The 1946-47 BAA Season: A Complete History of (what became) the NBA’s First Season

Our beloved National Basketball Association (NBA) came into being as the  Basketball Association of America. At its formation, it was the LaMelo Ball of the basketball world. It had the flash, the big arenas but its ways away from being the best league. The remnants of the barnstormers had a strong legacy. The National Basketball League had the biggest stars in basketball. Even the once prominent American Basketball Associate had an entrenched history.

There was a market for professional basketball, but it had not been fully capitalized just yet. Who better to capitalize on it than members of the Arena Managers Association of America? Many had been leasing their arenas out for professional and amateur Basketball matches. The Harlem Globetrotters sold out Madison Square Garden long before the Knicks were a fleeting thought. In attempts to fill open nights on their calendars, these arena managers and Owners joined forces to form the original 11 teams of the BAA. Some names you will recognize, while others feel more fitting to be seen at the YMCA.

  • Boston Celtics
  • Chicago Stags
  • Cleveland Rebels
  • Detroit Falcons
  • New York Knickerbockers
  • Philadelphia Warriors
  • Pittsburgh Ironmen
  • Providence Steamrollers
  • St. Louis Bombers
  • Toronto Huskies
  • Washington Capitols

Without television deals, teams’ sole drawing power was in their local markets. With only the Chicago market overlapping with the NBL, the more established league did not consider the BAA to be much of a threat to their business. Carl Bennet, manager of the Fort Wayne Zoller Pistons, went as far as to say in a Basketball Magazine interview “We are not interested in a so-called war with the newly-formed Basketball Association of America, we plan to operate together in harmony, and perhaps even have a world basketball series between the two league champions as they do in baseball.” There was little to fear in this new upstart. The NBL was established, they had survived World War II, which had decimated other pro leagues and barnstorming teams.

One feature of the modern NBA was implemented to give the BAA a puncher’s chance. Up to this point, everyone played four 10-minute quarters. The powers that be in the BAA believed a longer game would help lure more fans to the arenas. Initially, they increased the game to 12-minute quarters but they did try 15-minute quarters at a few points. The results of the 15-minute quarters were disastrously boring and fans felt the games lasted too long.

As far as the on-the-court action was concerned, if teleported into the past observers of the pro game would be shocked to see league average shooting at its lowest point in league history just 27.9% from the floor. It is easy to think that basketball equipment has not changed much since the beginning, after all, it’s just shoes, a basket, and a ball, right? Wrong.

The floor would be a big obstacle during the first BAA season. As all the BAA teams’ arenas were hockey arenas the floor commonly rested directly on the ice. Without any insulation between the floor and ice, condensation leaked through the floors creating a slick surface unique to BAA. Insulation slowly worked its way into the league as better teams sought to improve their performance at home.

The floor was not the only difficulty shooters had to overcome. The ball used at the time featured 6 inches of hand-stitched seams and glue to contain the rubber bladder inside. The added weight of the glue and stitches could throw off the spin while shooting, and the added protrusion could cause the ball to occasionally bounce in a different direction upon hitting the floor. Another deterrent to the shooting was the BAA’s investment in see-through backboards. At the time most courts still used solid backboards giving players better depth perception.  Players would soon adjust but for the first BAA, season scoring was an all-time NBA/BAA low of 67.8 points per game.

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The 1946-47 BAA Season: Boston Celtics

Photo: Peach Basket Society

In 1946 the Boston Celtics were still 11 years away from their first championship. It showed. To assemble their team, Team owner Walter A. Brown relied on John “Honey” Russell, the star of the Champion Cleveland Rosenblum’s from the defunct American Basketball League which closed down in 1946 due to World War II. Russell was also a former member of the Original Celtics. Mixed in with his playing days Honey had coached at Seton Hall, a collegiate powerhouse in this era that produced a number of solid pro players.

Walter A. Brown was hoping he could bring these pros to Boston. Unfortunately for them, at the formation of the BAA Honey was coaching baseball and would not break faith with his baseball obligations to recruit for Boston resulting in a lackluster team. Many of the star players he knew prior to joining the Celtics signed elsewhere when they gave up waiting for Russell’s call. Of the 20 players who would don Celtics uniforms in their inaugural season only 7 of the 20 would see the second season in the BBA.

 Honey’s big acquisition was stealing away Chuck Connors from the defending Champions of the NBL, the Rochester Royals. Chuck Connors was a memorable player, not for his play. It is said he could run and rebound with any big, but he struggled with shooting, dribbling, and passing. Connors may have been a champion but he was little more than a seldom-used bench player that the team loved as chemistry. After his playing days, he would star in the television series Rifleman.

Honey believed in slowing the game down. He wanted his team to employ a grind-it-out defensive strategy like he was used to playing in during his time on the Original Celtics. Tom Thibodeau would have loved him. Honey was demanding, boarding on belligerents when it came to how he treated his players. To the point where one player, Al Brightman, quit on the Celtics midseason. Brightman had been one of the Celtic’s toughest defenders and finished as their second-leading scorer. After missing him for a single game Russell realized his error and offered Brightman a $1000 bonus to return.

The surprise star for the Celtics was big man Connie Simmons, who fell into their lap. Connie, who was just 21 at the time, never attended college and was a relatively unknown player at the time. He showed up at Celtics training camp to drop off his brother Johnny Simmons who had been recruited by Russell. Connie stood 6’8” tall making him tied for 7th tallest player in the BAA. Connie led Boston in scoring during their inaugural season, but his best years were still to come. He would continue on to play 10 seasons in the BAA/NBA. No other Celtic from the 46-47 team would play more than 4 seasons.

