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Thread: History of the ABL, the American Basketball League

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    Default History of the ABL, the American Basketball League

    I was always a big fan of the ABL, the independent women's professinal league that started in the 1996. The American Basketball League started only a few months prior to the WNBA opening their doors and it wasn't only first in that regard.

    I believed the ABL was a superior league to the WNBA in talent, the way the league played basketball (4 quarters, official-size ball), and treated their players (both financially and socially).

    I was trying to get some women's ibn profiles started, many of whom played in the ABL. During this search, I found there to be a HUGE dearth of information out there concerning the ABL (without spending hours searching for it and piecing the puzzle all together) so I started this thread.

    This thread will be continually updated until either I get sidetracked or I feel that it tells the whole story for someone seeking information about the league. My hope is that someone can come to this thread not knowing much about the ABL and leave knowing that before the WNBA, there was the ABL and the great players that sacrificed for the good of women's basketball.

    Stuart

    P.S. As I find information I will post it, so the order may not be chronological. Bear with me.

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    The NY Times Article & Reactions

    Former Team Official Recounts the A.B.L.'s Dizzying Descent
    By LENA WILLIAMS (source: geocities reprint or original article)

    Allison Hodges had faith in the American Basketball League. So much so, that she spent thousands of dollars of her own money and devoted most of her free time to help start a team in Chicago. Last fall, the Chicago Condors joined the A.B.L. with Hodges as general manager.

    The memories are still fresh in her mind: the late-summer evening Hodges and her staff of four settled on the team name; the day they sat on her kitchen floor folding Condors T-shirts.

    The A.B.L., a pioneering women's professional basketball league, had come into being in 1997 in a burst of optimism and idealism and, just maybe, with the right timing. The league was able to capitalize on the growing popularity of women's basketball, fueled, in part, by the college game and the American women's 1996 Olympic gold-medal victory.

    What impressed Hodges about the A.B.L. was the league's commitment to professionalism. It paid its players $50,000 to $150,000 and offered players year-round health benefits and a retirement plan. Players had a 10 percent stock interest in the league, and a player sat on the league's board of directors.

    Then it was over almost before she knew it. Her team's inaugural season, after all, lasted only two months -- 12 games, to be exact. The A.B.L., saying it was out of money and beyond hope that a big sponsorship or television deal would materialize, folded on Dec. 22, sending 90 players, 10 coaches and thousands of fans into an abyss.

    It turned out to be more than a sad crash for idealism. It turned out to be ugly, with league officials retreating into hiding, ordering others not to talk publicly, and, at least in the case of Hodges, leaving team officials saddled with debts.

    The commonly accepted account of the A.B.L.'s collapse is that the league had good players and hard-working personnel but ran into the buzz saw of the Women's National Basketball Association, the rival league started and financed by the N.B.A. a year after the A.B.L.'s start. The A.B.L., by this account, didn't have a chance.

    Consistent with that version of events, A.B.L. officials are now exploring whether to sue the N.B.A. on the ground that it restrained trade by blocking the A.B.L. from corporate sponsorships and television contracts.

    Whatever the merits of the legal claim, there is no doubt that there is considerable truth to its general argument of cause and effect, for the W.N.B.A. has shown itself to be a formidable operation, with talent, financial resources and skillful marketing.

    But according to Hodges, whose willingness to talk openly about the A.B.L.'s fortunes comes in defiance of the defunct league's wishes, the A.B.L. had plenty of problems of its own.

    Thus through Hodges -- whose tale is one of disaster and dismay -- an appreciation is gained for some of the lesser known problems of a league struggling against history and a well-financed rival to survive as the first and best women's professional basketball league.

    No A.B.L. official responded to repeated requests for comment about the league's collapse.

    Upstart Executive With Connections

    Hodges thought she was a perfect candidate to be an upstart executive in the A.B.L. She did, after all, know a thing or two about pro basketball. She is married to Craig Hodges, the former guard for the Chicago Bulls. She and her husband own Three Point Inc., a sports-marketing entertainment company in Chicago, which runs Hoops for Fitness, a basketball-oriented fitness program for girls and women in Chicago. She also knows how to make a deal, having worked as an assistant agent in the literary department at the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles.

    Her professional ties appeared to be a useful asset. They opened doors to important people like Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Bulls, who let her meet and strategize with his team's officials. She brought in Jim Cleamons, the former N.B.A. star and Bulls assistant coach, to coach the Condors. At her request, several celebrities were courtside for the Condors' first game at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion, including Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper and Bill Wennington of the Bulls and Usher, the rhythm-and-blues artist.

    Hodges said the A.B.L. appeared to have as solid a set of credentials as she did. The A.B.L. had been formed in 1995 by two Silicon Valley executives, Anne Cribbs and Steve Hams, and Gary Cavalli, a public relations executive. The A.B.L. was a single-entity structure under which all teams were centrally owned and the players were signed and paid by the league. It operated out of a headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

    But Hodges said the league's structure, designed to control marketing and costs, also meant that all decisions, no matter how large or small, had to go through the handful of top officials, a requirement that caused delays, confusion and frustration.

    Such confusion could help lead to dubious decisions, Hodges said. Despite situating most of its teams in smaller cities like Hartford; Nashville; Columbus, Ohio, and San Jose, Calif., Hodges and others say the A.B.L. never did a very good job capitalizing on the eager, loyal fan base in those areas. Often ignoring local sponsors, Hodges said, the A.B.L. was going after major national sponsors and rarely, if ever, succeeding.

