coach says CBA wrote a noble script
By Craig Cooper / QUAD-CITY TIMES
For decades the Continental Basketball Association had managed
to hang on, surviving year after year on the periphery of basketball.
Many of the coaches and players were big-league. Unfortunately,
so were the financial losses.
That was the paradox. The CBA had a niche as a developmental
league that would send John Starks, Chris Childs, Derek Strong,
Phil Jackson and Flip Saunders to the NBA.
Never, though, could anyone figure out how to make money developing
players, coaches, referees and office staffers for the National
“It’s a shame, but it had to end. The owners could
never make money,’’ said Charley Rosen, the colorful
former coach who made numerous, always entertaining trips to
the Quad-Cities. “I always felt the only way the CBA could
survive was in a true minor-league affiliate system like baseball.
“But the players’ union would never allow it. That
would have meant players in the CBA were property of NBA teams
and they wouldn’t be free agents.
“It was never going to happen, so the league couldn’t
survive. It wasn’t possible.’’
Rosen, now an accomplished author who wrote about
his CBA years in his book, “The Cockroach Basketball League: A Novel,’’ has
been watching the demise of the league from a distance.
His cockroach reference — the league could not be killed — always
fit. Until now.
No matter how much an owner lost, there was always someone else
willing to buy. The players were always available.
Coaches learned to coach in the CBA. It was a test to coach
unhappy players with egos larger than their games, and if you
could keep them from killing you, the referees or each other,
you would be better for it.
Phil Jackson, George Karl, Flip Saunders and Sidney Lowe made
their way through the CBA to head-coaching jobs in the NBA. There
are many others on NBA benches who did time in the CBA.
“Phil Jackson has said that one year of coaching in the
CBA was equivalent to five seasons of coaching in the NBA. I
think that’s true,’’ Rosen said from his home
in Woodstock, N.Y. “It was a tough coaching job. Sometimes
you got some of the criminal element of basketball, but there
were times when you had the right players and you were able to
bring them together, and it worked.
“Then it was great basketball.’’
Rosen coached minor-league basketball for nine seasons. He is
best known to longtime Thunder fans from his days coaching the
Rockford Lightning, which started in the CBA one year before
Rosen had Fred Cofield. He had Pace Mannion, who one night had
nine fouls in one game at Wharton Field House. But that was within
the rules and Rosen left him in the game.
Rosen would rant, rave and sometimes make it to the end of the
game before being ejected.
Truth be told, he loved Wharton. It was an old-time NBA barn
and Rosen definitely had a sense of hoops history.
But to jab at the Thunder and the team’s fans, who at
that time could fill the barn, he called Wharton “a phone
So the next time Rosen’s team was in town, a cardboard
phone booth was brought to mid-court. The rest of the night,
and on future trips, a phone would ring over the public address
system and fans would scream, “Charley, Charley, Charley
... It’s for you.’’
He loved the attention, of course.
Rosen later coached in Savannah, Ga., the basis
Coachroach Basketball League: The Novel,’’ and at
Oklahoma City in the CBA.
In Oklahoma City he experienced what some Thunder fans believe
happened here to cause the club lose its fan base.
“Hockey,” Rosen said. “I don’t
know why it is, but when hockey came into a place where the
it hurt the basketball team.
“It happened in Oklahoma City, Albany, Omaha and in the
Quad-Cities. But you can’t blame hockey because the league
never made money even in its best days.
“The other thing that I think hurt the CBA was cable television.
You can stay home and watch a bunch of basketball games every
night ... college, NBA.’’
That doesn’t mean Rosen is letting the management of the
league off the hook. He blames mismanagement and doesn’t
spare Isiah Thomas.
“He isn’t all he seems, is he? I think he’s
shady,’’ Rosen said. “I think he knew the NBA
was starting a developmental league and that if he bought the
CBA, he would talk the NBA into buying these organizations that
were already in place.’’
Thomas may have lost millions, but he is also making millions
as coach of the Indiana Pacers. It is the players that Rosen
“It’s really a shame. What are these players going
to do? Work the grill at McDonald’s? Most of them don’t
have diplomas. They don’t have anything,’’ he
“There are a lot of things I don’t miss about coaching.
I miss the players, though, and the camaraderie within a team.’’
Rosen has another book coming out. “More Than A Game’’ was
written by Rosen and his pal, Phil Jackson, in alternating chapters.
A lot of their CBA memories will be in the book.
That’s what it has come to now. Memories.