Friday, February 06, 2009

R.I.P., C.B.A.

Basically, the CBA's ship be sunk. And I bet former Albany Patroons player and coach, Micheal Ray Richardson, would echo this sentiment.

The longtime basketball minor league that has always operated on a shoestring budget could be calling it quits for good. The CBA recently announced it cut short the regular season and immediately will proceed to a championship series between its top two teams, Albany & Lawton.

Hard to believe this is just a temporary shutdown similar to the Arena Football league, and it's perhaps been inevitable since the Isiah Thomas ownership debacle that seriously wounded the CBA earlier this decade. The current state of the economy combined with the emergence of the NBDL as the primary minor league could be the final nails in the coffin of the 30-year old league.

The CBA (Continental Basketball Association) grew out of the Eastern Basketball League (est. 1946) and was officially established in 1978. Brought professional basketball to medium-sized cities and outposts like Rockford (Ill.), La Crosse (Wis.), Rapid City, Pensacola, Yakima, and Albany. Like most other minor-league entities, finances were always tight and franchises folding or relocating was common.

We here at The Painted Area were lucky enough to have Albany as our closest CBA outpost, and had the fortune of catching a handful of games in the 1980s. Quite fortunate because we got to see coaches like Phil Jackson, Bill Musselman, and George Karl before they became household names.

All three men roamed the sidelines as head coaches for the Albany Patroons during the 1980s, and usually managed some of the top teams in the league. The Patroons were usually tough at home mostly thanks to the friendly confines (some might say dank & dingy confines) of the Washington Ave. Armory in downtown Albany. Let's just say a 19th-century storage facility for military supplies makes for an odd sporting experience.

Phil led the Patroons to a CBA title in '84. So yes, Phil is quite capable of winning titles without the services of Michael, Scottie, Shaq, or Kobe. He was ably assisted by Charley Rosen, renowned basketball author and current NBA columnist for Charley even published a novel, The Cockroach Basketball League, loosely based on his experiences in the CBA. I believe Phil & Uncle Chucky used to commute from Woodstock while coaching the Patroons, but have no confirmation if they lived on a commune. Charley will sprinkle some colorful anecdotes from his CBA days into his current columns (Rosen's recent ode to the CBA). Jackson and Rosen also discussed their CBA experiences in the book More Than a Game.

The extraordinarily intense Bill Musselman brought a second title to the Capital District in '88 with one of the finest CBA squads of all-time. The '87-'88 Patroons went 48-6 in the regular season, led by the mercurial four-time NBA All-Star Micheal Ray Richardson, plus other NBA players Tony Campbell (averaged 23 ppg for Musselman in Minnesota in '89-90), Scott Brooks (a solid reserve for the '94 champion Rockets), Sidney Lowe, Tod Murphy and the immortal Eric Fernsten. That '88 squad also had the services of current Patroons coach, Derrick Rowland, a Division III legend at Potsdam State, who is the Patroons' all-time leading scorer and was known as "Mr. Patroon" for his longtime service to the team. This was Musselman's 4th consecutive CBA title after winning three championships with the Thrillers franchise that split time between Tampa Bay & Rapid City. Vignettes from Musselman's CBA years are included in the book Timberwolves Stalk the NBA - Obsession: Bill Musselman's Relentless Quest to Beat the Best.

Coach Karl led the '90-91 Patroons to a ridiculous 50-6 regular season record with the aid of players like Mario Elie, Vince Askew and Albert King. But in an eerie foreshadowing of what was to come three years later for George, Albany was shocked in the semis by Wichita Falls. The 1988-89 season of Karl and the Patroons is chronicled in the book Life on the Rim: A Year in the Continental Basketball Associationby David Levine.

Two other familiar coaching names earned their stripes in CBA. Flip Saunders began developing his unique offensive stylings as the head coach of the La Crosse Catbirds, where he won two CBA titles in the early '90s. Former NBA coach & current blogger deluxe Eric Musselman took over the Rapid City Thrillers franchise after his dad left, and had great success throughout the 1990s, ultimately ending his CBA career with a near .700 winning percentage. Could say the Musselmans were the first family of the CBA.

Some familiar names to pass through the CBA were guys like Sam Mitchell, Anthony Mason, Bruce Bowen, John Starks, Raja Bell, Earl Boykins, Jamario Moon, Mike James, Tim Legler and Keith Smart.

Two of the more unique rules found in the CBA were the ranking system and personal foul rule. Simply, there was no disqualification of a player after his sixth foul. The player could stay in the game but if he committed further fouls, the opposing team received an extra free throw.

The CBA would use a 7-point scoring system for each game to ultimately rank teams. Three points were awarded for a win and 1 point awarded for each quarter won. You would have four mini-games within the game. This would often add an interesting dynamic to blowouts, and sometimes force coaches to stick with their starters longer than normal. Can still remember the mini-scoreboards positioned on the baselines that would show the score for the quarter.

The CBA was ahead of the curve on a few things, and the NBA ended up pilfering some of these ideas. The Eastern Basketball League (the CBA precursor) was using a 3-point line since the mid-1960s. The CBA also awarded three free throws on fouled 3-point attempts long before the NBA.

Also, like other minor leagues, the CBA would dabble in creative marketing to spark interest in the community and at the games. One idea that the CBA spawned in the '80s was a variety of million-dollar shot promotions, another idea that was eventually incorporated into the NBA.

So a (likely) final tip of the hat to a league that helped in the development of such players like Anthony Mason, Bruce Bowen, & John Starks. As well the development of such coaches like Flip, George, and the Musselmans. Not to mention helping to spawn one of the best basketball minds of all-time in Big Chief Triangle. Now off to sift thru my closet to find my Patroons t-shirt.

For more info on the history of the league, check out the CBA Museum.


At 6:12 AM, Anonymous mookie said...

The D-League was the true killer to the CBA. It was only a matter of time once the NBA decided to close out the minor league market in that way...

They tried every gimmick out there to remain relevant -- and all kudos to them for it.

It's a great shame that the CBA will be lost; and all of the history attached to it.

-- mookie

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Bret LaGree said...

When I was in grade school, my Mom convinced me that the upshot of moving to Topeka, KS was its CBA team, the Sizzlers. It worked, in no small part because she was largely right.

At 9:06 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

I grew up going to Patroons games too! Man, the armory was a one of a kind place! They will be missed if this is the end... maybe they can come over to the D-League.

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It won't really have effect, I think this way.

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