With the Toronto Raptors playing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, and leading the series 2-1, the whole country is talking about basketball. Today, I am going to tell the story of the only time the Halifax Windjammers played postseason basketball. You might be thinking, hey the Windjammers never made the playoffs in their history. The team’s Wikipedia entry shows that they missed the playoffs in 1991 (their first in the World Basketball League), the WBL folded on August 1, 1992 so there were no playoffs. The team would join the new National Basketball League for 1993, but also missed the playoffs. The team would be in first place in the NBL during the 1994 season, but the league would fold on July 9 of that year. Like the WBL of two years prior, there would be no playoffs. But, what if I told you the Windjammers played playoff basketball in August of 1992? On the surface that would make no sense since the league they were in folded on the first of the month.
The Lead-Up to the Playoffs
The crazy thing is, there was a short lived league in August of 1992, one of the shortest lived sports leagues to actually play a game. Not only that this league had no regular season, the four member clubs would go straight to the postseason. Let me introduce you to the North American Basketball Association. The NABA rose from the ashes of the newly defunct WBL. The WBL folded on August 1, 1992 after the first place Dayton Wings folded due to a dispute with the league. The WBL (which owned 60% of all franchises, save for Winnipeg) were not meeting their financial obligations to the club. The team was also concerns with teams not showing up to games until the last minute (due to players not being paid). There were also concerns the referees would boycott over lack of payments. That left the league with just six teams and league founder Mickey Monus (who had problems of his own) decided to pull the pug on the remainder of the season. The surviving six were the Calgary 88’s, Halifax Windjammers, Hamilton Skyhawks, Saskatchewan Storm, Winnipeg Thunder and Youngstown Pride.
Before folding, there was talk the league was going to suspend their regular season and immediately go to the playoffs. There were plans of holding two, three team round robin tournaments (beginning August 10) with the winners of each qualifying for a championship series. These tournaments would have been played in Halifax and Winnipeg, the two most financially successful teams. The league wasn’t interested in this and planned on continuing with the regular season which was scheduled to conclude on August 20, with playoffs starting August 22. They would change their mind and fold the league days later. The final Windjammers game, as members of the WBL, was an exhibition game against the Marathon Oil All-Stars. This game replaced a previously scheduled game against Jacksonville which was canceled with the later folded. Dayton was the fourth WBL team to fold that season.
Going into an August 4 press conference there was talk the five Canadian teams (Calgary, Halifax, Hamilton, Saskatchewan & Winnipeg) would finish off their seasons against each other. There was also talk that the recently defunct Dayton Wings would join them. Rumours about this ranged from finishing the season under a revised schedule, going straight to the playoffs, or just playing a series of exhibitions against each other. There was also talk of the Canadian teams breaking away and forming their own league the following season (spoiler alert: that would actually happen in the form of the National Basketball League). As we know, there was a Canadian league in 1993 but that doesn’t answer the question, how did the ‘Jammers play in the 1992 playoffs?
At that August 4 press conference it was revealed that three of the surviving six teams, along with the defending champion & first place Dayton Wings would play a revised four team playoff to determine a champion. It was announced that beginning August 6, there would be two best of five semifinals. The matchups were Dayton vs. Winnipeg and Calgary vs. Halifax with all games being held in Winnipeg and Halifax. The two host teams paid all expenses for their visitors (hotels, meals, salaries, travel, etc.). These matchups were based on the final WBL standings. The Wings were the first seed while there opponents were the fourth seed. The 88’s and Windjammers finished second and third respectively. Strangely, the lower seeds were given home court advance for the entire series. Again, this was based on finances, not on records. The finals would also be a best of five series. For the finals, all games would be in Winnipeg if they played Calgary and all games would be in Halifax if the Windjammers had played the Wings. If the finals were Halifax vs. Winnipeg, the series wold be split between the two cities. Nothing was said about the possibility of a Dayton vs. Calgary final. Hamilton and Saskatchewan choose to sit out the playoffs with the hopes of joining an all-Canadian league in 1993. Youngstown, who finished the WBL season in third place chose to fold instead of continuing.
In the meantime, the four playoff teams committed a total of $100,000 to stage a tournament to determine a champion for the season. Since they didn’t own any trademarks of the WBL they had to use another name. As alluded to earlier, they went by the name North American Basketball Association for the playoffs. The teams would also added some investors to help out as the league owned 60% of the franchises when they were in the WBL.
The Windjammers would win game one of their semifinal series against the 88’s. The final score was 128-112, with Keith Smart scoring 23 points and 8 rebounds. Mack Joyner had 27 points and a game high 13 rebounds. Former NBA player Jim Thomas would score 24 points for Calgary. The team wore their away jerseys for the game. In a uni-watch moment (before there was an acutal Uni-Watch) the game report notes the Windjammers removed the WBL crests from their uniforms and Calgary did not. The attendance was 4078, far short of the 6000 or so the team needed to average to break even for the NABA playoffs. That same night, the Wings beat the Thunder in a wild one, 136-130 at Winnipeg Arena to take a 1-0 lead in that series.
