Page 8


wasn’t enough, so it bumped the fee again, this time to $500,000. The $100,000 pricetag, the WBL believed, had left the stakes open to those who could afford the entry of a team but couldn’t afford the losses. As League President Byrne said at a WBL Board of Governors meeting in February 1980, “If a person invests half a million into a team, he will probably chase it with a few more for marketing, placement, etc.” He might have added the prospective owner could also figure on an average loss of $200,000 per year. Judson Phillips, a McDonald’s hamburger tycoon, became the first owner of the Dallas Diamonds. Most new businesses begin in the red, so Phillips projected losing $100,000 each year for three years, profit thereafter. Before the end of his first season his one-year loss projection had doubled. He cut staff, tightened belts, but with terrible attendance the loss projection rose to $300,000 per year. Phillips couldn’t see his way out. In January he decided it was safer to run his four hamburger stands than a 12-woman basketball team, and he did after a respite in Jamaica. This was in mid-season. Rumors spread. Morale dropped. Losses, on and off-court, continued. “You wondered sometimes what to believe,” Diamond player Carolyn Bush-Roddy recalls. For two weeks, the team was in limbo. Then Almstead, the WBL co-founder, jetted into Dallas looking for investors, assuring the team that the WBL would pick up operating expenses until a new owner could be found, enabling the club to stay on the league schedule. By the end of January, Almstead found his man. It was 2:30 a.m. and Almstead was on the phone to friends, reporters, enemies anyone who’d listen. He’d discovered Michael Stayer, and Stayer wanted the Diamonds. A commercial real estate dealer, Stayer saw ownership as a civic gesture. “I want to be in on the growth of Dallas,” Stayer later said. “And I think this is one way I can give something back to the city.” Stayer, 33, can afford the venture and knows how to turn a buck. Several years ago, he and a friend owned a financial investment firm which found profitable projects for people who averaged high incomes but couldn’t manage their money. Asked what he knew about basketball, Stayer replied, “Well, I played football in high school.” He had never seen the Diamonds play until after he was the owner. He explained, “I’ve never had a family. And I’ve always wanted a daughter. Now I have 12 of them.” Dallas to have an owner who dealt with the team as a business, not a dream. Stayer took a fast, tough look at what he’d bought. The financial losses he and other creditors were going to have to work out with Phillips; but the performance of the team was a different matter. Something was wrong more than could be explained by the turmoil of an ownership change. What was wrong, Stayer concluded, was the head coach, Dean Weese. Weese had come to the Diamonds with a solid winning record from Wayland Baptist College; but the continuing losses of the Diamonds ate away at his confidence and leadership. Weese became edgy, snapping at colleagues, berating players for minor matters. Worse, it was known that Weese had trouble with black players. Early in the season he removed a black from the roster for an obscure reason; later the player was reactivated, but Weese never put more than two blacks on the floor at a time. Stayer quickly dropped Weese’s contract in effect firing him then asked Nancy Nichols, the Diamonds’ general manager, who could replace him. Without ‘hesitation she said Greg Williams, assistant coach at Houston. Thus began yet one more misadventure for the Dallas franchise. Stayer courted Williams immediately, flying him to Dallas, pressing him hard to take over the team. On a Sunday evening last February, Williams agreed to take the job. But on the plane trip back to Houston, he got second thoughts, and second thoughts are almost always connected to cold feet. Williams decided to re-check his Houston options. The announcement of his Diamonds’ appointment, which was to have been the Monday following the Sunday meeting, was postponed. In Houston, Williams faced a difficult professional and personal decision, both tied to his relationship with Don Knodel, the Angels’ head coach. Williams had known Knodel since Rice, where Williams played guard under Knodel’s tutelage and later became a Rice assistant coach. When Knodel moved to the WBL post for Houston, he took Williams along. They’d been together eight years. It was going to be tough to walk out. Compounding this, the Houston franchise itself was undergoing a shakeup. Hugh Sweeney, the owner, was trying to get the team off its financial shoestring. At about the same time Williams was deciding what to do, Sweeney sold. The new owners, who remained anonymous, decided they couldn’t lose Williams and in one of the strangest, most unique deals in professional sports history, arranged for Williams to become head coach while Knodel stepped down to the No. 2 slot. In Dallas, Stayer and Nichols were stunned. They were so sure Williams was coming they hadn’t even looked for anyone else. On an interim basis, they named assistantRay Scott as head coach. Scott, who had played and coached in Europe, wasn’t quite the calibre the Diamonds were seeking for the permanent position, but he filled the bill for the remainder of the 1980 season. If nothing else, Scott helped bring back a sense of morale. On a bus trip to Houston, the team, once a nervous group of rookies, loosened up like well-seasoned veterans: a tape player blared, players read, screamed cheers, played cards. In the middle of one game of hearts was coach Scott. Quite a change from travels with Weese, who often sat quietly at the front of the bus. Weese often insisted he couldn’t “get into the heads” of his players. Scott had a different idea. He felt someone needed to get into the heads of the players. Too much had happened to them. Too many surprises. The Diamonds had begun to not care. “After everything that’s happened,” one player said, “you have to get a little crazy sometimes.” * . * Now it’s off-season. There’s still no permanent coach, but Scott is out scouting new recruits. Diamonds players have scattered for vacations and jobs some to the midwestern wheat harvest. When they come back, what will be their fate? There’s a WBL draft in June, and hot shots from the 1980 Olympic squad Nancy Lieberman of Old Dominion, Carol Blazejowski of Montclair State, Rosie Walter of Stephen F. Austin, Denise Curry of UCLA will be’ eager competitors for WBL berths in Dallas and other cities. Will these new faces bring new crowds for the mid-December opening of the 1981 season? Will the Diamonds be around that long? “We were promised a lot and everyone believed,” said Shena Cooper, assistant coach-player. ‘Things have been different, and that caused speculation. There was a certain amount of turmoil. “I’ve had bad thoughts not about the game itself, but outside things. We didn’t perform as well as we should have. The mental part of the game is more important, but sometimes you couldn’t always block out what was happening around you.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13