    Hodges, having done her own independent negotiating, says she was close to a sponsorship deal with a Chicago Amoco Oil dealer, only to be told by Cavalli that she couldn't pursue it because the league wanted Amoco as one of its national sponsors. She says she was no more than a phone call away from a possible deal with the Tribune Company, owner of The Chicago Tribune, the superstation WGN and the Chicago Cubs, but was not invited to attend a crucial meeting between Cavalli and Tribune executives.

    The same thinking prevailed when it came to television and radio sponsorships, Hodges said. "We weren't supposed to go after local TV or local radio because the league was working on a national deal, but I did it anyway," Hodges said. "I had to pay for my own production. I was waiting for an answer from a local sponsor on Jan. 1, the date of our first nationally televised game, when the league went under."

    Only now, Hodges said, does she realize that many of her ideas and proposals were rejected not because they were unrealistic or bad or contrary to the national aspirations, but because the league didn't have money to finance them.

    In one instance, she said, she was lied to.

    According to Hodges, league officials thought they would be able to get a flagship station with a $40,000 budget. Hodges knew there was no way that would ever happen.

    "All the teams had a $40,000 radio budget," Hodges recalled. "I created a deal with Illinois Radio Network to have our games broadcast on five of its affiliate stations in the surrounding Chicago area. I called the league office and was told they felt it was a horrible idea because they were working on a deal with a national radio broadcasting company. My deal wasn't approved."

    Hodges thought the A.B.L. officials were telling her that her radio deal was a "bad idea."

    "I began to question myself," she said. "But then I realized it wasn't a bad idea. The league couldn't pay. There was never $40,000 in the bank."

    Bankrupt One Day, Healthy the Next

    Beyond its mixed-up game plan for sponsorship deals, Hodges said, the league seemed always to function under crisis management. Bankruptcy was pronounced one day, and new life the next.

    Last April, for instance, Hodges held a news conference at Michael Jordan's Chicago restaurant to announce her team's name.

    "Craig and I were in the limousine on the way to the restaurant and we got a call on my cell phone from Gary," she said, referring to the league's co- founder. "He told me to cancel the press conference because the league was going under."

    Hodges was mortified. It was too late to call off the event. The restaurant had been booked. The news media were waiting. Hodges was still on the way to the restaurant when Cavalli called back.

    "He told us," Hodges said, "to 'go ahead and have a drink on me; I think we're O.K.' "

    Of course, as it turned out, they were not. And now they are scrambling simply to satisfy the league's scores of creditors and their tens of millions of dollars in claims.

    Lawyers for the A.B.L. have said the lawsuit against the N.B.A., if successful, could provide the defunct women's league with the necessary funds to pay off its creditors.

    "The largest asset of the case may be our as-yet-unfiled antitrust and unfair- competition claims," said Michael Lubic, the lawyer handling the A.B.L.'s bankruptcy case. "That may be our best single resource of payment to creditors."

    Hodges is not holding her breath.

    While she applauded the efforts put forth by the A.B.L.'s co-founders and described them as "honorable people with good intentions," she also has a sick feeling about how the bankruptcy was handled: announced once again out of the blue, with little care taken to brace the teams, their officials or their players.

    "You don't declare bankruptcy overnight," she said. "It takes time, forethought, lawyers and paperwork."

    Hodges believes the league had been planning to cease operations long before Dec. 22 but never let on. She noted, for example, that about one month before the league declared bankruptcy, the A.B.L.'s merchandising director came to Chicago to go over inventory with the Condors' merchandising director.

    "I'd been trying to get her to come to Chicago for months, then all of a sudden she shows up," said Hodges. "A few weeks later, the league's financial person came to Chicago to make sure we were in budget. Two weeks after that comes Chapter 11."

    The news came during the weekly telephone conference of league general managers. The general managers were sharing information about ticket sales, schedules and marketing, Hodges said, when Cavalli came on to say it was over.

    A few days after the A.B.L. shut down, Hodges received a cashier's check from the A.B.L. She was told by lawyers for the league not to expect any more.

    Lives Are Disrupted in the Aftermath

    Today, Hodges finds herself $10,000 in personal debt, accumulated from working out of her home for four months. She also does not expect to recover the hundreds of dollars she lent to players and staff members to help them get through the holidays.

    She has tried, she said, to keep in touch with her former players, many of whom have scattered.

    E. C. Hill, for one, signed with a pro team in Iceland and plans to play there next season. When last heard from a few days ago, another, Cathy Boswell, was in Florida planning to do grass-roots community work. Tasha Mills returned to Alabama, enrolled at the University of Alabama to complete her undergraduate studies and was maintaining a daily regimen to keep in shape. Dana Wilkerson went back to her alma mater, Long Beach State, in California, where she planned to work as a teacher. Anita Kaplan is back in California, too, trading stock options.

    Last week, Hodges got in touch with Renee Brown, director of player personnel for the W.N.B.A., trying to get some of her former players invited to the W.N.B.A. tryout camp scheduled to be held in Chicago from April 14 to 17.

    Last weekend, a handful of former A.B.L. players met privately with player representatives from the W.N.B.A. players union in San Jose, Calif., during the college women's Final Four. According to an agent who was present, the W.N.B.A. players explained their concerns about sanctioning a dispersal draft for former A.B.L. players.

    Hodges, who stepped out with the A.B.L. on faith, has little faith that she will ever be able to recoup. She does consulting work for a women's volleyball league and is working with her husband to build a health and fitness center in Chicago. What has not been swayed, she says, is her faith in women's pro ball. She recently had conversations with Reinsdorf, Commissioner David Stern of the N.B.A. and the W.N.B.A.'s president, Val Ackerman, about having a W.N.B.A. team in Chicago.

