Posts Tagged ‘WBL’
If they are remembered for nothing else – and they aren’t – the Erie (PA) Wave of the World Basketball League came up with one of the all-time great cheerleading squad names: the Eriesistibles. What else can be said about the Wave? They plied their trade in a gimmicky basketball league that had a height limit. Two of their players became so disgruntled with the team that they retired to start their own rival WBL franchise. And shortly after the team folded in the middle of its third season, Wave players and staff learned that they had unwittingly taken part in a massive criminal enterprise.
Erie received a WBL expansion entry in early 1990, just 67 days before tip-off of the franchise’s first game. The three-year old World Basketball League had several unique features that separated it from other basketball leagues. Players could be no taller than 6′ 5″ tall. The league played an untraditional May-August summer schedule, allowing minor leaguers from the winter Continental Basketball Association to ply their trade year round. Although the league had only seven franchises in 1990, they stretched across North America from Saskatchewan to Las Vegas to Memphis. To fill out the schedule, the WBL various imported clubs from Western Europe and the Soviet Union, which were not subject to the height limit. These games counted in the standings, but were basically an automatic win. WBL teams routinely pummeled the lumbering foreign clubs, who collectively lost 51 out of the 56 international games played in 1990.
The WBL business model called for the league to hold a 60% equity interest in each club, with local ownership holding the other 40%. During the 1990 season, Erie’s local investor was a car dealer named George Turner. Turner caught the basketball bug as a season ticket holder with the WBL’s nearby Youngstown Pride, located only 100 miles away and considered the league’s model franchise.
The Wave debuted at Erie’s Tullio Arena on May 17th, 1990 against the Calgary 88’s before an estimated crowd of 4,500. Attendance withered thereafter, as did the team’s performance on the court. The 1990 Wave finished in last place with a 12-34 record and posted an announced average attendance of 2,270 per game.
George Turner declined to renew his financial support at the end of the 1990 season. The WBL failed to find new local ownership to replace Turner. When the Wave returned for the 1991 season, they were wards of the league office and its primary patron, WBL founder and Youngstown Pride owner Michael “Mickey” Monus, the President of the Youngstown-based Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain. The 1991 Wave won 18 games against 33 losses, once again posting the worst record in the WBL.
The Wheels came off for the WBL during its fifth season in 1992. The league’s Canadian expansion of the past few years proved quite successful, as clubs in Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Halifax drew strong crowds. It was the American franchises – many of whom, like Erie, did not have functional local ownership, – that were bleeding the league dry. On June 15th, 1992 the WBL shuttered both of its poorly attended Florida clubs, the Florida Jades and the Jacksonville Stingrays, in midseason. The remaining clubs found the league office – which owned 60% of the equity in their franchises – unresponsive as bills mounted and went unpaid. The trail of financial problems led directly to the league’s founder and sugar daddy, Mickey Monus and his crumbling house of cards at Phar-Mor.
On July 20th, 1992 the cash-poor World Basketball League shut down the Erie Wave with 13 games remaining on the regular season schedule. The Wave had a record of 12-26 at the time. Attendance for the 1992 season at Tullio Arena averaged just 1,077 fans per game, compared to a league-wide announced average of 3,194.
In late July 1992, several days after the Wave folded, Phar-Mor opened its 300th store. Days later Monus was ousted when company officials discovered Monus and his CFO were maintaining two sets of books, claiming rapid growth and profits while Phar-Mor was actually generating huge losses and falling far behind in payments to its suppliers. Among other crimes, Monus had embezzled close to $10 million from Phar-Mor over four years to underwrite the operating losses of the WBL and its franchises. The entire financial underpinning of the WBL was revealed to be a criminal enterprise, with the local investors and front office managers in the role of unwitting participants. On August 1st, 1992, the World Basketball League folded in the midst of its fifth season, days after the downfall of its patron. Monus’ downfall also cost the jobs of 17,000 Phar-Mor employees – the seemingly robust chain was forced into bankruptcy – and nearly sank the fledgling Colorado Rockies expansion franchise in Major League Baseball, in which Monus was a major investor.
One of the best Wave players was Jamie Waller, a 1987 2nd round draft pick of the New Jersey Nets. Waller led the WBL in scoring in four consecutive seasons from 1988-1991. Waller began the 1991 season with the Nashville Stars and joined Erie midway through, finishing the season with a 26.3 points per game scoring average. Waller was dealt to the Youngstown Pride prior to the 1992 season.
In 2008, professional basketball returned to Erie after a sixteen year absence when the NBA D-League placed the Erie Bayhawks expansion franchise at Tullio Arena. The D-League is the official development league of the National Basketball Association (and has no height limits).
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“World Basketball League his chance to make Waves”, Paul Jayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 14, 1990
“The Short, Unhappy History of the Erie Wave”, GoErie.com, March 19, 2008
The Florida Jades were dreamt up by a pair of disgruntled minor league basketball players in a Saskatoon motel room, took their name from a cheap men’s cologne, and ultimately became a sideshow to one of the largest corporate frauds in United States history. Not too shabby for a club that lasted barely sixteen months from start to finish.
