When one thinks of minor league baseball, Susan Sarandon comes to mind. Conversely, when one thinks of minor league basketball, Isiah Thomas comes to mind.
So when I mention that the most exciting basketball game I attended was Game 6 of the CBA Championship in Wichita Falls, Texas, in April 1991, please understand that this was prior to Thomas buying the league and bankrupting it.
The Wichita Falls Texans were a Continental Basketball Association team from 1988-1994. They played a mere 45 miles from my house. They are also responsible for suiting up Roy Tarpley for a few games in 1992, making it the most exciting basketball event ever in the city that didn’t involve donkeys.
The star players for the team included Ennis Whatley (who participated as the 12th man on a handful of NBA teams), Derrick Taylor (shares a last name but is not related to James Taylor) and Kurt Portman (token tall, white guy). The head coach was current LSU assistant John Treloar, and his assistant at the time was current University of Alabama at Birmingham head coach Mike Davis.
Both Treloar and Davis served at Indiana as assistants under Bob Knight, proving that, along with mesquite trees and goats, Wichita Falls is now a hotbed for coaching prospects as well.
My first memory of the Texans was watching highlights of a game on the nightly news, in which a referee made a bad call. This was followed by hundreds of fans throwing plastic basketballs (that night’s promotional giveaway) onto the court, hoping to make contact with said official’s noggin.
This looked to be fun, so I insisted that my family attend next season’s basketball giveaway night.
Those entering through the turnstiles that night were given a prize better than plastic (this was a savvy marketing ploy, attempting to compensate for the team’s jersey colors including pink and neon green). Each person in attendance received a real, palm-size basketball. This prompted that night’s officials to seriously consider wearing football helmets to ref in.
Unfortunately, there were no bad calls that night, and the Texans won. And that year’s team proved good enough to make it to the playoffs and, eventually, to the best-of-seven CBA Championship against the Quad City Thunder.
The Texans led the Thunder 3-2 entering Game 6. It was a sell-out crowd in Wichita Falls. (The preceding was a sentence typed slightly less often than “Muenster cheese proves to be effective when used in place of toilet paper.”)
The game was a back-and-forth event, which made it comparable to a seesaw. Fans stood and yelled throughout most of the game, as they admired a giant net at the top of the stadium which held a collection of balloons. The balloons were to be released if the Texans won the game, as if to designate that Wichita Falls is a town that knows how to coordinate jubilation.
I stood and yelled at that game more than in any previous time in my life that didn’t involve my sister. However, Quad City prevailed by two points, forcing a Game 7 to be played without me in attendance.
My family was actually in Wichita Falls the night of Game 7, forced to listen on the radio. The good news is that the Texans won easily, allowing fans the ecstasy of seeing hundreds of colorful balloons descend onto a basketball court, as tall men wearing shorts hugged one another.
The bad news is that, in a display of nauseous irony, 1991 was the year the Chicago Bulls finally defeated the Detroit Pistons in the NBA playoffs. And not to allege that Isiah Thomas spent the next 15 years sabotaging everything in his path, but I am full of mirth that Wichita Falls no longer had a team when Thomas took over.