    During its brief life, her team did well. The Condors were second in the league in attendance, averaging just over 5,000 fans a game, and first in merchandise sales. Hodges can only wonder what might have been.

    "The week before the league declared bankruptcy, the Condors had negative $13,000 in our bank account in Chicago," she recalled. "We were waiting for our receipts on merchandise and sales from the U.I.C. Pavilion. It was around $21,000 we were expecting. That would have been enough to cover checks already written and to pay creditors in Chicago. But the league took the money. We were left with nothing."


    A.B.L. Denies Silent Treatment: Gary Cavalli Responds to the Times (source: geocities reprint or original article)

    I was distressed by the article concerning the American Basketball League. The article was replete with factual errors and inaccuracies concerning ABL business practices, sponsorships, television, radio, and the contact of league officials.

    Contrary to the article, no ABL official refused to respond to "repeated requests for comment about the leagues collapse." In January, one ABL official did decline to comment on a potential antitrust lawsuit against the NBA. That was over two months ago. Subsequently, no league official was contacted by the Times about this article nor asked to comment on the allegations in it concerning the ABL's business affairs.

    I was the league official mentioned and atttacked in the article. No one from The Times called me to check facts and dates, ask questions or verify the accuracy of dozens of details that were in error.

    I have been totally accessible to the media since the legue's closure on December 22 and in fact have spoken with two Times reporters, William Rhoden and Jack Cavanaugh. Last week I did interviews with the Philadelphia Inquirer, San Jose Mercury-News, and Sports Business Daily. Yet The Times claimed that league officials went "into hiding" and have ordered others "not to talk publicly." This is absolute and utter nonsense.

    Gary Cavalli
    Palo Alto, Calif
    Co-founder and chief executive officer of the ABL
    Linda Weston Writes (From Unofficial Power Discussion Board source)
    There are a number of inacurracies in the NY Times article. Speaking as one of the original GMs, and one of the teams who were the most successful, I can tell you that, yes, it was sometimes very frustrating. There simply were never enough resources to go around. The teams who generated alot of ticket revenue and sponsorship were asked to carry the load for those who didn't. Budgets were definitely NOT theoretical. In the article, she specifically mentions her budget for radio. What the article does not say, is that those budget numbers for radio were the projected costs for air time, production, salary and travel expense for play by play talent, the telephone lines, the long distance transmission expense, etc. The expectation was that you would generate enough to cover that budgeted expense with advertising sales. Some teams were unable to get any radio contracts at all, because the stations wouldn't agree to the projected terms.

    The GMs' conference call where we were told the League was failing did not occur the way the article described. What Alison was referring to was that there were a number of us GMs already on the call, comparing notes, sharing information, etc, while we waited for the League staff to come onto the line and officially begin the call. Then the League staff came onto the call as a group, they made sure everyone was on the line, and then Gary gave us the bad news. He did NOT "jump in and say forget it, the League is out of business". On the contrary, he was as kind as it was possible to be under the circumstances, which were obviously very sad, and very emotional.

    People are sometimes quoted out of context in articles in newspapers or magazines, and there are sometimes inaccuracies when a reporter hasn't done their homework. We were usually very fortunate here in Portland, to have good reporters and columnists who in fact did their homework.

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    Default Jobless Pro Players Try to Save Careers (The New York Times, 1999)

    Source: NyTimes.com, April 20, 1999
    Jobless Pro Players Try to Save Careers By JUDY BATTISTA
    They were stars in the American Basketball League, but that women's pro league folded at Christmastime.

    So Kate Starbird took leave from the computer company she started with a friend in Northern California to get here. Debbie Black set aside the marketing job she had that took her mind off basketball after the A.B.L. crashed. Venus Lacy left in the middle of her final semester of college -- with some mixed emotions and three exams awaiting her upon return -- to be here.

    They were among the 39 former A.B.L. players invited to a two-day tryout for the Women's National Basketball Association. It was, in essence, a warehouse of 39 invited A.B.L. players (along with a few college seniors and international players) showing their talents to coaches and general managers of the W.N.B.A. -- the start-up that survived. Four months after their league collapsed and just hours after a phone call told them a labor deal between the W.N.B.A. and its players' union had been struck and a plane ticket was waiting for them, the women gathered at the gymnasium of Moody Bible College.

    Black, and most of the others, played on the first day of camp as if she wanted to make sure she would never be out of work again.

    With one league gone, the math does not work in everyone's favor. Ninety A.B.L. players were left jobless when the league crashed, but there are 40 slots open for them in the W.N.B.A. -- three may go to each of the 10 existing franchises and five to two expansion clubs this season under the deal.

    Some of the best of them, including Jennifer Azzi and Teresa Edwards, were not at the camp because of a commitment to USA Basketball, but are sure to be selected when the W.N.B.A. holds its draft on April 27. And the college seniors here are in the most dire straits, with perhaps only 10 jobs available to the best of them, including Tennessee's Chamique Holdsclaw, who will be the first pick.

    So these players, many of whom were collegiate all-Americans, several of whom were A.B.L. All-Stars, were back at another huge tryout, their careers hanging in the balance yet again, with observers taking cryptic notes about their foot speed and jump shot. It was as if the American League folded and Derek Jeter had to try out for a spot in the National League. The camp had all the intensity of an open high school tryout.

