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  Bill Harris Arena
Association for Professional Basketball Research

Team and League History

April 4, 1991
     Pensacola Tornados logo
Tom McMillan, owner of the Continental Basketball Association's Pensacola Tornados, announces that he will move his franchise before next season due to sagging attendance. McMillan lists Birmingham, Huntsville, and Knoxville as potential sites.

Jim Goodwin, the Tornados general manager, recently visited Huntsville and said he felt Huntsville and Knoxville "are neck-and-neck. I couldn't list them in a 1-2 order, but Huntsville is an extremely strong candidate."

The Tornados are owned by husband and wife Tom and Jane McMillan, who purchased the Tornados in June 1989. Tom was born in Tuscaloosa and graduated from the University of Alabama. He also owns SMACKCO, Ltd. a Brewton-based oil and gas exploration business.

April 25, 1991
     Continental Basketball Association logo 
Tornados officials announce that they have told members of the Alabama State Fair Authority that they would be moving the team to Birmingham for the 1991-92 season. "We're excited about the possibilities here. Obviously we have convinced ourselves that we could draw and do well here," McMillan said.

The Continental Basketball League was originally founded on April 23, 1946 as the Eastern Pennsylvania Basketball League. At some point, the EPBL renamed itself the Eastern Basketball Association. On June 1, 1978, the EBA became the Continental Basketball Association to better reflect the geographical expansion of the league. Since 1980, the CBA has been the official developmental league of the National Basketball Association. In addition to financial assistance, the CBA grooms players, coaches, and officials for possible work in the NBA.

Each CBA team is affiliated with one or two NBA teams. Any player drafted or waived by the NBA club automatically becomes the property of the CBA club affiliate. The CBA's draft takes priority over the affiliation system, and when a drafted CBA player goes to the NBA, he would return to his original CBA team, without regard to the affiliation. Each CBA team has one full affiliate and one affiliate they would share with another CBA team. Club affiliations are shuffled each season. 15% of the current players in the NBA have played in the CBA.

     Maine Lumberjacks logo
The CBA's season runs from November to April. The league uses a point system for each game; three points for a victory and one point for each quarter won. If a team wins the game and produces more points each quarter than the other team does, the winning team would earn seven points. The points are used to help determine playoff seedings at the end of the regular season.

The McMillans will retain head coach Fred Bryan, who became a head coach for the first time when he coached the Tornados last year. Bryan was a graduate assistant at the University of Alabama under Wimp Sanderson before coaching high school basketball in the state of Alabama for nine years.

McMillan said the team will play in the Bill Harris Arena at the State Fairgrounds. "I was really trying to get UAB Arena, but it didn't work out. We stayed in touch (with State Fair officials). They did a good job of keeping us interested. I was concerned about how well we would draw at State Fair Arena. But the more I looked at the level of interest in basketball in Birmingham and after I talked to other people, I believed we can make it successful." UAB Arena didn't have enough open dates available to work a schedule around. The lease is a 1-year agreement in which the team would pay the Authority $800 per game and 20% of gross concession revenue.

Each team's salary cap is $100,000 with the average player earning $10,000. Players get per diem for meals on the road and the team provides housing. "They're not in it for the money. They want the exposure. I think it's excellent basketball, one notch below the NBA. I'm proud of the level of competition. I think we have a great product," McMillan said.

     Bay State Bombardiers logo
The team originally started as a CBA expansion franchise in 1978 as the Maine Lumberjacks.

After playing in Maine for a few years, the team moved to Massachusetts and became the Bay State Bombardiers in 1983.

By 1985, the team had moved on to Pensacola to become the Tornados. The team will be renamed in a 'name-the-team' contest.

May 1, 1991
At the official press conference, McMillan says that Birmingham was his choice all along. "We always wanted to be in Birmingham. We looked at other places, but we're goad to be here."

New CBA commissioner Terdema Ussery, II was in town for the press conference and said that cities like Birmingham fit the league's move toward larger markets.

