Upon signing Ashley McElhiney as the first female head coach of a men’s basketball team last spring, Nashville Rhythm co-owner Sally Anthony said, “I will not let Ashley be disrespected by anyone.” Until last Saturday, she hadn’t been.
Anthony stormed onto the court during a game and ignited an argument with the 23-year-old coach and fired her on the spot. Anthony’s shocking actions signify the informal, maverick reputation of the second incarnation of the American Basketball Association. Among the league’s players are rapper Percy “Master P” Miller and former NBA star Dennis Rodman.
The soap opera-like feud sparked during the third quarter due to McElhiney’s defiance of Anthony’s order to bench forward Matt Freije. Freije had been signed to a two-game contract for a reported $10,000 after he was released by the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets. The argument ended with Anthony being escorted off the court by security guards.
This tawdry illustration of meddling ownership was completely unprofessional and should never happen at any level of sports. Anthony overstepped her boundaries by not consulting her co-owner and husband Tony Bucher or their business partner, Justin Christian, before storming onto the court.
In playing Freije, McElhiney was merely performing her job as head coach – a job that depends heavily on her ability to win. With apparent coaching skill and expertise, McElhiney has led the Rhythm to an 18-7 record this season. For an owner to restrict her coach as to who she can and cannot play completely undermines her profession and her authority.
What is boggling is why Anthony wanted Freije benched in the first place. After shelling out $10,000 to sign him, it does not seem to make sense to bench him. Anthony claims she was defending the other players who resented Freije’s contract and playing time. But according to Rhythm forward Adam Sonn, there was no resentment of Freije by the other players.
“Not at all; that’s why stuff just does not add up,” Sonn reportedly said. “She’d been talking all week about how signing Matt Freije was a priority. You’ve got an open roster spot and an NBA player available, so why not?”
This mysteriously inconsistent behavior is not uncommon from Anthony, an aspiring pop-singer as well as basketball owner (ironically, the name of her CD, released last year, is entitled, “Vent”). According to the Associated Press, she said she knew nothing of the efforts to sign Freije, yet appeared at a news conference Jan. 27 to praise his addition. Hours after the confrontation on the court, the Nashville Tennessean reported Anthony was rushed to Vanderbilt Hospital following a 911 call by a relative saying she tried to “hurt herself.” A combination of Xanax and alcohol were discovered in her system, and she was treated for cuts before being released last Sunday.
After the on-court incident, Joe Newman, ABA co-founder and chairman, said, “The objective of the team is for Ashley to continue coaching.” He added he was expecting a statement from the team last Monday, but none came.
Only in the ABA could a franchise get away with having a moronic, irrational, failed pop-singer calling the shots. In its previous incarnation, coaches had names like “Slick” and players like “Marvelous” Marvin Barnes missed weeks of practice only to show up on game day carrying a bag of cheeseburgers before scoring 52 points and grabbing 30 rebounds.
One hopes Rhythm fans make like Virginia Squires’ fans of the 1970s – who hung owner Earl Foreman in effigy after selling off all-stars Julius Erving, George Gervin and Swen Nater in succession – and protest this outrageous calamity.
Alison Stuart can be reached at email@example.com.