CBA Teams Fight For Survival

Isiah Thomas smiles during a news conference in Toronto in 1997.
Teams of the cash-strapped Continental Basketball Association scrambled Friday to pin down their options for survival. Some simply called it quits.

The league suspended play Thursday, less than a week after eight of the 10 teams failed to meet player payrolls.

"In my opinion, the CBA as a league is gone," said Bill Ilett, former majority owner of the Idaho Stampede.

The Sioux Falls (S.D.) Skyforce and the Gary (Ind.) Steelheads both said Friday that they have joined the International Basketball League and will play each other Saturday in Sioux Falls, IBL vice president Greg Burke said. He expects other teams to follow.

"We would welcome any teams that would like to join us," Burke told The Associated Press.

Reportedly at least $1.5 million in debt, the CBA's value plummeted when the NBA decided to operate its own developmental league rather than relying on the CBA. The NBA had extended its partnership through the current season the 55th for the CBA.

Isiah Thomas, the former NBA star who is now head coach of the Indiana Pacers, bought the CBA in 1999 for slightly more than $9 million. The NBA ordered him to sell the CBA before next season's training camp.

Thomas personally advanced funds to pay the players through their last games, the league said. A message left for Thomas with the Pacers was not immediately returned Friday.

Some former owners were thrilled to have an opportunity to buy back their franchises.

But Otis Harlan said he doesn't want the Yakima (Wash.) Sun Kings back, even though they won the league championship last season and in 1994-95.

Sun Kings general manager Rich Austin has declared everyone in the team's operation a free agent.

"It's a shame that after 11 years in Yakima ... it came to this," Austin told the Yakima Herald-Republic.

The Rockford (Ill.) Lightning suspended operations indefinitely Friday until former team owner Wayne Timpe decides if he wants to buy the team back. A decision was expected by Saturday.

Two former owners of the Skyforce, Roger Larsen and Greg Heineman, said they acquired the Skyforce in return for assuming the team's debts and expenses for the rest of the year, the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader reported.

Three CBA teams - the Idaho Stampede, the Quad City (Iowa) Thunder and the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Fury - likely have played their last game.

"We are not interested in resuming ownership of the franchise," said Jay Gellerman, Quad City's majority owner.

Fort Wayne suspended operations Friday and won't join the IBL, said Fury general manager Rich Coffey.

Jay Frye, the former owner of the Fury, had expressed interest in reacquiring his franchise but his offer was not accepted.

"There is less than a one percent chance of me getting back into his," Frye said.

Ilett, of the Stampede, said he received a proposal Thursday that would allow his group to take over the team without being responsible for any of the franchise's debt. But by midseason, nearly all revenue had been collected and half the expenses have yet to be paid.

"I don't think it would be fair to the season-ticket holders in Boise if we took it over and couldn't make it a success," Ilett said. "All you're doing is extending the patient's life."

Other teams were more optimistic.

The Connecticut Pride said it expected a positive outcome and would make a formal announcement about the team's future in Hartford next week.

Two other CBA teams - the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Hoops and the La Crosse (Wis.) Bobcats - were not answering their phones Friday.

The league's trustee, Ivan Thornton, said back-pay issues for league employees are among details that trust lawyers were deciding Friday.

Some owners have said they plan to fight Thomas for any money owed.

Stampede president and part-owner Clay Moser said Thomas owes him $25,000.

"I'm digging in and fighting back," Moser said, "and I probably won't be the only one."

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