Team officials hope to average 3,200 fans per game in the 5,000 seat arena. "We've got to do our job. We've got to reach the community and win their confidence, backing, and support. It's nice to have a fresh start," McMillan said.

  Head Coach Morris "Mo" McHone
Corporate support is the key ingredient that was missing in Pensacola. "Fan support is not the sole indicator of success. We're not here to fail," McMillan said.

McMillan doesn't feel worried about prior teams that have come and gone. "I wanted to come here from the beginning. Birmingham has always had successful clubs in unsuccessful leagues. We're bringing a successful league to town. I don't think you have to worry about this league being stable. We're here for the long run."

May 9, 1991
Morris "Mo" McHone is named head coach and vice president at a news conference. "To me, coming to a city like Birmingham with a great sports background is great. Birmingham is a pro city. They will really adopt pro basketball."

After graduating from Florida State University, McHone started his coaching career as a graduate assistant there in 1969 after spending four years as a high school coach. After coaching at FSU for eight years as an assistant, McHone moved to professional basketball as an assistant coach for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers in 1979. The next year, he went to the NBA's San Antonio Spurs as an assistant and in 1983 became the head coach of the Spurs. In 1985, he was hired as an assistant coach for the Cavaliers. In 1986, he became an assistant coach for Bradley University, where he worked until being hired by the McMillans.

McHone believes the talent in the CBA is very good. "You don't really know how good players in the CBA are. The difference between the NBA and the CBA is the big men. Almost every team that comes to Birmingham will have guards that can play in the NBA. I think you will be shocked at the quality of play."

     San Antonio Spurs logoAtlanta Hawks logo
The team chose not to renew Fred Bryan's contract. No reason was given.

May 20, 1991
General manager Jim Goodman announces that the name Birmingham Bandits was chosen out of 3,000 entries in the name-the-team contest. "We were looking for a name that was unique, energetic, fun, and could stand on its own."

June 26, 1991
Bandits officials announce they will be affiliated with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs.

The Hawks are full affiliates while the Spurs have rights to Bandits players whose last name begins with the letters A through L.

November 1991
 Continental Basketball Association 
American Conference National Conference
Midwest Division Eastern Division Northern Division Southern Division
   Fort Wayne Fury    Albany Patroons    Bakersfield Jammers    Omaha Racers
   La Crosse Catbirds       Birmingham Bandits       Oklahoma City Cavalry       Rapid City Thrillers
   Quad City Thunder    Columbus Horizon    Tulsa Zone    Sioux Falls Skyforce   
   Rockford Lightning    Grand Rapids Hoops    Wichita Falls Texans    Tri-City Chinook
         Yakima Sun Kings
  xxx   xxx   xxx  
Albany Patroons logo    Bakersfield Jammers logo    Birmingham Bandits logo    Columbus Horizon logo
Albany Patroons   Bakersfield Jammers   Birmingham Bandits   Columbus Horizon
Fort Wayne Fury logo    Grand Rapids Hoops logo    La Crosse Catbirds logo    Oklahoma City Calvary logo
Fort Wayne Fury   Grand Rapids Hoops   La Crosse Catbirds   Oklahoma City Cavalry
Omaha Racers logo   Quad City Thunder logo   Rapid City Thrillers logo   Rockford Lightning logo
Omaha Racers   Quad City Thunder   Rapid City Thrillers   Rockford Lightning
Sioux Fall Skyforce logo   Tri-City Chinook logo   Tulsa Zone logo   Wichita Falls Texans logo
Sioux Falls Skyforce   Tri-City Chinook   Tulsa Zone   Wichita Falls Texans
Yakima Sun Kings logo            
Yakima Sun Kings            
December 10, 1991
General manager Jim Goodman resigns. "I have the chance to return home to Texas for a business opportunity. Following Christmas, I know the sports fans in Birmingham will discover what a great product the CBA is."

McHone is named interim general manager.

Despite playing with former University of Alabama stars Michael Ansley and Jim Farmer, the team has not been drawing the attendance team officials expected.

