By Clay Riness —
During unpredictable times, one thing seems certain: The people of La Crosse and the Coulee Region get behind their sports teams. Many will recall when the La Crosse Catbirds, Continental Basketball Association (CBA) champions in 1990 and 1992, called the area home. The team moved to La Crosse from Louisville in 1985, then leaving for Pittsburgh in 1994. La Crosse would see the CBA return in 1995 with the creation of the La Crosse Bobcats. The Bobcats disbanded with the CBA in 2001.
“It was never the teams that were here that were the problem, it was always the league,” said Scott Pooler, general manager and co-owner of La Crosse’s newest pro basketball team, the La Crosse Showtime. “The league folded the first time they were here. La Crosse supported the Catbirds tremendously. They led the league in attendance more than once. And La Crosse stood behind the Bobcats, too.”
The Showtime join the American Basketball Association in the 17th year after the ABA’s return from merging with the NBA in 1976. Then known for a fast-paced style highlighted by athleticism and dunks, including the first Slam Dunk Contest, the original ABA pushed the envelope enough to challenge the NBA, though it could not quite sustain its financial pace.
“The ABA tried to do what too many leagues do, and that’s compete with the NBA … and you can’t compete with the NBA,” Pooler said. “They were paying sums of money they really couldn’t afford.”
In 1999, Richard Tinkham, one of the original founders of the ABA in 1967, met with Joe Newman and they began pondering bringing the league back. Tinkham appealed to the NBA to ask if they could buy the rights to the ABA back. The NBA obliged. Smaller both in scope and in aspiration, the second iteration of the American Basketball Association took to the court in 2000-01.
For the Love of Hoops
Pooler and his La Crosse Showtime partner, Brian Genelin, have coached local AAU teams together for 14 years, beginning with Pooler’s son’s teams in fourth grade.
While looking for professional minor league opportunities for his son, Simeon, as he finished his collegiate career at Madison College, Pooler discovered the ABA had returned. Perusing the ABA’s website, Pooler saw they were offering some market reservations and were looking to expand.
“I just believe firmly that La Crosse is a basketball city,” he said. “Once I saw that they were looking for expansion teams, I talked with Brian about bringing ABA basketball to La Crosse. He was excited about the idea, too. Our big thing was … if we’re going to do it in La Crosse, we’d need the La Crosse Center. Well, the La Crosse Center loved it, too. Once we talked with Joe Newman and got the market reservation, the first person I called was Art Fahey at the Center and he was like, ‘We want basketball!’”
Things quickly fell into place. Newman looked at the financials and the local market, the market reservation was approved, the fee was paid, and a call went out for interested players. Choosing a name may have been the easiest task of the whole process.
“Growing up in the ‘80s, it basically all came down to two teams, the Lakers and the Celtics,” he said. “The press referred to Los Angeles as the ‘Showtime Lakers’ because they were all about putting on a show … up and down the floor, fast-paced. The name always stuck with me. That’s what I always called my AAU teams.”
Given some of the unique rules of the ABA, designed to keep the game exciting and fast, the name should be appropriate.
A look at the team roster reveals a lot of local and regional names.
“If you can get local talent, that’s the best … because they’re already part of the community,” Pooler said. “We do have great players from elsewhere, but the more we can get that are from here, the better.”
Obviously, Simeon Pooler is on the roster, and having a guard familiar with the coach’s system from a decade of playing it can only help at the outset. Yes, Scott Pooler will coach the Showtime this year. Rather than focus on the father-son/coach-player dynamic, Pooler quickly points to a few of the recognizable local names as the leaders and key points of the developing roster.
“You have some guys like Mike Southall and Mark Blacklock,” Pooler said. “They’ve bought into it right away, exactly what we’re trying to do. Having their leadership and all that helps a lot.”
A 2000 graduate from West Salem High School, Southall put together an up-and-down career at Louisiana-Lafayette after losing scholarship offers to Kentucky and Georgia Tech. In his final season with the Cajuns, the 6-foot-11 forward averaged 15.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. The following summer, he earned himself a three-game chance with the Miami Heat in the NBA Summer League.
Blacklock should be another name familiar to basketball fans of the broader region. A Winona, Minnesota, native, he was a four-year contributor and two-year starter at Winona State, graduating in 2016.