    ''I don't feel resentful, but I do feel that I'm starting all over again,'' said Black, a two-time A.B.L. All-Star for the Colorado Xplosion. ''Here I am 33, and I think, 'What am I doing here?' I'm not angry, but I wonder if I can do this again. How many more tryouts am I going to have in my life?''

    Quickly, though, Black wanted to make clear that she was not angry at having to work out for the W.N.B.A. She, like almost every other woman here, does not want to go overseas to play in a professional league, and so she treasures the chance to make it in the W.N.B.A. Even the most talented of the players here -- the ones who would surely be selected even if they had not shown up -- admitted they had been sitting by their phones in recent days, hoping for labor peace and an invitation to Chicago.

    At the camp, Black was ferocious, even during half-court games. The 5-foot-2-inch point guard scrambled after the person she was guarding, and dived on the floor for loose balls. Jennifer Rizzotti, the former Connecticut all-American who had toyed with the idea of joining the W.N.B.A. before last season and is seemingly a lock to be drafted, ran a fast break as if Huskies Coach Geno Auriemma were standing on the sideline exhorting her.

    If anyone could have been angry that she was starting over, it could have been Rizzotti. She has been a star most of her life, The Associated Press Player of the Year in her last season at Connecticut and an A.B.L. All-Star in its final full season. But she, like virtually every other player, seemed to have bitten off any lingering angst and swallowed it. She still feels like a bit of an outsider when she thinks about being a part of the W.N.B.A., but she is thankful she at least has a choice.

    ''Our attitude is we're upset the league folded but grateful we have another league in the U.S.'' Rizzotti said. ''If this is what I have to do to get a job, then I'll do it. The feelings are more awkward than angry. It felt weird to be in a room with W.N.B.A. banners. The leagues and the media made such a big deal about the rivalry that it will be hard to get away from the 'we're the A.B.L. players' thing. But the administrators and coaches have made us feel comfortable.''

    Carol Blazejowski, the general manager of the New York Liberty, said: ''You have another opportunity and you're being embraced by the league. Why be hostile?''

    The restrictions put upon the number of players who can join the W.N.B.A. this year still grate a bit on the A.B.L. players. The W.N.B.A. players union demanded the restrictions to reward the loyalty of existing W.N.B.A. players who chose it over the A.B.L. But it was also a not-very-discreet way of acknowledging that the A.B.L. was thought to have the higher-caliber players while the W.N.B.A. had scooped up the marquee names like Rebecca Lobo, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoops. Next year, there will be no restrictions on A.B.L. players and Valerie B. Ackerman, the W.N.B.A. president, readily admits that the level of play should rise rapidly with the addition of the A.B.L. players, a boon to her league, which had already garnered remarkable fan and news media interest in its first two seasons.

    That is what everyone at this camp was clinging to, that this latest career setback would, in the long run, benefit the sport they love so much, that they are willing to take several steps backward in hope of ultimately getting ahead.

    ''There are no prima donnas here,'' said Valerie Still, a two-time most valuable player of the A.B.L. finals with the Columbus Quest.

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    Default One-on-One with Gary Cavalli, co-founder and CEO of the ABL, November 2004

    From Women's Hoops Blog, November 2004

    One-on-One with Gary Cavalli, co-founder and CEO of the ABL
    Val's retirement led a lot of people to look back at the history of the league. Part of the early history was defined in large part by competition with the ABL. To be honest, I don't know much about that chapter in women's basketball history, and looking around the web, there wasn't a whole lot of information.

    I emailed Gary Cavalli, who was the co-founder of the ABL and also served as the league's CEO, and asked if he'd be willing to do an interview about league history. He graciously agreed; questions and answers are below. Thanks a million do Gary for the time, and for his frank and fascinating responses. (Thanks also to Barry and Helen Wheelock for helping me think through some questions.)

    There are those who think that the WNBA killed the ABL. There are others who think that the ABL didn't have a chance either way -- Mechelle Voepel, e.g., said last week that the ABL had an "unrealistic idealism" and that "the WNBA was the only legitimate shot that women's pro hoops had." Do you think the ABL would have survived if not for the competition from the WNBA?
    I think we would have survived and thrived without the WNBA. I've always believed there was room for one good women's pro league in this country. We launched our league when the WNBA was still a question mark. When they decided to go forward, after we had one solid year under our belt, we knew it would be much harder. It turned out there weren't enough sponsors, fans, and TV partners to support two leagues. (Some would argue that without the WNBA's deep pockets, there aren't enough even to support one league).

    My belief is that without the WNBA competition for TV, sponsors, fans and players (which drove salaries up), we would have made it. I'm not sure who Mechelle Voepel is, but I'd agree with part of her assessment. We were certainly idealistic, but that's why so many players still refer to their time in the ABL as "the good old days." There's nothing wrong with trying to do things right--pay players well, give them a voice in the league, etc. It is possible to do things right and succeed, but not when you're battling such a well-organized, well-funded, and powerful competitor.

    The ABL's contracts with its players included non-compete clauses that prevented them from playing in the WNBA. Absent those clauses, is it possible that both leagues could have survived?
    That's an interesting question, and we debated it internally. We belived at the time that the large number of quality players exclusively competing in our league was a key factor in distinguishing us from the WNBA. In retrospect, it's possible that had we allowed our players to compete in both leagues and paid them less, we might have managed to survive as a sort of "minor" league for the WNBA. However, that would have been a big change from our original mission, and at the time, we didn't want to go that route.

    The ABL sometimes marketed itself by contrasting itself to the NBA and the WNBA. In her press conference announcing her resignation, Val Ackerman said that she was "disappointed by the public[]negativity put out by the ABL about the WNBA." Do you have any response to that?
    I'm sorry to hear she said that. I have a great deal of respect for Val, but I think she's dead wrong here. If anything, the negativity came from the other direction. When we were getting started and launching the league, and throughout our first season, we constantly had to deal with negative comments, accusations, and false rumors circulated both publicly and privately by everyone connected with the WNBA.

    According to the WNBA folks, we were never going to throw the ball up, never play a game, never get any players, never get a tv contract, never get a sponsor, never be able to make payroll, never survive our first season, etc. We heard that from their officials, announcers, and coaches. We had this reported to us by players we recruited, tv networks, sponsors we solicited...over and over again. This continued throughout our second and third seasons--in WNBA comments to the media and in recruiting pitches to graduating seniors. It was almost comical how, in WNBA publications and TV coverage, they pretended that the ABL didn't exist. For many years, their published histories and timelines on the evolution of women's basketball omitted any reference to the ABL. When player bios were shown on the TV screen or described by their analysts, no references to the ABL were made. In recent years, thankfully, we've somehow re-appeared.

    As for our own publicity and marketing materials, we had no choice but to contrast ourselves to the WNBA. Remember, we didn't have the benefit of the NBA's money, leverage, marketing machine, TV exposure, etc. We were fighting to stay alive against the proverbial 900 lb. Gorilla. So, yes, in contrasting ourselves to the WNBA, we did point out the key differences--that we paid the players more, that we played in basketball season, that our players didn't have to go overseas to make a living. Those were the facts. If that's being negative about the WNBA, I guess I plead guilty.

    How much did it hurt the league to lose Nikki McCray and Dawn Staley? How intensely did you and the league try to keep them?
    It hurt a lot. Interestingly, I think losing Dawn was more of a blow to us. Nikki was our MVP the first year, and right up until the last minute, Tracy Williams (our personnel director) and I were doing everything in our power to keep her in the fold and thought she was going to stay with us. Ultimately, she was won over by the glamour of the NBA's marketing machine. She was really taken by the opportunity to become one of their marquee players and benefit from all the promotion.

    Yet after Nikki bolted, we went on to have a tremendous recruiting year, and in head to head competition with the WNBA, essentially got all of the top players coming out of college that year--Kate Starbird, Kara Wolters, etc. We got something like 12 of the top 14 players. That really lessened the impact of Nikki's deparature.

    Losing Dawn was tougher to swallow. We were going into our third year and we were struggling to stay afloat. We had moved a team to her home town, Philadelphia. We had given her input in coaching and GM decisions. Both Tracy Williams and I spent a lot of time with her. But when it came down to it, her agents essentially cut us off. We didn't even get an audience with them. It was a huge blow to the league.

    Putting aside any issues about competition with the WNBA... what was the biggest obstacle the ABL faced? Are there decisions you made that you would make differently if you had the chance to do it again?
    Initially, the biggest obstacle was the general perception that it couldn't be done. The numerous failures of other pro leagues, the skepticism of the media and the basketball establishment, and the fact that we were on the West Coast, outside of the traditional pro sports mainstream, made everything much more difficult. We had to work very hard to gain credibility with the players, coaches, and media. We had to deliver everything we promised, and then some. It was a constant struggle to prove ourselves. Then, just when we were starting to turn the corner after our first year, along came the WNBA. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a bidding war for players, unable to lock in sponsors and TV networks, playing a game on an uneven playing field.

    We never had enough money. We were able to raise about 30 million dollars from investors and league sponsors, but it came in gradually over time. We were always on the edge financially, and never had the war chest we needed to effectively promote the league. Our tiny advertising and promotion budget was a small fraction of the WNBA's.

    Certainly, there were things I'd do differently if we had the chance to do it over. There were some bad hiring decisions. I think we paid the players too much. There were some opportunities that we turned down early in the game, because of fairness and equity issues, that in retrospect we probably should have accepted.

    As the ABL was winding down, there was talk of an antitrust action against the WNBA. Why did you decide not to proceed with that?
    In the league's bankruptcy reorganization plan, there was a provision for a potential antitrust suit against the NBA. Some pretty knowledgeable, high-powered lawyers in New York thought we had a very good case. But given the NBA's deep pockets and cadre of lawyers, it probably would have required several years and millions of dollars to pursue.

    At that point, having given four extremely stressful years to the ABL and gone through the painful process of closing down the league, I was ready to move on with my life. So I resigned from the ABL estate's governing board and told them I didn't want to be actively involved in a lawsuit; my only involvement would be as a witness. I believe they did hire a firm to conduct an investigation and explore the merits of an anti-trust suit. I was told they found many indications of questionable or actionable behavior, but no smoking gun. Without enough money or manpower to conduct a prospective lawsuit, and without a clear indication they would win, the governing board decided to drop it.

    The ABL played in the traditional season and used the 29.5 ball. Were these decisions and others part of a conscious strategy to market women's pro basketball as "real basketball"? Why was it important to do that?
    In the beginning, we had a core group of founding players, including Teresa Edwards, Jennifer Azzi, Dawn Staley and others from the '96 Olympic Team. They gave us input as to the size of the ball, the three-point line, the type of coaches we should pursue, length of the season, etc. We felt it was important to have the players' input and involvement in launching the league, making the right decisions. In doing so, we gained credibility and support from players throughout the country. That was really the basis for our success we enjoyed and the strong bond we had with our players.

    The ABL tried to be a "players' league" in part by paying its players more and giving its players an equity interest in the league. You've said that, in retrospect, you may have paid too much, but do you still think it could work to give pro players some financial ownership in their league?
    Absolutely. I see no reason why players can't own part of a league whose existence and financial success is dependent upon their talent and commitment.