December 18, 1991
  Owners Tom and Jane McMillan
Tom Maloney is named the Bandits new general manager. Maloney was formerly the general manager of the Triple-A's Denver Zephyrs baseball club. He resigned his post with the Zephyrs in 1991 citing "philosophical differences" with the team's ownership.

Maloney says his main goal is to increase attendance. The Bandits are currently last in the league, drawing an average of 1,515 per game. He downplayed the Arena's location as the cause of sagging attendance as well as dismissed the idea Birmingham would only support football. "It doesn't seem to me this neighborhood is that much of a problem. There are plenty of restaurants and shopping centers in the area. I also think the thought that Birmingham is a football city is overrated. The big problem is the team came to the city without a lot of build-up time. They came in unnoticed. I know the market can and will support basketball, but it will take a little time."

December 20, 1991
The CBA office upheld a protest by the La Crosse Catbirds over a disputed foul call in Birmingham's 113-112 victory December 10th at State Fair Arena. The ruling means the two teams will replay the final 91 seconds when the 2 teams meet February 21st in Birmingham.

The dispute occurred with Birmingham leading 111-110 with 1:31 remaining in the game. A Catbird player, while unsuccessfully attempting to call a timeout, lost possession of the ball. Another Catbird player fouled the Bandits Anthony Houston while both scrambled for the ball. The referees called a defensive foul and awarded Houston two free throws. The Catbirds maintain that since a change of possession had not occurred, they should have been charged with an offensive foul and Houston would not have received the free throws.

Catbirds head coach and general manager Flip Saunders applauded the league office for its "willingness to take steps to make things right. They corrected the call."

January 1, 1992
The Bakersfield Jammers become the first casualty of the season when they file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

January 3, 1992
Bandits assistant general manager Marty Owens resigns, citing the team's poor performance at the box office.

March 17, 1992
McMillan says the chances the Bandits will remain in Birmingham next year are in doubt. The Bandits rank dead last in attendance. Only 405 fans attended the 1-game shootout, which determined if the Bandits would advance to the CBA playoffs. McMillan says the turnout during the upcoming playoffs could have a bearing on whether the team stays or goes.

McMillan has tried to negotiate a lease with the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center, but to no avail. Consensus among most fans is that the Bandits play in a bad part of town. "I like this building and the arrangement, but I don't like the response we've had. I can't find anyone interested in joining me as a partner. My status is I'm weighing my options. I didn't get anywhere with the Civic Center. I couldn't accept their terms. We're not anywhere near (a deal). I'm in touch with two or three cities that want to buy my club. We've talked to Fargo (ND). I expect to get an offer Wednesday, but not from Fargo."

A decision should be reached within three or four days. "I would say we're one third staying and two thirds taking an offer and selling the team. I believe in this league, but the CBA has always had a hard time in the South. I don't know why," McMillan said.

March 26, 1992
McMillan admits he is actively negotiating to sell the Bandits to an out-of-state group that will move the franchise to another city. "I have my first deal on the table right now. But I'm really not happy with it and it's not local." McMillan says he has talked to a local group but they have not made an offer.

McMillan claims he sustained substantial financial losses to move the team to Birmingham. "I just can't continue to own and operate the club. I'm going to have to sell it. I've done all I can do. I'm entertaining all offers and the best one I receive will get the team. The team did better in Pensacola than it did in Birmingham. In Pensacola the attendance was double what it was here in Birmingham but we were still last in the league (in attendance). Financially, I was better off in Pensacola, but I wasn't really doing well. I wanted to keep the team in the South and I would like for it to stay in Birmingham, but I can't be the majority owner and be responsible for all that takes place."

In a last-ditch effort to keep the team in Birmingham, local media personality Herb Winches hosted an all-day "Save the Bandits" show on the radio Wednesday. Around 600 new season tickets were pledged by callers for next season, roughly double what had been sold this year.

McMillan wasn't swayed but said, "This might offer some support to the group that is getting together in Birmingham. But one day and one night does not make a season. I just don't feel the encouragement or enthusiasm in this city."

