PROFESSIONAL basketball has some legendary rivalries: the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors, the Sioux Falls Sky Force versus the Rapid City Thrillers.
How's that again?
Well, if the rivalry between Sioux Falls, S.D. (population 100,000) and Rapid City (population 54,000) isn't quite the stuff of legends, it certainly is big news in South Dakota. The two largest cities in the state boast thriving franchises in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), a developmental league for the National Basketball Association.
Founded 45 years ago as the Eastern Basketball Association, the 16-team CBA actually is as old as the NBA. The league changed its name in 1978 and signed a contract to develop NBA referees. Since then the two leagues have expanded their relationship, especially in player development. In 1978, there were two veterans of the CBA playing in the National Basketball Association. Last year, there were 75. In 1990-1991 alone, 30 CBA players were called up to the NBA.
Some of the CBA vets are well-known. There's Michael Adams of the Washington Bullets, Michael Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Anthony Mason and John Starks of the New York Knicks.
For many players, the road between the CBA and the NBA is a two-way street. Players may be called up and sent down several times during their careers, depending not so much on their talent as on the needs of the NBA teams. It's all a matter of being in the right place at the right time. What matters to the NBA
"You don't have to be a high- scoring player in the CBA to be called up by an NBA team. What's most important is if you're what they need," says Russ Schoene, a 6 ft. 10 in. forward who has played for three NBA teams and recently left the Thrillers to play for a team in Italy.
Greg Grant, the Thriller's 5 ft., 7 in., 140 lbs. point guard, started 30 games for the Philadelphia 76ers last year. Grant says, "It's your reputation that counts. They don't call you up for what you do in the CBA. It's because of what you've done in the NBA.
But some things do set the leagues apart. In addition to a proving ground for players, the CBA serves as a test bed for new rules and equipment.
Currently, there are three rules in the CBA that could find their way into the NBA. The most notable is the 7-point scoring system for the league championship in which the winning team receives three points for a victory and an additional point is awarded to the winner of each quarter.
Another difference in the CBA is that a player who is fouled in the act of shooting a three-point field goal receives three free throws if the shot is missed, not two as in the NBA. …