“Those guys are a big influence on the floor,” Pooler said. “It has made my job a lot easier, having them on board with it.”
The team will also do much more than play basketball. Into the community the players will go, reaching out to schools, ringing Salvation Army bells, serving food at soup kitchens and pantries, helping out at the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA, offering free camps for kids, and generally representing the team locally while representing La Crosse everywhere else.
Integrating into the community is a common ABA trait, as is keeping the enterprise within means and perspective. Players make a modest income due to a league salary cap. Pooler maintains the cap of $125,000 keeps the ABA thriving, since teams spend less and stick to a sustainable fiscal approach.
“They don’t make much, to be honest,” he said. “It’s all about giving them a platform for others to see them play, and the possibility of signing those bigger contracts. They know it up front. Our goal is to get the scouts here to see them play.”
Time for a Show
“Our boys are all about putting on a show. It’s going to be great entertainment,” Pooler said. “And it’s very affordable.”
Season tickets range from $80 to $203. Single game prices range from $10 to $25. Seniors (60+), armed forces, police and firefighters receive 50 percent off all non-floor single game tickets with ID (La Crosse Center Box Office only).
For more information, visit www.lacrosseshowtime.com.
Unique ABA Rules
The 3D Rule
The 3D wrinkle comes into effect when the offensive team turns over the ball before crossing midcourt or when the ball goes out of bounds after reaching the frontcourt.
If Team A is the initial offensive team and turns the ball over before reaching midcourt, then an additional point is added to any Team B field goal and an additional free throw is added to any Team A foul committed. If Team A commits a technical foul in 3D, the 3D light remains on following the free throws.
Half-court violation: The ABA allows seven seconds as opposed to eight seconds in the NBA to get across the midcourt line. If not successful in getting over the line within seven seconds, it results in a turnover, initiating the 3D light.
Sixth Foul & Counting
When a player has committed a sixth foul (combination of personals and a direct technical), he may continue to participate in the game as a “Sixth Foul Player.”
When a Sixth Foul Player commits a personal foul, the penalty is one free throw (or one additional free throw) for the offended team, plus the ball for a throw-in at a designated spot nearest the location of the foul.
Any player may attempt an additional free throw resulting from a foul committed by a player already with six fouls.
Intended to promote the movement of the ball in the area below the free-throw line, all four of the following factors must be present for a back-down rule violation to occur
1. The player must be dribbling.
2. The player must be closely guarded (within 6 feet).
3. The player must have his back to the basket.
4. The player must be below the free-throw line extended.
5. The offensive player may not continue the dribble for more than three seconds.
6. The covering official will use a visible count.
7. The back-down count ends when any one of these four factors changes.
Overtime: 3-10 & Out
ABA overtimes are three minutes in length, with one 30-second timeout per team.
Overtime periods will begin with a jump ball at the center circle.
The game clock stops just as it does during regulation play, including the clock stopping in the last minute after each field goal.
Sixth Foul Players are no longer Sixth Foul Players in overtime, with no additional free throws being granted if they commit a foul.
Other Unique Rules
A bonus of two free throws will be in effect on the eighth foul by each team in each quarter. Quarters are 12 minutes long.
There is no single bonus in the ABA, meaning no trips to the free-throw line where a second attempt comes only if the first is made, typically known as a “one-and-one.”
Field goals made from behind the division line are worth four points.
Once the ball hits the rim, either team can make contact with the ball. Anytime the ball remains on the rim, basket interference cannot occur by touching the ball. The ball may be touched when in the imaginary cylinder, if the ball has already made contact with the ring. When the ball is on or within the basket, the basket continues to be “off-limits.” The unique ABA basket interference rule only pertains to the touching of the ball after the ball has made contact with the ring.
Anyone familiar with the international basketball rules regarding goaltending will recognize them in the ABA. Basket interference is only a factor when the ball is still on a downward arc to the hoop. Once it touches the rim, it is fair game unless it has already fallen below the inside of the rim. For example, if a ball is bouncing on the rim, still unclear if it will be a make or a miss, an offensive player can feel free to tip it in. A defensive player can feel free to do otherwise.