Long before the National Basketball Association (NBA) had their own developmental league, the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) served that purpose as a minor league system. The CBA’s run went from 1947-2009. The NBA formed a working agreement to develop players and referees during the 1980s.
Some of the notable players that were developed in the CBA and moved onto careers in the NBA were: Rick Carlisle, Charlie Criss, Mario Elie, World B. Free, Sidney Lowe, Anthony Mason, Michael Ray Richardson, John Starks, Jo Jo White as well as many others. Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, George Karl, Eric & Bill Musselman, tom Nissalke and Flip Saunders all coached in the league. Before his success in the NBA, Phil Jackson coached the Albany Patroons from 1982-1987.
As you would expect with a minor league, there were hundreds of cities that played in the league during its existence. Some of the more interesting teams on the list were:
- Albany Patroons – finished the 1991-92 season with a record of 50-6. George Karl was the head coach.
- Anchorage Northern Knights – Played from 1978-1982. The team was 5,000 miles away from the closest team. They other lead the league in attendance and sellouts. They won the title in 1979-1980.
- Pittsburgh Piranhas – Not sure if there are piranhas in the rivers in Pittsburgh but the team played one season and made it to the finals losing to the Yakima Sun Kings.
- Louisville Catbirds – Interesting combination nickname of the state’s top college basketball programs.
- Savannah Spirits – Only CBA game I saw in person came when the team played in the league from 1986-1988.
- Wyoming Wildcatters – played six seasons in the league. Lost in the finals twice to the Albany Patroons.
- Puerto Rico Coquis – A coqui is a frog.
- Cincinnati Slammers – Played from 1984-87. The Slammers finished with the best record in their division in 1985-86. They eventually lost the finals to the La Crosse Catbirds in six games.
Only Albany, New York (11) and La Crosse, Wisconsin (9) had CBA teams the longest.
The Wilkes-Barre Barons and Allentown Jets had the most championship appearances with 11. Both teams won eight titles in those 11 appearances. The Lawton-Fort Sill Calvary won the last CBA title over the Albany Patroons two games to one in 2009.
The CBA has some interesting rules such as adding the three-point line in 1964-65. They added collapsible rims in the early 1980s.
Season standings were changed from the standard win-loss percentage to a 7-point system. In each game, seven points were awarded (three for winning the game and one point for each quarter won). If teams were tied, each team received a 1/2 point.
A player did not foul out of a game. After a player’s sixth personal foul, the opposing team received automatic free throw.
Overtime rules changed to different formats. During 1982-1984, overtime games were decided by the team who scored the first three points. Later the rule was amended to the first team to lead by three points. Eventually it reverted back to the standard five-minute overtime period.
The demise of the league began when former NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas bought the league for $10 million dollars in 1999. Just two weeks after buying the league, he cut player salaries by 1/3 in an effort to make the CBA a younger league and claimed it would appeal better to the NBA as a developmental league. Thomas was faced with business troubles, losing the league’s partnership with the NBA and ultimately abandoning the league into a blind trust that left teams unable to meet payroll or pay bills. The combined-ownership plan was unsuccessful and by 2001, the CBA had declared bankruptcy and ceased operations (folded on February 8, 2001 without managing to complete the 2000-01 season).
The league attempted to comeback in 2001 in a merger with the International Basketball League (IBL) and remained alive for seven more seasons but with the NBA starting its own developmental league in 2001, the league was never able to compete or recover from Thomas’ involvement in the league.