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Founders of This League Thinking Small : A Modest Start Planned for National Women's Basketball Assn.

June 15, 1986|Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Wayne Fulcher says he's learned from the mistakes of others, and that's why he thinks his National Women's Basketball Assn. will succeed where three previous leagues have failed.

"We feel our time has come," Fulcher said. "We have a new concept."

There was no women's professional basketball in the U.S. until 1978, when the Women's Professional Basketball League was formed. There were 17 teams when the league started, but financial woes cut that figure to eight, and by 1981, the league was finished.

Then there was the Ladies Basketball Assn., which was started on the West Coast in 1980, but never got off the ground.

The third effort was in 1984, when the Women's American Basketball Assn. was developed by Bill Byrne. That league managed to start a season, but by the end of the year was mired in disruption which forced the league to close the year with three teams playing a barnstorming tour to reach those cities which lost clubs.

Byrne vowed to have a league in 1985, but it never came about.

With those failures, the last refuge for college women who wanted to play more basketball was Europe, but Fulcher wants to halt the migration--and the flops.

"This is an opportunity to give women the chance to play ball here where the game was invented," he said, adding that Europe was "light years ahead of us" in the development of women's pro basketball.

Fulcher, who says he's promoted closed-circuit telecasts of heavyweight boxing, has what he says is the best plan for successful women's professional basketball.

"We're in cities that are conducive to women's basketball. I believe you have to crawl before you can walk," he said. "We learned from the other leagues."

The old leagues tried to field teams in major cities, in some cases placing women's teams in cities where an NBA franchise existed. The women's teams were lost in the crush, but Fulcher has taken his teams to Monroe, La.; Richmond, Va.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Atlanta; Austin, Tex.; Orange County; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Also, there's a team in the league's home city of Charlotte.

The league conducted a regional draft June 5, parceling players with regional recognition to the league's eight teams. The idea is to keep the players close to their homes and bring out the fans who watched them in college.

"Smaller is better," Fulcher said. "And we think it will grow, also, with our regional draft to continue the following that some of these players have gotten. The grass roots approach told us these teams draw. Once a fan gets in the stands, he'll be back."

Two of the big names of women's college basketball have not joined the mass fast break to the league. Olympic gold medalist Cheryl Miller of USC so far has chosen not to play. Nancy Lieberman, the former Old Dominion star who was a pioneer in the professional game, has joined the Springfield Fame of the men's United States Basketball League.

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