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Women's Professional Basketball League

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Women's Professional Basketball League
No. of teams14 throughout league history
CountryUnited States
Nebraska Wranglers (1st)
Most titlesHouston Angels
New York Stars
Nebraska Wranglers (1 each)

The Women's Professional Basketball League (abbreviated WBL) was a professional women's basketball league in the United States. The league played three seasons from the fall of 1978 to the spring of 1981. The league was the first professional women's basketball league in the United States.[1]

Formation and 1978–79 season[edit]

The WPBL was founded by sports entrepreneur Bill Byrne.[2] The league began with a player draft held in Manhattan's Essex House in July 1978, with eight teams participating. While few of the teams had firm commitments on playing locations (or team names, for that matter), the league planned to play a 34-game season with teams in Chicago, Houston, Iowa, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Jersey, New York City and Washington, D.C. Houston drafted Ann Meyers from UCLA, while New Jersey's top choice Carol Blazejowski of Montclair State College said that she wanted to retain her amateur standing to be eligible to play in the 1980 Summer Olympics. Lusia Harris, a collegiate star at Delta State University, was selected by the Houston team, but was reluctant to commit to playing after hearing the $3,000 to $5,000 salaries estimated by the Minnesota franchise. With its last pick in the draft, the Cornets selected Uljana Semjonova, a 6-foot-11-inch player for the Soviet Union women's national basketball team who would be inducted as an inaugural member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in the class of 1999, but would never play a game in the WBL. The New Jersey Gems selected Carol Blazejowski from Montclair State College, but she announced while on tour in Bulgaria with the U.S. national women's team through her coach Maureen Wendelken that she had no intention of playing professionally and that her goal was to retain her amateur standing to be able to play for the U.S. at the 1980 Summer Olympics.[3] Molly Bolin, who grew up in Moravia, Iowa, became the first player signed by any team in the WBL when she was signed by the Iowa Cornets.[4]

The league played its first game on December 9, 1978, between the Chicago Hustle and the Milwaukee Does at the Milwaukee Arena, with the league's inaugural game attracting four minutes of coverage in the previous night's CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Milwaukee mayor Henry Maier issued a proclamation likening this first game to the first professional football game, played in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and the first pro baseball game, played in Cincinnati.[5] The Does had a crowd of 7,824 at the game, which saw the hometown team lose to Chicago 92–87, with Debra Waddy Rossow scoring 30 points to lead the Hustle.[5]

The league was divided into two divisions, with Chicago, Milwaukee, Iowa and Minnesota Fillies playing in the Western Division, while the Dayton Rockettes, Houston Angels, New Jersey Gems and New York Stars were in the East. The eight initial teams paid $50,000 for their franchise, while the four teams to be added for the 1979–80 season were expected to pay $100,000, and $250,000 per team for each of four more teams in the following season.

The league was able to arrange an All-Star game in 1979, which was played at the Felt Forum in New York City's Madison Square Garden in front of 2,731 fans. The game was hastily arranged and inserted into the league's schedule, using a court borrowed from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and forcing some players to have to make hectic travel arrangements to get to their next regular season game. The East beat the Midwest by a score of 112–99. Althea Gwyn of the New York Stars led the East with 19 points and 16 rebounds, while Chicago Hustle players Debra Waddy Rossow with 26 points and Rita Easterling with 19 points led the Midwest. Easterling, who also had 18 assists, was named the game's most valuable player.[6]

Behind 36 points by Paula Mayo, the Houston Angels defeated the Iowa Cornets on May 2, 1979, to take the league's first championship, 111–104 in the final game of a best three-out-of-five competition.[7]

1979–80 season[edit]

The league made it through its first season with all eight teams in operation, though the Dayton Rockettes had been taken over by the league in February 1979 and was to be relocated to either Indianapolis or Los Angeles. New franchises had been awarded to Dallas, New Orleans, San Francisco and St. Louis, while applications were received for potential franchises from Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.[8]

The Eastern Division included the New Jersey Gems, New Orleans Pride, New York Stars, Philadelphia Fox, St. Louis Streak and Washington Metros. The Midwest Division included the Chicago Hustle, Iowa Cornets, Milwaukee Does and Minnesota Fillies. The Western Division included the California Dreams,[9] Dallas Diamonds, Houston Angels and San Francisco Pioneers.