    You told Bob Ley on "Outside the Lines" that the ABL lost some sponsorship deals due to some perception that women's pro hoops was a lesbian game. Would you say that was a major hurdle? Did the league have any strategy or policy for dealing with the issue of orientation?
    I don't think I put it in those terms. There were a few potential sponsors and investors who made some revealing comments to me in the course of evaluating their prospective involvement with the ABL. I'm not sure how big of a factor it was, but it was very clear to me that the race and sexual orientation of our players was a determining factor in at least a couple of instances. I'd have to say that it was pretty eye-opening to me, in traveling around this country as a representative of a women's basketball league, to see how much prejudice still exists.

    Our policy was basically to welcome all players and coaches without any regard to their orientation. The same was true for our fans. We needed all the support we could get. We realized that the gay community was part of the fan base for women's basketball, and we promoted our league to that audience. I think several of our teams advertised in the gay media.

    Teresa Edwards was in some ways the face of the ABL, both during its existence and for several years afterward, when she refused to play in the WNBA. How would you characterize Teresa's role in the ABL? Are you still in touch with her?
    There are few people in this world I respect more than Teresa Edwards. She was, in many ways, the heart and soul of the league. She and Jennifer Azzi, in my mind, were the two who really stood out. They went way above and beyond the call. I stayed in touch with Teresa for a few years after the league folded, but I haven't seen or spoken to her in awhile. She'll always have a special place in my heart. My daughter, Alyssa, actually did a report on Teresa to her fourth-grade class a few years ago.

    Is there any still-existing ABL community among former players, coaches, or execs?
    There's an incredibly strong bond between all of those who were involved. It was an amazing experience. For many of our players, coaches and GMs, it was the highlight of their career. We tried to do something very special. Ultimately, we didn't succeed, but we did push the bar a little higher, advanced the cause of women's sports in this country, and had a very positive impact on a lot of people's lives.

    I'm still see the other two co-founders, Steve Hams and Anne Cribbs. Anne and I are on some sports marketing boards together, and Steve and I coach against each other in school and YMCA girls' basketball. I'm in touch regularly with several other former ABL administrators--Rich Nichols, our general counsel, Tracy Williams, our player personnel director, Carla Peyton, our licensing guru, Dean Jutilla, our PR director, and a few of our general managers--Linda Weston and Karen Bryant.

    One of the neatest things that happened to me recently was a call I got call from Karen Bryant. She was our GM for the Seattle Reign and is now the GM of the WNBA champion Seattle Storm. It was the day before the deciding Game 3 of the WNBA championship series between Seattle and Connecticut. She said that she and Chris Sienko (the GM of the Connecticut Sun, who was our GM for the New England Blizzard) were together talking about the ABL. She said they were thinking back on how much the league had meant to them, how the ABL had given them their start and was the beginning of the evolution of women's basketball in the USA. She said that she just wanted to call and say they were thinking about me.

    I was really touched. I'd been following the WNBA playoffs and was very happy that two of our GMs and one of our coaches (Anne Donovan) were in the playoffs. It was great that Karen and Anne took home the trophy.

    I should say parenthetically that I still follow our players in the WNBA. I read the box scores every day to see how they're doing. It was great to see Sheri Sam, Taj McWilliams, Debbie Black, etc. in the finals. And it's great to see Katie Smith, Yolanda Griffith, Adrienne Goodson, Shannon Johnson, Dawn Staley, Crystal Robinson, and so many other ex-ABL players doing so well.

    In early 2003, the WNBA seemed to be in dire straights, due in part to the labor dispute. Now, the league seems on firmer ground. Do you think the WNBA will survive long term? If not, do you think another league would replace it? Do you have any suggestions for what the WNBA could do better?
    I think the players gave in on most of the key issues because they had no leverage. The WNBA is all they have in this country, and, understandably, they don't want to lose it.

    As to the long term survival of the league, a lot of it depends on how long David Stern will subsidize it. I don't share Val's optimism about profitability. I think one of the downsides to playing in the summer is that there is a threshold of how many fans will go indoors to watch a sport that's not in season. They started at about 9,000 fans per game, got up as high as 10,000, and now have slipped back in the last few years to about 8,500. And let's be honest, we all know those numbers are inflated. I went to a game in Sacramento a few years ago, and actually counted the crowd. There were less than 2,500 people there, and the next day the announced crowd was over 5,000.

    Having said that, I'm rooting for them to make it. Some have suggested that those of us who started the ABL want the WNBA to fail. That's not true. We wanted there to be a women's pro league in this country, and we hoped it would be our league. Since that didn't happen, I'm really pulling for the WNBA.

    We need a league in this country--our players deserve to have a league in this country--and the WNBA is the best chance we've got. If they don't make it, I think it will be very difficult for another league to do it. What investor, sponsor or TV network will be willing to take a chance on another pro league if one backed by the NBA doesn't survive?

    As for suggestions, I think they're doing a very good job. I think they expanded a little too fast, the quality suffered, some of the markets couldn't support a team, and I think they learned from that. Because of the threshold in fans I mentioned above, I think they have to find other sources of revenue--more sponsors, more merchandising, etc.--and they seem to be doing that very well. They've made it for eight years now. I congratulate them, and I wish them well.

