The Pensacola Tornados are a defunct basketball team that played in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) from 1985-1991. The CBA is the "World's Oldest League," dating its origins back to 1946. The CBA is attributed to several basketball innovations such as the three-point line and the collapsible hinged rim. Eventually, other leagues converted their rims over to the collapsible hinged model, which is still in use today. During the 1980s and 1990s, the NBA's relationship with the CBA grew to developmental status, to the point where dozens of former CBA stars found their way onto NBA rosters.
The team played its home games at the Pensacola Civic Center. The Tornados were actually comprised of two different franchises that moved to Pensacola in two different years.
The first Tornados team began as the LaCrosse Bobcats for a short time in 1983. The team quickly relocated to Toronto and became the Tornados from 1983 through part of the 1985-86 season. Toronto is owned by former NBA owner Ted Stepien. After a 2-7 start, the Tornados moved to Pensacola. At the time, the CBA is comprised of 14 teams.
The newly-relocated Tornados' first home game, on January 3, 1986 against the Florida Suncoast Stingers, drew 3,611 to the Pensacola Civic Center, and averaged 1,651 per game for the year. In fact, on January 25, 1986, the Tornados drew 8,417 in a win against the Detroit Spirits, at that time the second-largest crowd to ever attend a CBA contest.
Guard Billy Goodwin was the only CBA player to finish in the Top-10 in both scoring and assists that season. Ronnie Williams, a power forward, averaged 23.3 points per game. Despite all this, the Tornados suffered through a 15-33 season. During the off-season, Stepien moves the team to Jacksonville, FL and renames them the Jets. It was a turbulent off-season in general in 1986, as the CBA shrunk to 12 teams. This franchise would move three more times before folding in 1996.
The Bay State Bombardiers move to Pensacola to become the second version of the Tornados. This version began in 1978 as the Harrisburg Hammerheads, then the Maine Lumberjacks, on to Bay State before arriving in Pensacola. With new head coach Gary Youmans and General Manager Tim Sise, the Tornados showed signs of life led by former New York Knicks 7'-1" veteran center Marvin Webster who led the team in rebounds. The team finished with a 20-28 record and made the playoffs for the first time. Webster was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks before the season ended where replacement center Jerome Henderson led the Tornados in rebounding for the rest of the season. Henderson would later receive a 10-day call-up to the Atlanta Hawks. The owner is Roger McDonald.
In the playoffs the Tornados were eliminated four games to one by the Rapid City Thrillers .
Power forward Norris Coleman, 6'-8", 210 lbs., signs with the Tornados after playing one year with the NBA Los Angeles Clippers. Coleman was a second-round draft pick (38th overall) of the Clippers after being named to the Big-8 All-Conference team while at Kansas State. Other key players are rookie guard Mark Wade (5'-11", 160 lbs.), Tommy Davis, NBA veteran Freeman Williams, forward Bill Nelson and Henderson. Joe Mooney and Frank Adams, of Government Credit Corporation, were the new owners. By the end of the season, the Tornados were tearing up their opponents that would return the team to the playoffs even with a 28-26 record.
In the playoffs, Pensacola crushed the original Tornados franchise (now located in Biloxi, MS) in a 4-1 run, but were swept by the Albany Patroons in four straight semifinal games.
A slow start hurt the Tornados, but by the end of January head coach Joe Mullaney, pulled his club up from the Eastern Division cellar into fourth place in the standings. 6'-5", 190 lbs. guard Brook Steppe averaged 25.7 points per game and earned a 10-day call-up to the Portland Trail Blazers. Mark Wade, who helped pace the Tornados in the 1987-88 season, broke the CBA record for most assists in a season (626). Even though the Tornados earned another playoff berth after finishing 30-24, they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Tulsa Fast Breakers-but not before giving Tulsa at least one loss in the Breakers' eventual playoff championship run. Trial lawyer Robert Crongeryer is the new owner.
With yet again a new owner, Tom McMillan, the Tornados won a team-record 32 games against 24 losses. Four players would receive NBA promotions: small forward Jim Farmer, guard and Penascola native Clifford Lett, forward Bob McCann, and guard Mark Wade. Lett was named CBA Rookie of the Year after averaging 21 points a game. He was signed in March 1990 by the Chicago Bulls to a 10-day contract, and then to a second in April. Wade was a first-team All-League sleection. Tony Dawson, older brother of current Dallas Mavericks forward Jerry Stackhouse, led the team with 25.9 points per game. After a strong first-round playoff series victory over the Grand Rapids Hoops two games to one, the Tornados lost another playoff run to the Albany Patroons three games to two in the best-of-five series. Tom and Jane McMillan are the new owners.
The franchise played one more year in Pensacola, garnered a 27-29 record and missed the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Still, the Tornados led all CBA franchises in NBA call-ups that season, as Tony Dawson, Jim Farmer and Clifford Lett spent time in both the NBA and CBA. Mark Wade led the CBA in assists (10.8 per game) once again.
In March 1991, team officials were looking at Knoxville, TN for possible relocation, but moved the team to Birmingham, AL after the 1990-91 season. The franchise would relocate two more times before folding in 1995.