as a developmental league one-step below the NBA.  The immediate goal of most CBA players was to score a 10-day contract with an NBA club on a club with a short-term need.  The immediate goal of most CBA owners was to find a buyer who might just take this thing off their hands.

The CBA tried valiantly to cultivate an air of mainstream respectability. The truth was that it remained a ramshackle operation during the era of its NBA partnership in the 1980’s and 1990’s – the “Cockroach Basketball Association” as former CBA coach Charley Rosen put it (fondly).  Franchises shifted non-stop. It wasn’t unheard of for teams to go belly-up in the middle of a season.   The Wildcards franchise was shopworn even by CBA standards.  It began as an expansion team in Detroit in 1982 and wandered through the hands of numerous owners in Savannah, Tulsa, Fargo and even Mexico City before rolling into San Diego in July of 1995.

Wildcards owner Doug Logan acquired the franchise from reclusive minor league mogul Horn Chen in the spring of 1994.  Logan worked for the largest concert promoter in Mexico and was trying to assemble a pro sports division in Mexico City that would include a CBA franchise and an Arena Football team.  The CBA franchise, the Aztecas, lasted only one season and the Arena Football club never got off the ground.  By mid-1995, the Mexico effort was dead.   Logan hauled what was left of the Aztecas across the border to San Diego and set up shop for the 1995-96 CBA season.

Logan didn’t have the financial resources to underwrite or properly promote the franchise himself.  And all of the sudden he had new competition for his attention.  At the same time the Wildcards were getting off the ground in San Diego in late 1995, Logan was hired as the start-up Commissioner of Major League Soccer.

San Diego WildcardsSan Diegans had zero interest in CBA basketball or the promise of heated rivalries with Quad City, Illinois or Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  The Wildcards persuaded veteran coach Mauro Panaggio to come out of retirement and manage the club.  Panaggio was the winningest coach in CBA history. But he couldn’t get much out of this bunch of Wildcards.   The team got out to a 4-17 start.  By early January, less than two months into the season, the club was $500,000 in debt. The Wildcards averaged only 1,612 fans per game in the 14,000-seat San Diego Sports Arena.  A scheduled January 5th home game against the Shreveport Storm had a pre-sale of five tickets (!) not including season ticket holders.  At this point it was clear there was no future and Logan pulled the plug after two months.  His Logan Sports Enterprises went into bankruptcy a few months later.

Logan would serve as Commissioner of Major League Soccer from 1995 to 1999 and later as CEO of USA Track & Field from 2008 to 2010.

The Wildcards name and ghastly logo (left) were inspired by a sponsorship deal with the nearby Viejas Casino & Turf Club, whose logo appeared on the team jerseys.

 

Links

Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs

 

Additional Sources

“The Wildcards couldn’t draw, so they just fold”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 6, 1996

“Wildcards left no assets, lots of unpaid bills”, Mark Zeigler, The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 12, 1997

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