    There has been off-and-on talk about a WNBA franchise in the Bay Area. Do you think that's a good idea? Would it work best in San Jose, San Francisco, or the East Bay? Would you have any interest in helping make that happen?
    I think there's a strong fan base in the Bay Area because of the success of the Stanford team and the ABL's experience with the San Jose Lasers. I think the peninsula would be the best bet, but there are advantages to partnering with the NBA team in the East Bay, utlizing the facility, taking advantage of the team's resources, etc. I have no interest in being involved. I've been down that road, and I was fortunate enough to come out of it with my family, my health, my integrity and my sense of humor intact. I'd just be a fan.

    You now serve as Executive Director in the Emerald Bowl. Are you still involved in the development of women's sports, or do you hope to be again in the future?
    At this point, my only active involvment is as a youth sports coach. I coach my 11-year old daughter's basketball teams at her school and at the local YMCA. I do participate in panels, speak at local universities, and try to serve as an ambassador for women's sports. I give talks occasionally at the Stanford Business School, Stanford Law School and University of San Francisco on sports management, women's sports, and related issues, and may do more teaching in the future.

    I'm very happy running the Emerald Bowl and doing some other advertising and PR projects. Ironically, Mel Greenberg called me just last week and and said that a number of people had suggeted that I'd be a great candidate to replace Val Ackerman. I told Mel that Osama Bin Laden has a better chance of being president of the United States than I have of being president of the WNBA.

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    Default A.B.L. Players Are Picking Up the Pieces, December 1998

    Found this one on the New York Times, December 1998

    A.B.L. Players Are Picking Up the Pieces By FRANK LITSKY
    A day after the women's American Basketball League folded a third of the way through its third season, officials would not talk yesterday about what would happen to its 90 players and whether those players would be paid.

    The surviving league, the Women's National Basketball Association, was not talking, either. As one W.N.B.A. official said, ''It's premature to talk about questions that exist.''

    Many A.B.L. players talked, some were in tears. In general, players seemed more concerned about the league than themselves.

    ''A lot of us realized that the A.B.L. was a risky venture,'' said Kate Starbird of the Seattle Reign, ''but I believed in what the A.B.L. was about. I really believed we'd play out the season. But as players, we realize the basketball door isn't shutting on us.''

    It is unlikely to shut on Venus Lacy of the Nashville Noise, a 1996 Olympian. ''I wish somebody would wake me up and tell me it's not so,'' she said.

    Katie Smith of the Columbus Quest, a member of the United States national team, said, ''I'm a little surprised at the timing of it.''

    Starbird, Lacy and Smith are elite players who will find a home in the W.N.B.A. or in an overseas league. But for the average players from the A.B.L.'s nine teams and for the fringe players in the W.N.B.A., fewer jobs will mean more competition for roster spots, even with the addition of two W.N.B.A. teams next summer.

    Logic says the W.N.B.A. will hold a draft of A.B.L. players. But Bruce Levy, a New York agent for 38 W.N.B.A. players and nine A.B.L. players , said it was not necessarily that simple. The W.N.B.A. players have a union -- the National Basketball Players Association, which also represents the locked-out N.B.A. players -- and there are antitrust implications.

    ''The W.N.B.A. might set up an expansion draft with two A.B.L. players per team,'' Levy said. ''That would mean that many W.N.B.A. players would be out of a job.

    ''Before the A.B.L. folded, the W.N.B.A. could have absorbed 30 to 35 players next season, maybe 25 college seniors and the rest foreigners. Now, they can have A.B.L. players with much more experience than college players, so maybe only a dozen college players will get jobs. The college kids will be hurt the most. The Chamique Holdsclaws will have jobs, but they would have had them from the start.''

    Holdsclaw, the Tennessee senior, is college basketball's most glamorous player. Had the A.B.L. survived, she would have been the prize in a bidding war between the two United States leagues. She will still attract bids from European teams, but she wants to play in the United States and will go to the W.N.B.A. for less money than she would have received a year ago.

    The W.N.B.A., which made its debut with 8 teams in 1997 and had 10 last season, will have new teams next summer in Orlando and Minnesota. Several other cities with N.B.A. teams want W.N.B.A. franchises, too, and Johnny Buss, who owns the W.N.B.A.'s Los Angeles Sparks, said the league might add four teams for the year 2000.

    With one exception, no A.B.L. team is likely to be added to the W.N.B.A. The possible exception is the New England Blizzard, the A.B.L.'s attendance leader from its start. Although all W.N.B.A. teams are in cities with N.B.A. franchises and play in the same arenas, a case can be made for the Blizzard, which plays in the Hartford Civic Center. For years, the N.B.A.'s Boston Celtics played many home games in Hartford.

    One reason for the Blizzard's box-office success is its proximity to Storrs, the home of the University of Connecticut. The UConn women's team is a perennial national leader and has been ranked No. 1 in the nation most of this season. Jen Rizzotti, Kara Wolters and Carla Berube, all members of UConn's 1995 national championship team, play for the Blizzard.

    UConn players past and present were scheduled to play next Tuesday night in Villanova, Pa. An unusual doubleheader would have sent the Blizzard against the Philadelphia Rage in an A.B.L. game, and Connecticut against Villanova in a college game. Even without a professional game as a warm-up game, Connecticut and Villanova may sell out Villanova's Pavilion.

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    Default 1998 ABL ALL-STAR GAME, Jan 19, 1988

    Originally from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, but found on LookSmart's FindArticles.com

    1998 ABL ALL-STAR GAME

    Sylvia Crawley stole the show from the American Basketball League all-stars Sunday night.

    Responding to chants of "Crawley, Crawley" and her personal challenge to do something daring, the 6-foot-5 forward from the Colorado Xplosion slipped on a blindfold and captured the league's first slam dunk contest.

