The Rapid City Thrillers (1987-95)


Rapid City Thrillers' Pearl Washington

Credit: Fotki


The Rapid City Thrillers played in the Continental Basketball Association from 1987-95. The team was initially based in Tampa Bay, but in January 1987, the team moved to Rapid City, South Dakota, as the team wasn't making enough money.


Attendance for Thrillers' games was as low as 295! To put how small that amount is in perspective, the average per game attendance in the 2019-2020 NBA season was 17,750! For some reason, then owner, John Tuschman, thought relocating to a city with a population that was almost 5.5x smaller would be a good resolution for fan attendance:

  • Tampa: 390,000

  • Rapid City: 70,000

Somehow, the move worked! The Thrillers would stay in Rapid City for eight seasons compared to their two seasons in Tampa. Even though Rapid City's population is way less, two Floridian NBA teams were on the horizon (Miami Heat and Orlando Magic), so the local competition for fans was probably going to be too much for the Thrillers.


According to Tuschman, their negative profit margins are attributed to the St. Petersburg Times newspaper. Tuschman blamed the newspaper for not featuring the Thrillers in cover stories on the sports section.


Besides low attendance and the newspaper fiasco, the team wasn't spending enough money on advertising. The advertising budget was only $30,000.

Even though they'd eventually move to a different city, in the two seasons in Tampa, the Thrillers won the Championship in both seasons! In their first season (1984-85), they went 35-13 and beat the Detroit Spirits in the Finals, 4-3. In the following season (1985-86), they went 34-14 and beat the La Crosse Catbirds, 4-1.


In their third season, while relocating to Rapid City, they also won the Championship! It seems like the Championship is more attributed towards the Tampa Bay Thrillers' legacy instead of the Rapid City Thrillers, but we'll say it's attributed to both teams, so it's less confusing.

Now that you know the Rapid City Thriller's backstory, let's focus on the 1987-95 Thrillers, starting with their front office.

 

Table of Contents:

The Owners

The Rapid City Thrillers' Six Coaches

The 1986-87 Tampa Bay/Rapid City Thrillers

The 1987-88 Rapid City Thrillers

The 1992-93 Rapid City Thrillers

 

The Owners: John Tuschman, John Samuelsen, and Pat Hall

Starting with John Tuschman, before owning the Rapid City Thrillers, Tuschman was the head of Fidelity Management Company (FMC). At first, I was impressed because I confused Tuschman's company with Fidelity Investments. Regardless, with FMC, Tuschman created 24 residential communities!

Besides owning the Rapid City Thrillers, as said earlier, Tuschman also owned the Tampa Bay Thrillers and, in 1998, would buy the Black Hills Posse, another South Dakota-based team. Tuschman would rename the Black Hills Posse the Rapid City Thrillers to reignite the Thrillers' spirit, but after one season, the team would come to an end.


In addition to his work, Tuschman also did a lot of volunteering with AISEC, The Tuschman Foundation, Julia's Deck, and the Houston Autism Home.


The other John that owned the Rapid City Thrillers was John Samuelsen. Before becoming the owner of the Thrillers, Samuelsen worked in so many different positions at so many different companies that I don't even think I can name them all. Here are just a few of the notable positions that Samuelsen was in:

  • President: Highland Beverage, South Dakota Beer Wholesales, and Rocky Mountain Conference of Beer Wholesales

  • General Manager: Lakes Development Building Association

  • Sales Associate: Rushmore Homes

When Samuelsen owned the Thrillers, his wife, Sally Olson, also worked for the Thrillers as the Dance Team Manager. Together, they served as coordinators for the CBA's All-Star Team on their tour in France! According to Pat Hall, the other owner of the Thrillers, Samuelsen was a relatively quiet person but was respected and loved by everyone in the community.


Finally, the last owner of the Rapid City Thrillers was Pat Hall. Unfortunately, unlike with Tuschman and Samuelsen, there isn't much news or info about Hall. The only information, or more accurately, opinion piece, about Hall is pretty negative. In a Bleacher Report article, it was reported that Hall demanded a cut of the concession's profits even though he was making well enough.

The only other news update regarding Hall is that he's promoting Rapid City's real estate. In the article, Hall said, "I think that Rapid City is going to just keep on growing. It's an outstanding town."

Lastly, just recently, in 2020, Hall donated the Rapid City Thrillers' warmup suits to the Rapid City Rush, a professional ice hockey league in the East Coast Hockey League. Here are pictures of the warm-up suits! They're pretty cool!


The Rapid City Thrillers' Six Coaches

Throughout the Rapid City Thrillers' eight seasons, they had six coaches:

  • 1987: Bill Musselman

  • 1988: Tom Nissalke

  • 1989: Flip Saunders

  • 1990, 1992-95: Eric Musselman

  • 1991: Keith Fowler and Jim Calvin

Since there are so many coaches, I will only focus on the two coaches that were most important to the Rapid City Thrillers, Bill Musselman and Eric Musselman. The former helped the Rapid City Thrillers win their only Championship, while the latter was their longest tenured coach.


Bill Musselman

The first coach, the Rapid City Thrillers, had was Bill Musselman. Before coaching the Rapid City Thrillers, Musselman was also the coach of the Thrillers when they were in Tampa! However, once the Thrillers moved to Rapid City, Musselman left. Musselman called then owner John Tuschman a "goddamn idiot" for relocating the Thrillers.

Besides being a head coach in the CBA, Musselman also coached for teams in the NBA, ABA, NCAA, and WBA. Here were the teams that Musselman coached in each league:

  • NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves

  • ABA: San Diego Sails and Virginia Squires

  • NCAA: the University of Minnesota and University of Alabama

  • WBA: Reno Bighorns

  • CBA: Sarasota Stingers, Albany Patroons, and Rochester Renegade

Musselman found the most success in the NCAA and CBA. In the NCAA, his overall record was 158-104 (76.6 W/L%). His best regular-season record was with the 1972-73 Minnesota Golden Gophers. They went 21-5 (80.8 W/L%).