24-year old Delray Brooks and 25-year old Eric Newsome came up with the idea of owning their own basketball franchise in the summer of 1990, while both men played for the Erie (PA) Wave of the World Basketball League. The WBL was a summertime minor league basketball circuit with a peculiar gimmick – all players had to be 6′ 5″ or shorter.
“Being players ourselves, I think we have an understanding of what makes a successful franchise,” Brooks told Sports Illustrated’s Jack McCallum. “The players are the cornerstone. You can’t cater to them, but you have to have an understanding of their problems. That’s what was lacking in some of our other experiences in the league.”
WBL league rules called for each franchise to be owned 60% by the league and 40% by local ownership, ostensibly to maintain stability in the league and prevent disenchanted local investors from unilaterally folding their clubs. Effectively, this placed financial control of each of the WBL’s nine franchises in the hands of Michael “Mickey” Monus, league founder and President of the Ohio-based Phar-Mor discount pharmacy chain.
Moving beyond just idle talk, Brooks and Newsome turned to Newsome’s father, a Vice President at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Buy-in for a WBL expansion franchise in 1991 was $500,000. Using the elder Newsome’s contacts, the pair of young and insolvent minor league ballers found a local businessman, Gary Rice, to fund their $200,000 stake for 40% interest in the team. Rice owned a cosmetics distribution company in Georgia. The team would take their name – the Florida Jades – from “Jade East”, a discount brand of men’s cologne marketed by Rice. The WBL formally introduced the Jades at a press conference in a Boca Raton Holiday Inn on February 7th, 1991. Brooks and Newsome would both serve as Vice Presidents of the Jades…and taxi squad players.
On the court, the Jades put together a strong team for their debut season. Under Head Coach Matt Creamer, the club went 30-21, finishing second in the WBL’s Southern Division. The Jades defeated the Memphis Rockers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the eventual champion Dayton Wings in the league semi-finals.
Newsome, tasked with the business operations of the Jades, told The Boca Raton Daily News that he hoped the club would draw 2,500 to 3,000 fans per game to the Florida Atlantic University’s 4,500 gymnasium. Season tickets ranged from $200 to $285 for the Jades’ 27 home games in the spring and summer of 1991. Actual attendance was significantly less, with the Jades frequently announcing crowds of fewer than a thousand at FAU.
When the Jades returned for the 1992 season, Rice was gone, along with his proteges Brooks and Newsome. The league increased its ownership stake in the Jades to 80%, as it had in another troubled franchise, the Erie Wave. Less than a month before the 1992 season tipped off, WBL Commissioner John Geletka travelled to Florida to introduce the Jades’ new management team. Geletka also worked as a sports agent and the new investors included one of his clients, New England Patriots All-Pro tackle Bruce Armstrong. Local triathlon and road race promoter Steve Tebon of Exclusive Sports Marketing took the remaining 10% stake and served as the club’s managing partner, encouraged by Monus’ reputation and the rapid growth of Phar-Mor.
The Jades off court woes continued under the new regime. The club only sold a reported 300 season tickets. Renovations at FAU forced the Jades to play 15 of their first 19 games away, at one point spending 22 straight days on the road. Only 900 or so fans turned out for the 1992 home opener against the Winnipeg Thunder. In a bizarre twist, Delray Brooks, the Jades’ founder and deposed Vice President of Basketball Operations, returned to the court and earned a roster spot our of training camp.
On June 15th, 1992 the WBL shut down both of its Florida clubs in midseason, eliminating the Jacksonville Stingrays along with the Jades. A WBL source told The Boca Raton News that the Jades operation lost $300,000 during May and June before the league turned out the lights. But the full story was rather more complicated.
As 80% owner, Mickey Monus was responsible for most of the Jades financial burden. But the Phar-Mor offices were increasingly unresponsive to the Jades and other WBL franchises as they desperately tried to get their bills paid. Jades minority partner Steve Tebon reported that of $700,000 promised by the league office to operate and promote the team, only $80,000 materalized. In late July 1992, one month after the Jades folded, Phar-Mor opened its 300th store. Days later Monus was ousted when company officials discovered Monus and his CFO were maintaining two sets of books, claiming rapid growth and profits while Phar-Mor was actually generating huge losses and falling far behind in payments to its suppliers. Among other crimes, Monus had embezzled close to $10 million from Phar-Mor over four years to underwrite the operating losses of the WBL and its franchises. The entire financial underpinning of the WBL was revealed to be a criminal enterprise, with the local investors and front office managers in the role of unwitting participants. On August 1st, 1992, the World Basketball League folded in the midst of its fifth season, days after the exposure of its patron. Monus’ shocking downfall also cost the jobs of 17,000 Phar-Mor employees – the seemingly robust chain was forced into bankruptcy – and nearly sank the fledgling Colorado Rockies expansion franchise in Major League Baseball, in which Monus was a major investor.
Guard Tracy Moore of the Jades averaged 25.2 point per game in 1991 en rooute to WBL Player-of-the-Year honors. Moore, undrafted out of the University of Tulsa, used the WBL as a springboard to the NBA, where he appeared in 119 games over 5 seasons from 1991-1997.
Mickey Monus served 10 years in federal prison for his financial crimes.
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