Monday, July 13, 2009

The ABL Tontine

A "tontine" is a scheme where either money or some other object of value is given to the last survivor of a pool. The most common tontine in literature is a bottle of wine to the last surviving member of a club. An illustration in popular media would be the tontine of Abe Simpson's Flying Hellfish in The Simpsons.

I'm keeping my eye on the "1997 WNBA Tontine", awarded to the last member of the WNBA still playing from the original 1997 season. With Sheryl Swoopes, Latasha Byears and Mwadi Mabika still looking for work, and with Lisa Leslie and Vickie Johnson committed to retiring after this season, it looks like it's going to come down to Tamecka Dixon vs. Tina Thompson. Both players are not only still playing, but they've played in every WNBA season since 1997.

However, there is another tontine: the American Basketball League tontine, devoted to the remaining players from the old ABL which existed from 1996 to 1998. When the ABL folded, a lot of the ABL players went over to the WNBA.

From the 1996-97 season, I only know of three players that qualify. Stacey Lovelace-Tolbert is probably still looking for work, and I doubt that she'll be re-signed. Sheri Sam is not officially retired, but she hasn't been signed by a club. That leaves, among others, Katie Smith, who is still playing for Detroit. Smith played all three years in the WNBA with the Columbus Quest, and one of her teammates on that team was Shannon Johnson who is also in the WNBA. The final is Taj McWilliams, who played for all of the incarnations of the Richmond/Philadelphia Rage during her three years.

There is a sole survivor who started her career in the 1997-98 season. It looks like Yolanda Griffith might not come back next year, so Delisha Milton-Jones is left standing. She played both seasons for the Portland Power.

There are three remaining players who started playing in the aborted 1998-99 season: Anna DeForge, Barbara Farris and Chasity Melvin. All of them just played a few games, but they count nonetheless as ABL survivors. DeForge, recently picked up by the Shock, was in danger of not making the list.

When these final seven players are gone, your chances of seeing an ABL player live and in person will be gone for good. Make the most of your opportunity.


p_d_swanson said...

Storm guard Shannon Johnson also played three seasons with Columbus, while Sheri Sam (not in the WNBA this summer, but not officially retired) spent three years in San Jose...

pt said...

P. D., thanks! I've gone ahead and updated the post to include Shannon Johnson.