The Chicago Hustle: there was women's pro basketball in Chicago before the WNBA

The Chicago Hustle: there was women's pro basketball in Chicago before the WNBA

Chicago has had its share of women’s basketball teams in leagues that folded. Long before today’s Chicago Sky of the WNBA we were represented by the Chicago Hustle of the Women’s Professional League (WBL). The team was strong and won its share of games however, there was one major problem. The new league did not televise the games so the fans could not see the Hustle playing. Without television money the League was in financial trouble before it began.

The WBL lasted three seasons and the Hustle led in attendance in all three years. In the first year they tied the Iowa Cornets for the Midwest Division Title, but Iowa had home court advantage for the playoffs and won the series 2 games to 1. The league was disbanded in 1981 due to financial problems the leagues suffered. The owners did not pay their bill and even bounced payroll checks to players and employees.

In 1981 the Minnesota Fillies walked off the court ten minutes before game time against the Hustle in front of a packed house at DePaul Alumni Hall. But the Hustle gave Chicago three good seasons.

In 1980 I had the privilege of meeting the team for a charity photo. (What I didn’t realize at the time was how tall they were!) The team did its share of charitable work that was not reported.  At that time the Foundation that I was with was in the process of organizing their annual ‘tag’ for much needed funds. They were a happy group of ‘girls’ who brought joy to our town.

It took many years to organize a new women’s professional basketball league. There was the American League from 1996-1998 (ABL) at the same time the National Basketball League (NBA) was creating the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association.

Both leagues were formed during a surge in popularity for women’s basketball when the undefeated United States won the Gold medal performance in the 1996 Summer Olympics. So now we had two competing women’s professional basketball leagues. The Chicago Condor was our entry into the league.

Then, without warning the ABL went under, filing bankruptcy and suspending operations. They played approximately 15 games in the short lived league. The WNBA with deeper pockets, sponsored by the NBA and television money forced the ABL to disband. They could not compete financially.

There you have the short history of the two Chicago teams preceding the Chicago Sky. We have always supported women’s professional basketball and now it would appear the financial structure is in place that plagued the other two leagues that folded.

This year our Chicago Sky had a league winning percentage of games won. Unfortunately they lost in the first round of the playoffs but they gave the City of Chicago a great season and made us proud.

This is a memory that lights the corners of my mind and I hope yours too!

Read more about Chicago at an earlier time, become a subscriber!

Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Leave a comment