On January 30, 1980, the West defeated the East, 115–112, in the 1980 WBL All-Star Game.[10]

On April 9, 1980, despite Iowa's league-leading scorer Molly Bolin's 36 points, the New York Stars held on to win game four of the finals 125–114, behind 27 points by Pearl Moore and 22 by Janice Thomas. Stars coach Dean Meminger called the game the "culmination of a year of hard work".[11] In what proved to be a harbinger of things to come, however, the Stars asked to go on a two-year hiatus not long after winning the title.[12]

1980–81 season and demise[edit]

In a game scheduled in Chicago on March 21, 1981, players of the Minnesota Fillies, one of only three teams to play in all three seasons that the league was in existence, walked off the court before the starting lineups were announced in a game against the Chicago Hustle in a protest over unpaid salaries. Referees and team coach Terry Kunze tried to cajole the players back onto the court to play their game, but were unsuccessful. The team, which had been averaging 1,000 to 1,500 in attendance per game, were suspended from the WPBL by commissioner Sherwin Fischer, who called the walkout as "very detrimental to the league".[13]

On February 7, 1981, Nebraska Wranglers player Connie Kunzmann was reported missing and was later pronounced dead. Police arrested Lance Tibke, who later pleaded guilty to her second degree murder.[14]

The Nebraska Wranglers won the league's 1980–81 title, defeating the Dallas Diamonds three games to two. In the fifth and final game, Rosie Walker led the victors with 39 points, while the Wranglers' defense held Nancy Lieberman of Dallas to 12 points, less than half of her season average.[15]

Bill Byrne had founded the league hoping that the 1980 Summer Olympics would showcase the game's stars and bring media and public attention to women's basketball, but the United States-led boycott of the Moscow games only added to the league's misfortunes.[16]

By the fall of 1981, the league was showing what The New York Times described as "feeble flickers of life." That November, commissioner Dave Almstead announced the league had disbanded, having generated $14 million in losses in its three years on the court. Almstead, who had succeeded Fischer as league commissioner in May 1981, announced the league's shutdown after trying unsuccessfully to contact the surviving eight teams' investors and team owners. Fischer, owner of the Chicago Hustle, insisted that he would field a team that would go barnstorming if the league went out of existence, and thought that teams would be fielded for a fourth season by Chicago, Nebraska and New Orleans. Some of the players were able to play professionally again in the 1984 Women's American Basketball Association.[12]


League champions[edit]

  • 1978–79 Houston Angels
  • 1979–80 New York Stars
  • 1980–81 Nebraska Wranglers
W.B.L. Coaches Lifetime Records
Coach Wins Losses Pct Teams
Eddie Smythe 3 3 .500 Chicago
Gordon Nevers (owner) 8 2 0.800 Minnesota
Greg Williams 27 9 0.750 Dallas
Steve Kirk 51 21 0.708 Iowa + Nebraska
Don Knodel 45 22 0.672 Houston
Kathy Mosolino 23 13 0.639 New Jersey
Dean Meminger 41 24 0.631 New York + San Fran
Nancy Dunkle (player-coach) 5 3 0.625 California
Dan Moulton 13 8 0.619 Iowa
Rod Lein 8 5 0.615 Iowa
LaVozier LaMar 13 9 0.591 New York
Butch van Breda Kolff 39 28 0.582 New Orleans
Alan Cikorsky 6 5 0.545 New York
Howie Landa 19 14 .576 New Jersey
Doug Bruno 36 32 0.529 Chicago
Bill Gleason 17 14 0.548 Chicago
Pat Roberts (player) 1 1 0.500 Minnesota
Frank LaPorte 19 23 0.452 San Francisco
Artie Blouin 4 5 0.444 California
Terry Kunze 29 37 0.439 Minnesota
Julia Yeater 19 25 0.432 Milwaukee
Larry Gilman 29 42 0.408 St. Louis
Tom Griffey 12 20 0.375 Dayton
Dana Skinner 2 4 0.333 New England
Gene DeLisle 1 2 0.333 Milwaukee
Nat Frazier 3 7 0.300 Washington
George Kennedy 9 25 0.265 New Jersey
Larry Costello 6 17 0.261 Milwaukee
Dean Weese 7 22 0.241 Dallas
Dave Wohl 2 8 0.200 Philadelphia
Mel Sims 2 9 0.182 California
George Nicodemus 2 10 0.167 Milwaukee
Louis Mascari 1 6 0.143 Minnesota
Ray Scott 1 10 0.091 Dallas + New Orleans
Donna Geils (player-coach) 0 1 0.000 New York
Jim Loscutoff 0 6 0.000 New England
Linda Mann 0 2 0.000 Dayton
Mark DeLapp 0 4 0.000 Minnesota
Sue Digitale (player) 0 1 0.000 Chicago
Wanda Szeremeta (player) 0 3 0.000 New Jersey
Candace Klinzig 0 1 0.000 Milwaukee
Dee Hopfenzinger 0 0 0.000 Minnesota
503 503

