What's a woman doing as the second in command in a men's professional basketball league? As the highest ranking woman in pro basketball, Fran Greenberg used to get asked that question constantly - that is, until people saw that she could more than handle the job.
For three years, she has been the director of public relations for the Continental Basketball Association, the minor league which feeds players into the National Basketball Association. The 26-year-old Brooklyn native is in charge of overseeing player-related contract and roster matters, as well as coordinating the league's office operations, writing the weekly press releases, editing and designing the yearbook, and dealing with the press.
Greenberg graduated from American University in Washington D.C. in 1979, with a degree in communications. While there, she was a starting guard on the women's varsity basketball team. From there, she moved to Philadelphia, where her husband, Brad, a former American University basketball captain, is now an assistant coach at St. Joseph's University.
''My job with the CBA is something that I always wanted to do,'' she explains. ''My qualifications for the job were basically that I was very involved in basketball since my freshman year in college, and after college I pursued only sports-related jobs. I didn't settle for anything else.'' She looked for work with pro teams, and finally landed a job with the CBA, but not until she'd spent a whole year unemployed.
As a woman in a predominantly man's world, Greenberg has found the response to her to be just about split down the middle. ''Yes, I've been treated differently in this job than I might have been as a man, but it (the treatment) has been as much on the positive side as on the negative.''
''Fifty percent of the time I'd say I'm treated exactly the same as a man would be,'' she says.
And the rest of the time?
''About 25 percent of the people ask 'Can you help me dear?' or they think I'm Jim's (CBA commissioner Jim Drucker's) secretary. No one is anyone's secretary here,'' she adds. ''The other 25 percent go overboard thinking it's great! I don't want people to think I'm great for being in this job. I'm not overly qualified - I'm just a qualified person for the job. And anyway, once they've dealt with me in my official capacity once or twice, my professionalism sets them straight on how to deal with me in the future.''
She points out that although the glamor of the NBA is missing, the CBA caliber of play is high, with 90 percent of the league's players former NBA draftees. ''I think that's an indication of the level of play we have in this league - we're just one step behind the NBA.''
The CBA office is a small operation. Besides herself, there is Drucker, an administrative assistant, plus a statistician and a supervisor of officials.
As a developmental league, the CBA encourages the use of promising new players, who have a shot at the NBA, and initiates new rules to see how they work in game action. One of the league's main goals is to keep players ready to move up to the NBA at a moment's notice. ''Last week two players were picked up by the NBA,'' she says. Among former CBA stars who have made the jump are guards Rory Sparrow and Ed Sherod of New York, Brad Davis of Dallas, and Charlie Criss of Milwaukee.
The CBA appears to be on very solid ground. Begun in 1946, the league is still going strong despite receiving little publicity. The CBA has used its money wisely, which is something other small leagues, which have since gone out of business, failed to do. The league is national in scope, with 12 teams stretching from Bangor, Maine, to Billings, Mont.
''We go into depth about proposed franchises,'' says Greenberg. ''A league needs to know who is getting involved, and whether or not they're financially solvent. The CBA is small, but in some regards we're a model, a prototype professional league. We're on extremely tight budgets and do a fine job considering what we have to work with. I think other leagues could learn from us. Leagues that may be 10 times larger than us don't do 10 times more work than we do.''
As for women's pro leagues, she believes their time will come. But it hasn't yet, judging from the collapse of the short-lived Women's Basketball League two years ago. When and if another women's league is launched, Greenberg might make a good commissioner. However, she's perfectly happy to to be working for an established men's league.
''I want to work where there are opportunities,'' she explains. ''Right now this is where the opportunities are in basketball. Men's basketball is happening and women's is not.''
Greenberg is motivated to continue moving up to a higher league. ''Like anyone else in the minor league operation,'' she states, ''I have aspirations to make it to the major leagues - the NBA, the NFL, the LPGA. But for now, I'm doing just want I want to do. I love sports, I love being involved in them. It really is a lot of fun promoting sports teams.''
At some point in the future she and her husband would like to realize a shared dream. ''Our common goal,'' she relates, ''is to move into the NBA together. I'd love to be a general manager of an NBA team and have my husband as the coach.
''If you're going to dream, you might as well dream all the way.''