Western Basketball Association (1978-79)
Born: 1978 – WBA expansion franchise
Arena: Tucson Community Center
Owners: Davis Burk, et al.
WBA Champions: 1979
The Tucson Gunners were a One-Year Wonder in the minor-league Western Basketball Association. The Gunners, like the rest of the league, operated for just one season during the winter of 1978-79. The WBA stretched from Tucson in the south up through California, Utah and Nevada to Montana and Washington in the north. The league attracted a number of out-of-work pros who lost jobs with the closure of the American Basketball Association in 1976, along with training camp cuts from the NBA.
The Gunners shared winter dates at the Tucson Community Center with the Tucson Rustlers hockey team. Like the Gunners, the Rustlers would also fold after just one season.
The Gunners were managed by former Detroit Pistons head coach Herb Brown. Brown assembled the best squad in the league. The Gunners topped the standings with a 32-16 regular season record. Top players included former ABA regular Al Smith and rookie guard Gerald Henderson. Henderson was a 3rd round draft pick of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs in 1978 who failed to stick in training camp.
The Gunners met the Reno Bighorns in the WBA championship series in late March 1979. The series came down to a deciding game 7 in Tucson on April 2, 1979. Smith and Henderson combined for 45 points as Tucson vanquished Reno 104-90.
It proved to be the team’s final contest. The Gunners folded a few months later, along with the other six WBA clubs. Gerald Henderson used his showcase in Tucson to make the Boston Celtics in 1979. He would go on to win 3 NBA titles over the course of a 13-year NBA career before retiring in 1992.
“Taking a Gamble on the Future“, Curry Kirkpatrick, Sports Illustrated, February 12, 1979