THIS DAY IN SPORTS: Opening Night for the Idaho Stampede 


This Day In Sports…November 14, 1997, 25 years ago today:

Pro hoops comes to the Treasure Valley, as the Idaho Stampede make their Continental Basketball Association debut at the Idaho Center before more than 6,000 fans. The Stampede were led by former Boise State coach Bobby Dye, in his final season of coaching, and defeated the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the opener 102-92. The first points in franchise history came on a three-pointer from guard Rusty LaRue, who at the end of the night was a Chicago Bull. 

LaRue was called up by the Bulls four hours before the inaugural game was to start. Chicago’s Steve Kerr (now the Golden State Warriors coach) had sprained an ankle and they needed a backup for Michael Jordan. According to Stampede managing investor Bill Ilett, LaRue told the Bulls he could not leave until he played in the Stampede’s opener. Right after the game, Ilett took LaRue to the airport where the Bulls had a jet waiting to take him to Chicago. He dressed and played for the Bulls the next night. The team later signed him to a full season contract.

Ilett navigated a lot during his 19 years leading the franchise. Most notably, he had to deal with the Isiah Thomas debacle. The former NBA star purchased the CBA for $10 million in 1999 and ran it into the ground. A year and a half after the Thomas acquisition, the 55-year-old CBA folded midseason. The Stampede, who had moved to downtown Boise in what was then the Bank Of America Centre, went dark with everybody else in early 2001. A handful of former CBA owners, including Ilett, were able to resurrect the league, and the Stampede resumed play with the 2002-03 season.

But the NBA had founded the NBA Development League (the D League—now the G League) in the meantime, and with no NBA affiliation, the CBA struggled. The Stampede and three other of the CBA’s strongest franchises moved to the D League in 2006. The Stampede won the organization’s only championship in 2008 under coach Bryan Gates, who began his coaching career as a volunteer (later paid) assistant with the Stampede under Dye 10 years earlier. (Gates is now an assistant with the Phoenix Suns).

Over time, the D League’s emphasis became locating franchises essentially next door to NBA clubs, and that would be the Stampede’s demise. The Utah Jazz bought the Stampede in 2015 from Ilett and his group, which had hopes that the team would remain in Boise. At the end of the 2015-16 season, the Jazz indeed moved the team to its neighborhood, and it’s now in its seventh season as the Salt Lake City Stars. This has to be a bittersweet day for Ilett and his ownership team.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)


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