    Crawley marched off 10 paces before being fitted for the blindfold. She was mobbed by players and other supporters after she rose above the rim and easily slammed the ball through the basket. The main attraction was supposed to be the league's second All-Star Game, won by the West, 102-73. MVP Shalonda Enis scored 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting and Natalie Williams added 12 points and 12 rebounds. But Crawley turned it into her personal show with two creative and perfectly executed dunks for a score of 97.5 out of 100. New England's Kara Wolters was second with 76 points. Seattle's Linda Godby finished third with 70. Each of the finalists made two dunks in the preliminaries on Saturday, when the five participants were successful on just over half the attempts (eight of 15).

    Crawley, who earned $5,000, has been dunking since she was a freshman at North Carolina, where she said she failed on her first 10 attempts before finally slamming on a regulation height rim. She began practicing the blindfold dunk about two weeks ago and perfected it in the days leading up to the competition. "I was a little nervous because I had been missing it a lot," she said. "But once I got here, I got it down and didn't miss any." All three of the finalists appeared to get higher off the floor than they did in the preliminaries. They were more creative, too, with Wolters executing her second dunk after starting with her back to the basket and bouncing the ball between her legs before spinning to dribble to the rim from the free-throw line. Philadelphia's Dawn Staley, a starter for the East, won the three-point shootout, making 15 of 25 shots to beat Katie Smith of Columbus and earn $5,000.

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    Default

    From the New York Times:

    [quote]A.B.L. Player's Apparent Suicide Brings Shock and Bewilderment
    By LENA WILLIAMS

    Until she stood before her younger sister early Monday morning with a shotgun in her hand, Katrina Price seemed ready to get on with her life, friends and acquaintances of the 23-year-old Waco, Tex., native said yesterday.

    Price, the leading career scorer for the Stephen F. Austin women's basketball team and a rookie guard with the Philadelphia Rage of the American Basketball League, had been disappointed that the women's pro league abruptly declared bankruptcy last December. But no more so than other players, people close to her said.

    In fact, Price had expressed interest in playing professionally overseas. But when an agent recently called with a possible offer, Price never called him back. She had decided to return to her alma mater to pursue a master's degree in education, and was enrolled for the current semester. Her younger sister, Lucretia, is a junior at the university, and they shared an apartment near campus.

    It was there, inside a bedroom, that Price apparently committed suicide, according to the police in Nacogdoches, Tex. Responding to reports of screams and a gunshot inside the apartment about 7 A.M. Monday, the police found Price dead of an apparent gunshot wound.
    Lucretia Price told the police that she awoke that morning and saw her sister holding a gun.

    According to a family friend who spoke with the younger Price after the incident, she said that her older sister twice tried to wound herself with the weapon that morning. On a third attempt, she placed the gun to her head, the friend was told. A shotgun was found under Price's body. There were no signs of a struggle, and the younger sister was not considered a suspect, the police said.

    Sgt. Ralph Ervin said yesterday that the case was being investigated as a homicide because there were no witnesses to the incident. It was unclear exactly where the sister was when the fatal shot was fired. Price's body was sent to a medical examiner in nearby Lufkin for an autopsy.

    Those who knew Price described her as a confident, intelligent young woman with a sweet quiet manner that endeared her to teammates, in college and in the pro league.

    Counselors from Stephen F. Austin met with members of the Ladyjack basketball team and coaching staff, who were said to be visibly shaken by the news. Some were former teammates of Price, who had graduated last May. Students plan to hold a memorial service for the 5-foot-10-inch former all-American, and an all-star game of A.B.L. players this Sunday will be dedicated to Price, organizers said.

    Over and over yesterday, those who knew Price expressed surprise that she would take her life. ''I just can't believe it,'' said Teresa Weatherspoon, guard for the New York Liberty of the Women's National Basketball Association. Weatherspoon lives near Nacogdoches. ''She had talent, smarts and potential. My prayers go out to the family.''

    Chasity Melvin, a close friend and teammate of Price on the Rage, remembered her as a player who worked hard and got along extremely well with her teammates.

    ''Being rookies we were going through a lot of the same issues,'' Melvin said through her agent, Erica McKeon. Melvin is playing professionally in Spain. ''We bonded because of that. I felt very close to her. She spent Thanksgiving with my family. All I can say is that this comes as a big surprise.''

    Despite an illustrious college career, Price had a less than stellar season in the pros. Drafted seventh over all last May by the Long Beach Stingrays, the team disbanded before Price played a game. She was placed on the Rage squad last August. She averaged 2.7 points a game as a reserve guard.

    Privately, many of Price's former colleagues questioned whether the demise of the A.B.L. may have been a factor in her death.

    ''People want to think that, but we don't know what was going on with her,'' said Jennifer Azzi, a guard for the San Jose Lasers of the A.B.L. and one of the players who is spearheading the all-star game. Azzi said she did not personally know Price, but was nevertheless shocked by news of her death.

    ''You can somehow connect and relate to the psychology of someone who may have gone through similar things in life, playing the sport,'' Azzi said by telephone from San Jose, Calif. ''The players in the A.B.L. have always felt close to each other. In that sense, all of us are saddened by this tragedy.''

    Price is survived by eight sisters. In a statement released through an aunt, Barbara Price, the sisters spoke of Katrina as ''a most generous and loving person.''

    ''We were so proud of her,'' the statement read. ''She always tried to set an example through basketball to the youth in the community. The family is saddened by the loss of our loved one.''[/quote]

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