Thirty years ago, the New Year opened with a Tri-City team on the downhill flow to a championship season.
The 1993-94 season of the Continental Basketball League (CBL) was well underway when the new year arrived and the Tri-City Chinook of the CBL was entertaining Tri-City fans with its greatest season.
The Chinook history was short lived — only four seasons — but the team brought the house down at the Tri-City Coliseum.
Many of the same fans were screaming just as loudly for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. The two teams from different professional sports shared the venue of the Tri-Cities Coliseum.
The Americans still compete there, now named the Toyota Center.
The CBA at the time was a developmental league for the National Basketball Association (NBA). Chinook NBA affiliations included the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Tri-City Chinook began its play here in the 1991-92 season, signing Chancellor Nichols as its first player in the 1991 CBA draft. The forward played for James Madison University, and he was the sixth overall draft.
Steve Hayes was the first head coach of the Chinook, and he took the team to a 29-27 record in the first season behind the play of leading scorer Wayne Tinkle. His double-double season included a 16.6 scoring average per game, and 10.6 rebound per game.
Tinkle came out of Ferris High School in Spokane where in his senior year he had led the Greater Spokane League in scoring. His 61.8 field goal percentage also led the GSL.
He played for the Big Sky Conference University of Montana Grizzlies, whom he later led as head coach. Tinkle went on to be head basketball coach of Pac 12’s Oregon State Beavers.
Qualifying for the playoffs, which the team would do all four seasons, the Chinook lost in the first round single-elimination to the Wichita Falls Texans 102-90.
The Chinook’s second season was its worst and only losing season of the four. Under Hayes, and playing in the newly-formed Western Division against Wichita Falls, the Oklahoma City Cavalry and the Yakima Suns, the team started out 13-19.
Hayes was replaced by Calvin Duncan who guided the team to a 14-10 record the rest of the way in the 1992-93 season, to conclude with a 27-29 record.
Still making the playoffs, the Chinook lost a five-game playoff series 3-1 to the Rapid City Thrillers.
Leading the team in scoring was Willie Simms, a Wisconsin forward, while Tinkle again topped the team in rebounds with a 9.7-per-game average, and A.J. Wynder was tops in assists with 8.7 per game.
A trade in November 1993 for the 1993-94 season garnered Alphonso Ford for the Tri-City Chinook from the Thrillers, and a scoring legend came to the Tri-Cities. In college for Mississippi Valley State, he became one of the top five scorers in NCAA history, was an All-American with a career average of 29 points per game and he was inducted into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame.
Ford, who died of leukemia at 32 years old, also was a legendary scorer playing in Europe. The top scorer of the EuroLeague annually receives the Alphonso Ford EuroLeague Top Scorer Trophy.
His scoring prowess continued in the CBA with a 22.8-per-game average with the Chinook. He won Rookie of the Year honors in the CBA, made the CBA's All-conference team, and was an All-Star.
Before Ford's professional basketball career ended, he would have short stints in the NBA playing for the Seattle Super Sonics and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Tri-City’s Michael Anderson would lead the CBA in steals during the 1993-94 season, averaging 2.7 per game.
The Chinook concluded the season with a 34-22 record and winners of the Western Division Basketball Championship.
Calvin Duncan was named Coach of the Year for the Continental Basketball Association.
In a five-game playoff series with the Omaha Racers, the Chinook won the first two games, but were eliminated when Omaha won the next three, including a 117-110 victory in the fifth and deciding game.
The 1994-95 season saw Ford average 24 points per game to lead the team, followed by the 19.8 average of Willie Simms, while forward Geoff Lear was top rebounder, averaging 9.4 per game. All league and all-star honors again came to Ford.
The Tri-City Chinook finished with a 32-24 record. In the first round of the playoffs they eliminated the Rapid City Thrillers before coming up against state rivals, the Yakima Sun Kings, in the second round.
In a five-game series, the Chinook were eliminated 3-1.
In the team's last season, it had a home game attendance of 119,493.
The Tri-City Chinook disbanded in May 1995.
Gale Metcalf of Kennewick is a lifelong Tri-Citian, retired Tri-City Herald employee and volunteer for the East Benton County Historical Museum. He writes the monthly history column.
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