Throwin’ It Back

Apr 7, 2016   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

It’s Thursday. That’s Blog Day, of course, but it’s also the day I’m having all the carpets in the house professionally cleaned and for the last two hours my feet have been wet. Plus I’m wearing adorable blue “booties” while everything dries. It looks great though! Tomorrow, I’m having the windows professionally cleaned both inside and out, so there’s your guarantee that it will rain on Saturday, right before the apocalyptic dust storm rolls in.

In addition to all of that, Thursday is also a popular day for posting old photos on social media, and since this blog is technically social media, I might as well partake in the thing that is “Throwback Thursday.”

The question is: How old is Ewan in this photo? And were the refried beans good?

The question is: How old is Ewan in this photo? And were the refried beans good?

The photo that got me started on this today, is to the right. The guy on the left is my nephew Ewan, and in the pic we are at Hacienda Mexican Restaurant near the old Wilber family home in suburban St. Louis. Ewan was a huge fan of the refried beans there. (And remember, all the photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

The photo is noteworthy in many ways, not the least of which is the fact the much younger version of me is wearing a dress shirt and a tie. With that apparel noted, I can narrow this photo down to a couple of brief time periods. It pretty much has to be 1988 or 1989, or conceivably very early 1990.

I only wore ties and jackets to work for a few brief segments of my life. In 1986 or thereabout, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work for my brother Del at his sports-marketing agency. We dressed well for work, so my wardrobe went through a major makeover. After a couple of years in D.C., I was transferred back “home” to work in a new satellite office in St. Louis. So, that’s a possibility, in terms of this photo.

In mid-1989, I then took a job as Vice President of Marketing and Promotions for the St. Louis Storm professional indoor soccer franchise. We wore ties to work there, as well. That’s a good possibility, too, I think. I could easily have met my sister Mary and her family (including Ewan) at Hacienda after work. We all loved that place.

The Smith family. Ewan has grown up a little.

The Smith family. Ewan has grown up a little.

After that, the next time I wore a tie to work was 1991, when I was general manager at Heartland Park Topeka. But that would, of course, have me living in Topeka, so that doesn’t work. Ewan was born in early 1979, so if this is from my St. Louis Storm era, he’d be 10 or 11 years old. If I was working at DelWilber+Associates, he would be more like nine. And for the record, this second photo is what Ewan looks like now (or at least recently) and coincidentally he’s in another restaurant, but this time with his family.

Bottom line…  I’m not really sure but I’d lean a little bit toward 1989-90 and Ewan being 10 or 11 in the photo. Hacienda is still there, by the way, and as far as I know it’s still great. I’m having a Pavlovian Response right now, just thinking about the shredded-beef enchiladas.

After I put the top photo on Facebook today, I started thinking about other old photos and I realized I rarely post any Throwback stuff from days as a “business” guy. There are really only four times I had jobs where I got up in the morning, but on a coat and tie, and went to my office carrying my briefcase. My time with DelWilber+Associates, my one-year stint with the Storm, my year at Heartland Park, and then my two years as general manager of the Kansas City Attack indoor soccer team.

Okay, to be fair maybe it’s 4.5 different times. In midsummer of 1976 I was living in Indianapolis and was persuaded to take over the operations of the Indianapolis Twisters indoor soccer team as their GM, in order to “save the franchise” but I was only there a couple of months before the owner stunned us all by folding the team. He hadn’t told any of us he was going to do that. Do you know why that’s okay, though? Because it caused me to call some cat named Del Worsham to see if I could help him. Things happen for a reason. Had the Twisters’ owner stuck it out, and had I stayed with them, I never would’ve worked for Del and Chuck Worsham and my life would be completely different. I never would’ve written my NHRA.com blog, nor would I have migrated that blog here.

Yes, I bought this on eBay...

Yes, I bought this on eBay…

This next segment is not about me, but I think it’s fascinating and it was important to me at the time.

Throwing it back even further, let’s go to the mid-70s when the Spirits of St. Louis were playing in the American Basketball Association (ABA). During their first year of existence, I was simply a big fan. I liked the run-and-gun style of the ABA and the red, white, and blue basketball. They introduced the 3-point shot, as well, and tried all sorts of crazy promotions to entertain the fans. In the pre-Jordan era of the NBA, that league was seen as stodgy and nearly on life-support. It was a different time.

The first winter the Spirits played in St. Louis (1974-75), I was a freshman in college and a devoted fan. I went to a lot of games, down at “the old barn.” The next year, which was also their last, I was an usher at the St. Louis Arena so I likely saw every home game they played.

A brief version of the Spirits history is needed, because of a couple of incredible things.

First, the team was moved to St. Louis from Carolina, where they were the Carolina Cougars. The owners were brothers, Ozzie and Daniel Silna. They wanted to own a basketball team and originally made a run at purchasing the Detroit Pistons, but couldn’t close the deal. So, they looked to the ABA with a good plan.

It was becoming obvious that both leagues needed to stop fighting each other and raiding players, so merger talks were beginning to happen. The Silnas bought the Cougars specifically to move them to St. Louis, expecting the NBA to very much want that market back after the old Hawks had moved to Atlanta in 1968, and if that happened the Silnas would have their spot in the NBA.