Selected notable players[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Porter, Karra. (2006). Mad seasons : the story of the first Women's Professional Basketball League, 1978–1981. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-8789-5.
  2. ^ "Clipped from Dayton Daily News". Dayton Daily News. 25 October 1981. p. 28.
  3. ^ Herman, Robin. "For Female Basketball, A Bid Bounce Forward; At the Telephone Wages Up in the Air", The New York Times, July 19, 1978. Accessed July 26, 2010.
  4. ^ Molly Bolin (1957–), Iowa Women's Archives at the University of Iowa Libraries. Accessed August 1, 2010.
  5. ^ a b Harvin, Al. "Female Pros Make History; Playing Game Alone", The New York Times, December 10, 1978. Accessed July 26, 2010.
  6. ^ Harvin, Al. "Miss Gwyn Stands Out As East Stars Triumph; No Break in Schedule", The New York Times, March 15, 1979. Accessed July 28, 2010.
  7. ^ via Associated press. "Houston Angels Win Title In Women's Basketball", The New York Times, May 3, 1979. Accessed July 26, 2010.
  8. ^ Harvin, Al. "Women's Pro Basketball League Passes Its First Test; Looking Back $25,000 Highest Salary 'More Than He Paid For' 'Getting Ready for Draft'", The New York Times, April 29, 1979. Accessed July 26, 2010.
  9. ^ "1979–80 California Dreams". funwhileitlasted.net. 18 December 2011. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  10. ^ Bill Jauss (31 January 1980). "WBL West stars squeeze out win". Chicago Tribune. p. 3 (Section 4). Retrieved 22 October 2023 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  11. ^ via United Press International. "Stars Defeat Cornets For W.B.L. Crown; Stars Box Score", The New York Times, April 10, 1980. Accessed July 28, 2010.
  12. ^ a b Rogers, Thomas. "SPORTS WORLD SPECIALS; Dead or Alive?", The New York Times, November 23, 1981. Accessed July 26, 2010.
  13. ^ via Associated Press. "SPORTS NEWS BRIEFS; W.B.L. Fillies Walk Out And Draw a Suspension", The New York Times, March 22, 1981. Accessed July 26, 2010.
  14. ^ "Guard pleads guilty to killing former Cornet". The Gazette. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Associated Press. p. 27. Retrieved 23 June 2021.
  15. ^ via Associated Press. "Wranglers Win W.B.L. Title", The New York Times, April 21, 1981. Accessed July 26, 2010.
  16. ^ Geils, Donna Chait. "MAKING A DREAM COME TRUE, AND WATCHING IT FADE AWAY", The New York Times, November 15, 1981. Accessed July 28, 2010.
  17. ^ Dave Renbarger (15 August 1980). "Sun rises on Tampa Bay horizon; WBL team has ball rolling". The Tampa Times. p. 2C. Retrieved 28 October 2023 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  18. ^ "Tampa Bay Sun sold". The Tampa Times. 4 November 1980. p. 2C. Retrieved 28 October 2023 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  19. ^ Patty LaDuca (15 November 1980). "Gems trade pair; Meyers unhappy". The Herald-News. p. 35. Retrieved 28 October 2023 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  20. ^ Peter Mehlman (14 November 1979). "Metros Ready for Opener". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 October 2023.

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