May 28, 1992
     Rochester Renegade logo
After weeks of speculation, Bandits owner Tom McMillan officially announces the team has been sold to a group based in Rochester, Minnesota. The group is headed by the Kahler Corporation, a nationwide hotel owner and operator.

The Bandits will immediately relocate and play the next season in the CBA.

Under the agreement, McMillan will retain partial ownership. "I believe that the club will be successful in Rochester because of the public's awareness of the CBA in the area. It is near other CBA clubs that will make for strong rivalries."

On October 1, 1999, former star of the NBA's Detroit Pistons Isiah Thomas purchases all nine CBA teams and the league office in Phoenix, Arizona for $10 million.

Roughly a year later, Thomas places his CBA ownership into a formalized trust. The NBA required this to avoid any conflict of interest before he became coach of the NBA's Indiana Pacers.

On January 24, 2001, reports began appearing that the Continental Basketball Association is in a grave financial state. The CBA began its 55th season in December 2000.

The NBA's recent announcement that it will start its own National Basketball Developmental League next season has put the CBA's title of "Official Developmental League of the NBA" into serious jeopardy. The CBA has had that position for over 20 years. Along with the endorsement, the NBA gives the CBA an undisclosed amount of financial support. Not only is the NBA interested in helping develop players, it also has a stake in officials, and front-office personnel, many of whom sharpen their skills in the CBA.

The NBA is hoping to create a minor league basketball farm system along the lines of Major League Baseball, where every NBA team will have its own minor league team or teams. "Right now, the CBA is not in the mindset of our plans," said Michael Bass, senior director for the NBA who also is involved with the NBDL. "And it would be premature to speak on possible expansion in the NBDL (to possibly include CBA teams) not having gone through our first season."

The idea for the NBDL came about five years ago, when the NBA launched the Women's National Basketball Association. But because the U.S. Women's Olympic basketball team was coming off a gold-medal triumph in the Atlanta Games and the popularity of the women's game was at an all-time high, the NBA decided to start the WNBA first.

Brendan Suhr, a former coach and co-owner of the CBA's Grand Rapids Hoops who is now director of player personnel for the NBA's Detroit Pistons, said the NBA made an $11 million offer to then-CBA owner Isiah Thomas to buy the league last March. "The NBA made an offer that wasn't what Isiah expected so he decided not to sell the league at that time."

Thomas still owns the league and there are a few interested buyers. Who those buyers are only Ivan Thronton, an investment banker in New York, knows. Thronton is in charge of the trust, making sure the league has the day-to-day finances to operate. Thronton was appointed by the NBA to handle the possible sale of the CBA.

     International Basketball League logo
On January 29, 2001, it was reported that the CBA was attempting to merge with the International Basketball League. The 6-team IBL would purchase and join the 10-team CBA and the leagues would complete their respective schedules separately this season, but meet in the postseason in a modified playoff format.

On February 8, 2001, the Continental Basketball Association, $2 million in debt, officially suspended play indefinitely. The trust charged with selling the debt-ridden CBA for Isiah Thomas abandoned that effort Thursday afternoon, announcing instead that it would return each of the league's teams to the owners from whom Thomas bought them 15 months ago. However, not all of the old owners want their teams. Some are allowing their franchises to fold, some are joining the IBL and others are going to wait and see what happens.

Most insiders believe Thomas is the sole reason the CBA folded. "I think he's the ultimate con man," the CBA's Yakima Sun Kings coach Paul Woolpert said. "His legacy, as far as the CBA is concerned, will be that he ruined an institution older than the NBA. He single-handedly ruined a league."

"He was one of the most hated players in the history of the NBA and now we know why," another CBA employee said. "I don't know if he's aware that he's playing with peoples lives and livelihoods, and that because of his ego, he dooms the league to failure."

On February 23, 2001, the Continental Basketball Association filed for bankruptcy in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Under the laws of Chapter 7, all league assets will be sold to help pay creditors, which include a number of former CBA teams.
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Last update: September 21, 2018