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CEDAR RAPIDS — The vision, he said, came to him in a conversation with God. If his friends laughed at the idea, he said he would laugh right along with them.
Lightning Mitchell’s friends didn’t laugh, though. They thought the idea was great. He decided to pursue forming a women’s professional basketball league, eventually named the Women’s Basketball Association.
Mitchell is Vietnam veteran who was drafted out of high school. He had professional football aspirations and, after his service, pursued a career, trying out for the Philadelphia Eagles and playing for several minor league teams, including the now-defunct Cedar Rapids Falcons. He said he also spent time working at Kirkwood to supplement his income.
He moved on from the Falcons to the Delavan Red Devils in Delavan, Wis. While there, he split time playing football and working at a car part manufacturer in Crystal Lake, Ill.
He realized then there had to be more, and that’s where the vision for the league came. “The Vision” also is the title of the book Mitchell wrote about his experience, which he gifted to the Cedar Rapids Public Library on Tuesday and is available on Amazon and at other bookstores
“In my heart and in my mind, something says as clear as I’m talking to you, start a women’s professional basketball league,” Mitchell said. And rather than laugh, his friends, whom he drove to and from Crystal Lake with, endorsed the idea.
Mitchell said he sent letters to 136 Division I basketball programs to gather interest in his league, which ran from 1993 to 1995 after a 20-state all-star tour in 1992. Iowa had a team, as well, the Iowa Twisters.
The idea to play ball in the spring and summer came to him in another vision, he said.
“That was the key to the whole success of the league,” Mitchell said. “Baseball people are going to watch baseball. Basketball people are going to watch basketball.”
Though the NBA eventually formed the WNBA and Mitchell’s league, despite a television deal, folded, he holds no animosity toward the NBA. He said he wrote his book to give credit to the women who played in the WBA.
“I’m sad that the story wasn’t told for my girls to get some kind of recognition for their hard work,” Mitchell said. “If they wouldn’t have done what they’d done there would be no WNBA.”
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