The next night, the 88’s tied the series at 1-1 following a 129-108 victory. Jerry Stroman had a game high 34 points for Calgary. Roland Gary had 22 points and 9 rounds for the 88’s. Louis Banks lead the Windjammers with 26 points, while Keith Smart and James Anderson had 16 and 13 points each. The game was played in front of a crowd of 3687. This was a concern as the team needed more fans to make ends meet as they were paying all expenses for both teams. Attendance was also a concern in Winnipeg, where they drew only 4500-ish fans to game one against Dayton. Low attendance was also a concern going forward as the NBL was still in its playing stages and wanted to included the former WBL clubs.
Game three (on August 9) was more bad news for the Windjammers as they lost to the 88’s again, this time by a 120-102 score. Halifax actually held the lead at halftime 56-52 but it was all Calgary in the second half. The bad news extended to the box office as game three only drew 3325 fans, continuing the downward trend and falling far short of what they needed. Mack Joyner would score 22 points for the ‘Jammers and Keith Smart would contribute 16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals. For Calgary Stroman and Chip Englelland would score 20 points each. Future Toronto Raptor Chris Childs would have a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
The Calgary 88’s would take game four and the series with a 115-104 victory on August 11. Like in game three, the Windjammers held the lead at halftime (61-56) but Calgary would comeback to win. Halifax’s leading scorer was A.J. Wynder with 26 points, followed by Mike Ratliff with 24. Calgary was lead by again by Jerry Stroman, with 28 points. Attendance did pick up on this night, with a series high crowd of 4181 in the Metro Centre stands. Counting the playoffs, Calgary would go 7-2 against Halifax in 1992. With their elimination from the NABA playoffs, the Windjammers future reminded uncertain for the following year. Despite winning the series, the 88’s future was just as uncertain as there would be no guarantee the North American Basketball Association would play a final series.
The problem was, the Dayton Wings were up 2-0 in their semifinal series in Winnipeg. As mentioned earlier, both the Wings and 88’s were homeless and it was uncertain what would happen if both teams won their semifinal series. It was not a surprise that this happened as Dayton and Calgary were the two higher seeds (finishing first and second respectively) despite being on the road for the postseason. There was talk that Winnipeg would host the series in this event but no official word either way. On August 18, the newly formed NABA canceled their championship series and many Calgary players balked at the money involved. They felt it was better for them to go home early than play the final series. This means the Halifax Rainmen’s forfeit of game seven of the 2015 NBL Finals was the second time in Canadian basketball history a team forfeited away a championship. The plan was to finish the Thunder vs. Wings series then call it a day. Thunder owner Sam Katz did in fact agree to host the finals even if the Thunder weren’t in it but that was now a moot point. One of the 88’s owners offered the players $300 a game plus a $500 bonus if they won but they didn’t accept the offer. Also, after the Halifax series the teams was down to seven players, included one that was injured. It is unclear if that series was ever actually finished.
Post-Mortum of the NABA
That is the story of the short-lived North American Basketball Association. The league was formed on August 4, 1992 and played its last game about a week later. That’s got to be some sort of record. The league, which actually played some games, announced the season was over just 15 days later. Since Halifax was eliminated, Calgary gave up and Dayton was leading 2-0 over Winnipeg at last check; that would have to make the Dayton Wings the only NABA champions in their two week history. So, I guess owner Milt Kantor can claim his team was back to back champions as they beat Calgary in the 1991 WBL Finals then “won” the NABA tournament.
On May 1, 1993 the NBL tipped off with teams in Cape Breton, Halifax, Montreal, Hamilton, Winnipeg and Saskatoon. The Windjammers, Skyhawks and Thunder were holdovers from the old World League (and in Halifax and Calgary’s case the very short lived North American Basketball League). The Saskatoon Slam were under separate ownership of the old WBL Storm. The Montreal Dragons and Cape Breton Breakers were brand new expansion teams. The Dragons would fold on June 10 and the Skyhawks would (how is this for a minor league basketball move) relocate to Edmonton for the playoffs. The Breakers would finish in first place and beat the now Edmonton Skyhawks 3-0 in the semifinals. In the other semifinal, the Slam beat the Thuder 3-2 to set up the finals. In shades of the previous year’s WBL/NABA playoffs, the lower seeded Slam hosted the entire finals against the Breakers. The Slam would win 3-1 and the Cape Breton owner wouldn’t pay for this players way home.
In 1994, the Breakers would comeback under new ownership and surprisingly, no teams would fold. The five teams that finished 1993 would be joined by the expansion Calgary Outlaws. The league itself, would disband on July 9, when the Halifax Windjammers were 15-9 and in first place. The Cape Breton team would finish 11-10. Speaking of the Breakers, in the weeks leading up the league’s demise the team was subjected to relocation rumours. The rumour mill had the team moving to either Saint John, Moncton or Hull in midseason. There was a deal done with Saint John in late June but it fell through and the team reminded in Sydney. Pro basketball wouldn’t return to Halifax until the Rainmen tipped off in the ABA in 2007. The Rainmen would play eight seasons in three seperate leagues (ABA, Premier Basketball League & NBL Canada). They were replaced with the Hurricanes in 2015 (team folded after the fiasco that lead to forfeiting game seven of the finals in Windsor, Ontario). Pro hoops returned to Cape Breton in 2016 with the NBL Canada’s Highlanders. Professional basketball would come to Saint John in 2010 when the PBL Manchester Mill Rats moved to the city. The team would join NBL Canada a year later and rebrand as the Riptide in 2016.
Sources for this post are from articles from the time from both the Halifax Daily News and Toronto Star.