Credit: NWI Times, Times File Photo
The Gary Steelheads were a professional basketball team based in Gary, Indiana, playing in the CBA from 2000-06. The Steelheads joined the CBA at a horrible time. 12x All-Star and 2x Champion Isiah Thomas bought the CBA for $10,000,000 in 1999.
Thomas stated how the CBA would become the "Microsoft of basketball," however, only 18 months after purchasing the CBA, Thomas bankrupted the 55-year basketball league. Thomas had a chance to sell the league for $11,000,000 to the NBA but refused to even though just eight months later, Thomas ditched the league in a blind trust and became the head coach of the Indiana Pacers.
Thomas wasn't just the owner of the CBA, but the Gary Steelheads as well! The Steelheads were the only expansion team this season. Thomas owned 51% of the team, while former Indiana majority whip Jewell Harris Sr. owned the other 41%. As mentioned earlier, Thomas ditched the CBA and, along with it, the Steelheads, so Harris Sr. became the owner of the team for the following five seasons.
Thankfully, the International Basketball Association would merge with a couple of CBA teams (one of them being the Steelheads) and continue operations under the CBA brand. If this didn't happen, the Steelheads' would have one of the shortest stints in the CBA (24 Games).
Although the Gary Steelheads dodged a bullet with Thomas, their other owner, Harris. Sr. was just as bad as Thomas. In the same week that the Steelheads disbanded, Harris Sr. was arrested and served six years in prison for money laundering charges. He apparently double-billed (i.e., charging a customer twice) the City of Gary for a baseball stadium he built-in 2001.
Regardless of all the mess in the front office, the Steelheads still had a decent six-season stretch in the CBA. Out of the six seasons, we'll be covering the 2003-06 season because:
2003-04: First Playoff Apperance
In the 2003-04 CBA season, the Gary Steelheads went 27-21 (56.3 W/L%) and finished third in the league. Duane Ticknor coached the Steelheads. For most of Ticknor's coaching career, he's worked with minor professional basketball teams. Most recently, Ticknor was the assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies (2013-16) and Sacramento Kings (2016-19).
The Gary Steelheads' best player this season was Immanuel McElroy. McElroy averaged:
16.6 Points, 5.2 Rebounds, 3.0 Assists, 0.9 Steals, and 0.4 Blocks
64.6 FG%, 74.6 FT%
McElroy was the CBA Rookie of the Year and was selected to the CBA All-Rookie Team in the season prior. This season, he was selected to the CBA All-Defensive Team! McElroy entered the NBA Draft in 2002 but was unfortunately not chosen by any teams. After his time with the Gary Steelheads, McElroy went to play in Germany, where he won:
Finals MVP (2006)
5x Defensive Player of the Year (2007-11)
4x All German-League Team (2007-10)
Besides McElroy, other notable Steelheads' players include Jemeil Rich and Leon Smith. This season, Rich led the league in assists (9.7). Like McElroy, Rich was also selected to the CBA All-Defensive Team and a part of the All-Second Team! Also, like McElroy, after playing for the Steelheads, Rich played in Germany!
In addition to Jemeil Rich, Leon Smith also led the league in two stats. Smith led the league in rebounds (12.2) and blocks (1.8). The Gary Steelheads had the assists, rebounds, and blocks leader on their team! In addition, Smith was also on the All-Defensive Team, so the Steelheads' had THREE elite defenders!
Unlike McElroy and Rich, Smith was selected in the 1999 NBA Draft as the 29th pick by the San Antonio Spurs. However, Smith only played 15 games in the NBA. 14 for the Atlanta Hawks and one for the Seattle Supersonics.
In their first playoff appearance, the Gary Steelheads went 1-3. The best player for the Steelheads in the playoffs was Jemeil Rich. He averaged:
22.0 Points, 3.8 Rebounds, 10.5 Assists, 4.3 Steals
46.3 FG%, 70.0 FT%
Unfortunately, the Steelheads did not have Leon Smith during the playoff as he ended up playing for the Atlanta Hawks for 14 games.
2004-05: Worst Regular-Season Record
Only one season after their first playoff run, the Gary Steelheads would have their worst regular-season record. In the 2004-05 CBA season, the Steelheads went 17-31 (35.4 W/L%) and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference. Duane Ticknor coached the Steelheads for half the season and Dale Osbourne for the other half.
Under Ticknor, the team went 11-13. Under Osbourne, the team went 6-18. Although Osbourne's record wasn't as good as Ticknor's, Osbourne had the better coaching career post-CBA. Osbourne was the assistant coach for the Portland Trailblazers for eight seasons and was recently hired by the Orlando Magic for another assistant coaching role.
This season, the Steelheads lost Immanuel McElroy and Leon Smith. Although the team didn't have either player, the team still had arguably better players than both of them. The team's best player this season was Jemeil Rich, with David Graves closely behind him. Rich and Graves averaged:
17.8 Points, 3.8 Rebounds, 9.7 Assists, 2.8 Steals
44.6 FG%, 20.5 3P%, 70.1 FT%
19.7 Points, 5.1 Rebounds, 3.6 Assists, 1.2 Steals, and 0.2 Blocks
47.6 FG%, 42.3 3P%, 82.4 FT%
Not only did Rich lead in assists (9.7), but also steals (2.8) this season! In addition to Rich, Keith Closs, one of the Steelheads' four Centers, led the league in blocks (3.8). As for Graves, there is literally no information about him. He played for the Univesity of Notre Dame before joining the Steelheads, but that's it. It seems like Graves' only season of professional basketball post-college was with the Steelheads.
To make up for the lack of information about Graves, another notable player for the Gary Steelheads this season was Renaldo Major. Major wasn't that impressive, only averaging seven points and three rebounds, but he was the Slam Dunk Champion this season!
Even though Major had the worst stat-line out of the previously mentioned players, he had the best post-CBA career. Major went undrafted in the 2004 NBA Draft and only ended up playing one game in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors, but he'll probably go down as one of the best G-League players. Here are all the awards he's won in the G-League:
Defensive Player of the Year
All-NBA G-League First Team
2005-06: Best Regular-Season Record and Playoff Run
After having their worst regular-season record, the Gary Steelheads would do a 180 and have their best regular-season record and playoff run within their six seasons in the CBA. In the 2005-06 CBA season, the Steelheads went 29-19 (60.4 W/L%) and finished first in the Eastern Conference. This season the Steelheads were coached by Jaren Jackson.
If the name sounds familiar, that's because Jaren Jackson was a former NBA player for the New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors, Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets, Washington Bullets, San Antonio Spurs, and Orlando Magic! In 1999, Jackson would win a championship with the San Antonio Spurs!
In the second round of the 1999 Playoffs, Jackson helped sweep the Kobe Bryant + Shaquille O' Neal-led Los Angeles Lakers. In Games 3 and 4, Jackson scored 20+ points and shot more than 57.0% from the field. In Game 4, Jackson shot 6/11 (54.5%) from the three-point line!
In addition to his NBA playing career, Jackson also played in the CBA and won a Championship with the La Cross Catbirds in 1992.
Besides his playing career, Jackson has been the assistant coach for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and the Westchester Knicks. His son, Jaren Jackson Jr., is also an NBA player and has the potential to be an All-Star!
As for the Gary Steelheads' roster, the team was filled with new players. This season, the best player for the Steelheads was undoubtedly, Jimmie Hunter. Hunter averaged:
27.6 Points, 5.4 Rebounds, 5.4 Assists, 1.9 Steals, 1.0 Blocks
47.3 FG%, 39.6 3P%, 86.4 FT%
After playing for the Steelheads, Hunter went overseas to play for teams in Spain and Italy. Hunter's only NBA experience was during the 2004-05 and 2006-07 NBA Summer League. In the 2006-07 NBA Summer League with the Indiana Pacers, Hunter put up 16/2/3 while shooting 49.0% from the field and 42.9% from the three-point line.
The second-best player on the Gary Steelheads was Randy Holcomb. Holcomb averaged:
19.2 Points, 7.3 Rebounds, 3.1 Assists, 1.1 Steals, and 0.7 Blocks
49.1 FG%, 23.3 3P%, 67.9 FT%
This season, Holcomb would be selected as an All-Star and would win All-Star MVP! He was also selected to the All-CBA Second Team and All-Defensive Team!
Unlike Hunter, Holcomb was selected by the San Antonio Spurs as the 57th pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. However, Holcomb would only play four games with the Chicago Bulls in the 2004-05 NBA season. In these four games, Holcomb only recorded two points and a rebound. Something I found funny when researching Holcombw as that he was on a team called the 'Talk 'n Text Phone Pals.'
In the playoffs, the Gary Steelheads would go 3-3 and, in the Finals, lost to the Yakama Sun Kings, 1-2. The Steelheads would have probably won the Championship, but Jimmie Hunter wasn't playing for the Steelheads during the playoffs. As a result, Holcomb had to step up to the plate. In the playoffs, he averaged:
22.8 Points, 6.8 Rebounds, 2.3 Assists, 1.7 Steals, and 1.5 Blocks
54.7 FG%, 47.4 3P%, 65.4 FT%