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Former coach says CBA wrote a noble script
By Craig Cooper / QUAD-CITY TIMES

For decades the Continental Basketball Association had managed to hang on, surviving year after year on the periphery of basketball.

Many of the coaches and players were big-league. Unfortunately, so were the financial losses.

That was the paradox. The CBA had a niche as a developmental league that would send John Starks, Chris Childs, Derek Strong, Phil Jackson and Flip Saunders to the NBA.

Never, though, could anyone figure out how to make money developing players, coaches, referees and office staffers for the National Basketball Association.

“It’s a shame, but it had to end. The owners could never make money,’’ said Charley Rosen, the colorful former coach who made numerous, always entertaining trips to the Quad-Cities. “I always felt the only way the CBA could survive was in a true minor-league affiliate system like baseball.

“But the players’ union would never allow it. That would have meant players in the CBA were property of NBA teams and they wouldn’t be free agents.

“It was never going to happen, so the league couldn’t survive. It wasn’t possible.’’

Rosen, now an accomplished author who wrote about his CBA years in his book, “The Cockroach Basketball League: A Novel,’’ has been watching the demise of the league from a distance.

His cockroach reference — the league could not be killed — always fit. Until now.

No matter how much an owner lost, there was always someone else willing to buy. The players were always available.

Coaches learned to coach in the CBA. It was a test to coach unhappy players with egos larger than their games, and if you could keep them from killing you, the referees or each other, you would be better for it.

Phil Jackson, George Karl, Flip Saunders and Sidney Lowe made their way through the CBA to head-coaching jobs in the NBA. There are many others on NBA benches who did time in the CBA.

“Phil Jackson has said that one year of coaching in the CBA was equivalent to five seasons of coaching in the NBA. I think that’s true,’’ Rosen said from his home in Woodstock, N.Y. “It was a tough coaching job. Sometimes you got some of the criminal element of basketball, but there were times when you had the right players and you were able to bring them together, and it worked.

“Then it was great basketball.’’

Rosen coached minor-league basketball for nine seasons. He is best known to longtime Thunder fans from his days coaching the Rockford Lightning, which started in the CBA one year before the Thunder.

Rosen had Fred Cofield. He had Pace Mannion, who one night had nine fouls in one game at Wharton Field House. But that was within the rules and Rosen left him in the game.

Rosen would rant, rave and sometimes make it to the end of the game before being ejected.

Truth be told, he loved Wharton. It was an old-time NBA barn and Rosen definitely had a sense of hoops history.

But to jab at the Thunder and the team’s fans, who at that time could fill the barn, he called Wharton “a phone booth.’’

So the next time Rosen’s team was in town, a cardboard phone booth was brought to mid-court. The rest of the night, and on future trips, a phone would ring over the public address system and fans would scream, “Charley, Charley, Charley ... It’s for you.’’

He loved the attention, of course.

Rosen later coached in Savannah, Ga., the basis for “The Coachroach Basketball League: The Novel,’’ and at Oklahoma City in the CBA.

In Oklahoma City he experienced what some Thunder fans believe happened here to cause the club lose its fan base.

“Hockey,” Rosen said. “I don’t know why it is, but when hockey came into a place where the CBA was, it hurt the basketball team.

“It happened in Oklahoma City, Albany, Omaha and in the Quad-Cities. But you can’t blame hockey because the league never made money even in its best days.

“The other thing that I think hurt the CBA was cable television. You can stay home and watch a bunch of basketball games every night ... college, NBA.’’

That doesn’t mean Rosen is letting the management of the league off the hook. He blames mismanagement and doesn’t spare Isiah Thomas.

“He isn’t all he seems, is he? I think he’s shady,’’ Rosen said. “I think he knew the NBA was starting a developmental league and that if he bought the CBA, he would talk the NBA into buying these organizations that were already in place.’’

Thomas may have lost millions, but he is also making millions as coach of the Indiana Pacers. It is the players that Rosen worries about.

“It’s really a shame. What are these players going to do? Work the grill at McDonald’s? Most of them don’t have diplomas. They don’t have anything,’’ he said.

“There are a lot of things I don’t miss about coaching. I miss the players, though, and the camaraderie within a team.’’

Rosen has another book coming out. “More Than A Game’’ was written by Rosen and his pal, Phil Jackson, in alternating chapters. A lot of their CBA memories will be in the book.

That’s what it has come to now. Memories.

Portions of qcthunder.com use information from the Quad-City Times that is no longer being linked to on their site.