The problem was, the NBA only wanted four teams from the ABA, those being the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets, and San Antonio Spurs. The ABA’s Virginia Squires folded at the end of 1976, as did the Utah Stars, and the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis were scheduled to be bought out by the four teams that would make the move. The Colonels took the cash deal, but the Silnas had other ideas.

At the time, the NBA’s TV revenue was minuscule. So, the Silva brothers banked on the future, and they worked a deal with the four ABA teams and the NBA that would pay them roughly 2 percent of the NBA’s TV revenue, for a long time. A very long time. The contract was written to state the Silnas would get 2 percent of that revenue for as long as the NBA was in business! In legalese that’s “in perpetuity.”

The deal generated almost no revenue for the brothers for the first couple of years, and I’m sure the owners of the Kentucky Colonels felt like they got a much better deal. In 1980, Ozzie and Daniel received about $550,000 which I suspect seemed like a generous windfall to them. Then the NBA went through the roof. By 2010, the two brothers had become very rich men, and were receiving upward of $17.5 million (MILLION!) annually, all for NOT merging into the NBA with the Spirits. There have been numerous discussions about buying the brothers out of this deal, but the money is so enormous now it’s hard for them to even consider such a buy-out.

This deal is roundly considered the single greatest thing of its kind in the history of professional sports. It’s staggering.

And if you never heard of the Spirits, you might be surprised to know how much talent came through that team. Over the course of two years, they had Moses Malone, Marvin Barnes, Maurice Lucas, Don Chaney, Caldwell Jones, M.L. Carr, and many other fine players. They were quite a cast of characters.

The voice of the Spirits

The voice of the Spirits

Back to the Spirits, though. When the franchise was announced, a very young play-by-play guy from Syracuse University sent a tape to the general manager. It just happened to be at the top of a stack of such auditions, and the GM only listened to that one tape. It was from 22-year old Bob Costas. He got the job. I listened to him call many games, and although he was really just a kid, he was already fantastic.

Sadly, I may have been a huge Spirits fan, but I was part of a very small group. Other than one brief period at the end of their first season, when the upset Dr. J and the Nets in round one of the playoffs with crowds of 10,000+ in the building, their attendance was not very good.

But Ozzie and Daniel Silna are still getting paid. Royally.

In 1991, I moved to Topeka to be the GM at Heartland Park, for Track President Bill Kentling. I knew Bill from indoor soccer, as he had previously been the Commissioner of the Major Indoor Soccer League and we knew each other from those days. I had never seen a race of any kind, in person, on the day I was hired. I had a lot to learn!

Vroom...

Vroom…

As the GM, I was allowed to use one of our pace cars whenever I wanted to, although I also had my own personal car at home. During my time there, I drove two different Chevy Corvettes, one white and one metallic green, when those candy colors were all the rage in the auto industry.

Bill even let me drive it to St. Louis once, to see my folks, and this photo includes my dad, as he checked it out.

Not a bad company car, huh!

Moving on to 1994 through a bit of 1996, when I was the GM of the Kansas City Attack…

Free car!!!

Free car!!!

The Attack also brought me in to save the day, as they were bleeding cash at an alarming rate, and this time the owner didn’t surprise everyone by folding the team. He let me rebuild the front office and institute some real marketing plans and we did a lot of good things there. It was a ton of fun and great experience, but they didn’t pay me particularly well. My salary was only $30,000 a year, but to help me make ends meet I also had it in my contract that they would provide an apartment and a car, the two biggest expenses most people have. It worked out fine, and for two years I got to drive around in a free Toyota Camry, adorned with the team’s logo on each front door.

Here I am in the driveway of the Wilber house, playing basketball on a day when I had made the drive across the state to see the family, with my FREE CAR in the background.

The apartment wasn’t bad either.

So there you go, more Throwback stuff than you ever wanted to know. Don’t you wish you were Daniel or Ozzie Silna?

Tomorrow, Chapter 13 heads off to my editor Greg Halling, and that means Chapter 14 can’t be far behind. I’m basically half-way to what my original goal was, in terms of pages for “Bats, Balls, & Burnouts” so I’m either going to tighten the book up quite a bit with Greg, or go over my perceived limit of 450 pages. Or, I guess I could just leave out a decade of my life and career. Who would notice?

Want a snippet from Chapter 13? Well here it is. It’s about our first road trip when I was a member of the Medford A’s in the Northwest League, and it focuses on Craig Harris, a pitcher who had been the Oakland A’s No. 1 draft pick two years earlier. He had arm problems, though, and was still trying to get healthy and have some success in Class A ball. I present to you, Craig Harris, whom we all called Harry:

———————————————–

And, on that first bus ride we learned two new things.

One, Craig Harris had a boombox and he brought it with him on the bus. He would do so all year, but the only 8-track tape he wanted to play was Carole King’s “Tapestry” album. I could not be more serious. If the only No. 1 draft pick on the team wanted to play Carole King, we were all going to listen to Carole King.

Two, Harry had decided, after years of going by his nickname, that he now wanted to be called Craig, to change his luck. So, of course, no one ever called him anything but Harry. Before long, if anyone asked him a question, such as “Hey Harry, what time is it” he would begin his answer by saying “Craig, man” as in “Craig man, one o’clock.”

———————————————-

There are plenty of stories to tell about a wide variety of funny characters, and it’s been a riot to put it all into words. There are many more words to come, too!

See you all next week…

Bob Wilber, at your service! (Craig, man.)

 

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.