Team Name: Portland Mountain Cats
League: United States Basketball League (USBL)
History of the Portland Mountain Cats
The city of Portland, Maine was awarded an expansion team in the United States Basketball League (USBL) for the 1996 season. The owner and founder of the franchise was Mark McClure, a local Cape Elizabeth native. A member of the USBL’s Northern Division, the team announced its head coach to be Kevin Mackey, former head coach at Cleveland State University. The team’s name originated from multiple published reports of mountain lions reappearances in the state of Maine.
The roster would ultimately be whittled down from an expansion draft of 60 players and later tryouts of almost 40 walk-on players. Manut Bol, the recently retired NBA superstar center from Sudan, was confirmed to be selected for the Portland team. Bol had previously played under Coach Mackey back at CSU in 1985, who was notoriously sanctioned by the NCAA for providing improper financial assistance to Bol and two other African players.
Playing their home games at the Cumberland County Civic Center in downtown Portland, the team was meant to be accessible for all fans. Tickets were priced at $6 for adult general admission seats, and $3 for senior citizens and children 17 and under. Unfortunately, excitement for the team dimmed as the season began. The team would lose its first three games, and the draw of seeing the tallest NBA player would not come to fruition, as Bol never appeared in any games for the Mountain Cats. Most noteworthy was a “rain-out” for the first ever game due to indoor plumbing issues causing unsafe floor conditions.
Nonetheless, the Mountain Cats eventually won their first game against the Treasure Coast Tropics in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The team found further success at both the individual and team level as the season progressed. Star player Brent Scott led both his team and the league in scoring with 29.8 points per game, also finishing second in rebounding, with 13 rebounds per game, and third in assists, with eight, for the league.This impressive stat line led to Scott Receiving Player of the Year Award and First Team honors that year.Teammate and former NBA player Sean Green also achieved Second Team honors. Led by Scott and Green’s talents, the team finished 18-11 for the season, earning a postseason berth.
Heading into the playoffs in their first season, the Mountain Cats would end up defeating the Long Island Surf by one point in the USBL Postseason Quarterfinals with the final score of Portland 118, Long Island 117. Hopes of a first year championship were dashed in the next round, however, as the team suffered a 130 – 119 loss to the Florida Sharks in the USBL Postseason Semifinals. The Mountain Cats would achieve a moral and ultimately their last victory, in a 131-128 win over the Tampa Bay Windjammers for the USBL Consolation Game, in what would ultimately be the final game ever played for the franchise.
Despite the on-court successes, the team’s management troubles were soon exposed. According to the Portland Press Herald, “the league in September assumed ownership of the Mountain Cats from team founder Mark McClure after revelations that the team owed at least $55,000 in expenses from its first season.” McClure’s financial troubles perhaps should not have been a surprise, as he was sued just prior to the beginning of the season.
Without a new group of investors, Portland was at risk of losing its basketball franchise just as quickly as it had appeared. While the league offered extended deadlines to maintain the franchise, negotiations would stall until the following year. Bill Beyers would ultimately save USBL basketball in Maine, although with new ownership came the willingness for a fresh start. The short lived Portland Mountain Cats team would soon be replaced by the Portland Wave.