However, Musselman's best season overall was probably with the 1971-72 Minnesota Golden Gophers. They would go 18-7 (72.0 W/L%) and finish as the Regular Season Champions! In addition, In the NCAA Tournament, they ended up being the Mideastern Regional Third Place Winners!


Musselman's CBA record is slightly worse than his NCAA record. In five seasons, he went 267-114 (70.1 W/L%). Musselman's first CBA team was the Sarasota Stingers. They didn't give him a chance, and only 19 games into the regular season, Musselman was fired from the Stingers. Within those 19 games, the team went 6-13 (31.5 W/L%).

This was a blessing in disguise for Musselman as he would win a championship every season for the next four seasons! Musselman won THREE CHAMPIONSHIPS in a row with the Tampa Bay/Rapid City Thrillers (1984-87)! Once he left the Thrillers, he joined the Albany Patroons and won a Championship with them as well (1987-88)! The Patroons would go 48-6 (88.9 W/L%) in their Championship season!

Musselman's stint in the ABA with the San Diego Sails and Virginia Squires and his time in the WBA with the Reno Bighorns were extremely forgettable, so we'll gloss over those two seasons and discuss his NBA coaching career instead.


Musselman's NBA coaching career was nowhere near as good as his NCAA or CBA career. It was actually pretty horrible. His overall NBA record was 78-120 (30.2 W/L%). Musselman first coached the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1980-82. In the second season, in 23 regular-season games under Musselman, the Cavaliers record was 2-21 (8.7 W/L%).


Musselman would resign before the 1982-83 NBA season, and I'm not surprised. The team had no All-Stars, and according to Cedric Maxwell, the team was more known for partying than playing.


As for the Minnesota Timberwolves, that didn't go that well either. From 1989-1991, Musselman and the Timberwolves went 51-113 (31.1 W/L%). Again, I don't blame Musselman for the Timberwolves performing poorly because the team had no star players. The Timberwolves didn't have a positive record from 1989-1997.


Eric Musselman

Eric Musselman was the Rapid City Thriller's longest-tenured coach. Eric coached the Thrillers in 1990 and from 1992-95. He's also the only coach to coach the Thrillers for more than one season. Eric was 23 when he first started coaching the Thrillers, becoming the youngest coach in CBA history.


Also, if you haven't already figured it out, Bill and Eric Musselman are related. Eric is Bill Mussleman's son! Like his father, Eric had a pretty successful coaching career with the Rapid City Thrillers. Although Eric didn't win any Championships with the Thrillers, Eric brought the Thrillers to the Playoffs each season that he was their head coach.


Another similarity that the father-son duo have is that Eric also coached numerous basketball teams in various leagues:

  • NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, and Sacramento Kings.

  • NCAA: Arizona State, LSU, Nevada University, and Arkansas University

  • D-League: Reno Bighorns and Los Angeles D-Fenders

  • CBA: Rapid City Thrillers and Florida Beach Dogs

  • USBL: Florida Sharks

Eric had a positive overall record in each league besides the NBA. In the three seasons that Eric was a head coach, he went 103-148 (43.9 W/L%). Nowhere near as bad as his father's record in the NBA, but still negative.


Eric was the head coach for the Golden State Warriors for two seasons (2002-04) and the Sacramento Kings for one season (2006-07). Like his dad, Eric didn't have any star players on the teams he coached.


With the Golden State Warriors, Eric's best players were Antawn Jamison and a sophomore season Gilbert Arenas. With the Sacramento Kings, Eric's best players were Kevin Martin and Metta World Peace. Eric's regular-season record with each team was around the same:

  • 2002-03 Golden State Warriors: 38-44

  • 2003-04 Golden State Warriors: 37-45

  • 2006-07 Sacramento Kings: 33-49

Although Eric's NBA coaching career wasn't that successful, he is one of the best NCAA coaches. From 2015-2019, Eric coached the Nevada Wolf and went 144-34 (76.4 W/L%). In 3/4 of those seasons, the Nevada Wolf were Regular Season Champions and made it into the NCAA Tournament.


Eric and the Nevada Wolf's deepest NCAA Tournament run was in 2018 when they went all the way to the Southern Regional Semifinals. This season, Eric was also named the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year!


Eric is currently the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks and, so far, has a record of 45-19 (70.3 W/L%). In the 2021 NCAA season, Eric and the Razorbacks made it to the Elite 8. Unfortunately, they would get knocked out by Baylor University, 72-81.

Besides his NBA and NCAA career, Eric has also been a 2x USBL Champion, CBI Champion, and D-League Coach of the Year!

Like with the coaches, since the Rapid City Thrillers played eight seasons, I'll be picking three of the team's most noteworthy seasons: 1986-87, 1987-88, and 1992-93.


The 1986-87 Season: Championship

Rapid City Thrillers Officla Program Book

As said in the introduction, the Tampa Bay Thrillers were in Rapid City by the end of the regular season, but the 1986-87 Championship is associated with the Tampa Bay Thrillers more than the Rapid City Thrillers. To make this more interesting and less confusing, I'm just going to say it goes to both teams. This is one of the more noteworthy seasons as they won a Championship this season.

In the 1986-87 CBA season, with Bill Musselman as the head coach, the Tampa Bay/Rapid City Thrillers went 34-14 (70.8 W/L%) and finished first in the Eastern Division.


This season, the best player for the Thrillers was Don Collins. Collins was a 6'6" Forward from Washington State. This season, he averaged: