By Craig DeVrieze/ QUAD-CITY TIMES
The trust charged with selling the debt-ridden
Continental Basketball Association for former NBA superstar
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.
Since former Quad-City Thunder majority owner
Jay Gellerman said he has no interest in taking back ownership
of the club,
that effectively means the end of the Quad-Cities’ 14-year-old
professional basketball franchise.
It could mean the end of the 55-year-old CBA
as well, although Thursday’s move by the trust does leave
open the door for former owners of more successful CBA teams
to reassume control
and become part of the International Basketball League.
“It is a sad day for sports and a sad day for this community,” Thunder
general manager Kim Evans said.
The league has suspended play indefinitely, meaning
scheduled Saturday home date at The Mark of the Quad-Cities obviously
will not be played.
Evans, who along with coach Bob Thornton and the rest of the
Thunder staff has not received a paycheck since Jan. 19, said
she was given few instructions concerning the transition in a
Thursday afternoon conference call of league general managers.
Evans said league president Don Welsh recommended closing all
team offices, since none of the league personnel officially is
employed right now.
Evans said she hopes to receive better answers
to give to season ticket holders and sponsors today. She could
not say whether
fans who have tickets for any of the Thunder’s 18 remaining
home games will receive refunds.
Steve Hyman, executive
director of The Mark, said the loss of those
18 remaining home dates won’t be a problem for his building.
He said the league and team were current on their rent.
Trustee Ivan Thornton said overdue paychecks
owed to players on three teams from a week ago — including the Thunder
players — will be paid by Thomas. He said back-pay issues
for league employees such as Evans and the Q-C front office staff
are among details that will be decided by trust lawyers today.
Gellerman said he was not contacted by the trust or any representative
of Thomas concerning the plan to hand teams back to their former
“What the hell does that mean?” Gellerman said when
told of the trust’s announcement. “We are not interested
in resuming ownership of the franchise, but I am interested in
getting the money we still are owed from Isiah Thomas, who personally
In a complicated series of purchase agreements, Thomas bought
the Thunder and eight other CBA franchises, along with the league
office in Phoenix, for more than $9 million in October of 1999.
He still owes an estimated $2 million on that purchase price.
Representatives of two other former ownership
groups — ex-Idaho
Stampede majority owner Bill Ilett and former Fort Wayne Fury
partner Jay Leonard — also said they will not take back
Leonard, a car dealer in his Indiana city, said the trust and
Thomas are trying to turn away from debt-ridden and damaged goods.
The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel reported Thursday that the league
is more than $1.5 million in debt.
Said Leonard of Thomas: “It is like he bought a car on
a five-year loan, drove it for two years, blew the engine, dropped
the trannie and then drove it back and said, ‘Here, you
can have it back.’ ”
Thomas has been attempting to sell the league
since last spring, and in August of last year he became head
coach of the NBA’s
On orders of the NBA Board of Governors, Thomas placed the CBA
in the control of a blind trust in October to avoid being in
conflict of interest with his job as Pacers coach.
Since then, the trust, led by New York City investment banker
Thornton has been attempting to find a new owner, but recent
talks with a number of prospective buyers fell apart while the
league itself grew deeper in debt.
Gellerman declined to name the original price tag for the Thunder
but said Thomas still owes him and his Q-C area partners about
30 percent of that.
Gellerman purchased the team from original owner Anne Potter
DeLong in 1996.
The Thunder and the CBA always had been a challenging
business. The Thunder never have turned a profit, even though
been one of the league’s most successful teams on the floor.
Before this year’s team — which will complete a
partial season at 8-12 — the Thunder had endured only one
losing campaign and won a pair of CBA titles, in 1994 and in
Still, attendance declined almost annually. In their first three
seasons, the Thunder ranked second among 16 teams in CBA attendance.
The club averaged more than 4,000 fans per game for its initial
five campaigns, while playing in cozy Wharton Field House.
It was seventh out of nine teams the previous two seasons, with
declining averages of 3,238 fans in 1998-89 and 2,835 last year.
Through 10 homes games this year, the franchise was dead last
among 10 teams, averaging fewer than 975 fans per game.