After an abysmal start to the season, Russell needed to make a change. Going against league rules he started to court Jack “Dutch” Garfinkel of the Rochester Royal of the NBL. The two leagues had a gentlemen’s agreement not to poach players from each other. However, the Celtics were desperate.

Their owner Walter A. Brown tried offering $50,000 for four of the five starters from the top-seeded Washington Capitols. Russell was desperate enough that he wanted to trade the Celtic’s entire roster for the roster of the Pittsburgh Ironmen, who would finish in last place. Eventually, BAA President Podoloff stepped in and helped Brown negotiate a cash deal for Garfinkel’s release from the Rochester Royals.

Garfinkel’s arrival did bring a little new life to the Celtics who after starting 5-15 prior to his arrival would finish the season 17 and 23. His sharp passing and playmaking helped Connie take off. During those first 20 games Connie averaged 6.8 ppg, After Garfinkel’s arrival, he averaged 12.1 ppg. But there was only so much Garfinkel could do. He was past his prime playing days and even at his best like his former Royal, current Celtic, teammate Chuck Connors, Garfinkel had been a little used bench player on the best teams of the NBL.

It is a small wonder that the Celtics did not fold. All three teams with worse records than the Celtics folded before seeing a second season. Celtics owner Walter A. Brown remained committed and would bring the Celtics back for a second season.

The 1946-47 BAA Season: Chicago Stags

Photo: NBA Hoops Online

John A. Sbarbaro was undaunted by sharing Chicago with NBL’s Chicago Gears who had the biggest draw in professional basketball George Mikan. To oversee the Chicago Stags, Sbarbaro brought in longtime college coach Harold Olsen. This set them apart from the Chicago Gears who slowed the pace to maximize Mikan’s effectiveness, the Stags employed a fast pace offense. Olsen believed that an up-tempo team built a harmonious atmosphere and would be effective against teams employing more veteran players. Olsen’s roster consisted of his trusted on the court general Mickey Rottner, the giant 6’9” Chick Halbert, Don Carlson, and youthful sensation Max Zaslofsky.

Rottner’s numbers do not leap off the page to a modern fan. Averaging 1.7 assists per game does not mean much now but in 46-47 that was fifth best in the BAA. Assists were counted differently. The player receiving the pass could not take a dribble, and could not make their own move for the assist count during the 1946-47 season. It is unclear whether or not passing to a cutter who took an extra step counted on this day. This made assists hard to come by.

Halbert was an imposing presence in the middle. At 6’9” he was the 3rd tallest player in the BAA. Blocks were not recorded until 1973-74 so it’s impossible to say for certain but Halbert likely led the league. When the Stags were slowed into using half-court sets, Olsen used Halbert as the pivot player with cutters moving around him.

Don Carlson is all but the forgotten man from these Chicago Stags. He did a little of everything alternating between being a guard and a forward. In general, Carlson would be the Stag’s third scorer behind Halbert and Zaslofsky but he came up big when needed. In the Stags’ lone win against the Washington Capitols during the regular season he would lead all players scoring 23 points. While rebounds were not kept as an official stat it is said Carlson helped out heavily to that end. After one season with the Stags, Carlson left the BAA to join the NBL.

The driving force for the Stags was the league’s youngest player, Max Zaslofsky. He shot the old-style two-hand set shot with the fifth-best accuracy in the league 32.9%. Max was not the fastest player but he was an excellent ball handler. “He Turned out to be our best player. He was a terrific set shooter, and if he wasn’t lightning-fast baseline to baseline, he was very quick and tricky with the dribble,” Chick Halbert recalled.

Chicago enjoyed mild forms of success through the first half of the season reaching a 20-14 record on January 22nd. At that point, the Stags would catch their stride rolling through the rest of January, all of February, and part of March going 15-2 in their next 17 games. During this stretch, they would have three of their highest-scoring games including a league-record 109-point game. It was a full team effort with seven players in double digits and two more with 9 points. At the end of the regular season the Stags would lead the league in points per game (77), field goal attempts per game (103.4), and field goal shooting percentage (29.8%). They finished the year with a 39-22 securing 1 seed in the Western Conference for the playoffs.

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The 1946-47 BAA Season: Cleveland Rebels

Photo: NBA Hoops Online

No matter how good the Cleveland Rebels were they never seemed to find a sure footing. Starting with the name “Rebels” was mocked by Cleveland media suggesting a more fitting name would be the Cleveland “Ugh”. It seemed Rebel’s owner Al Sutphin was the only person in Cleveland who liked the name. Let’s be honest the Cavaliers are not that much of an improvement.

Moving past the naming debacle Sutphin brought in Roy Clifford as the “Basketball Director of the Cleveland Arena.” Clifford by all accounts was an excellent hire. He had built the Western Reserve Union into a top regional team. Unlike many other teams who had just a head coach in charge of basketball operations, Clifford would be in charge of hiring a coach and making basketball decisions. As a coach, he brought in Henry “Dutch” Denhert.

Dutch’s basketball credentials go back almost to the inception of pro basketball. He turned pro at 18 years old in 1914. He is credited with popularizing back-to-the-basket play to help set up cutters known as pivot play. He had played for over a dozen pro teams including the Original Celtics and coached a half dozen. If there was a Mr. Pro Basketball of the early years, Dutch had a strong case to be considered, and there lay the problem.

Basketball was a rapidly evolving game. Jump shots were replacing set shots. One-handed shots were replacing two-handed shots. Teams were playing up-tempo. The 10-second rule had been established limiting stalling the ball in the backcourt. To everyone’s surprise, the game had started to move past the guy who first drew up “pass to the post then cut.” When it came to recruiting players Denhert and Clifford split recruiting duties and built very different teams.

Clifford’s signees included 1943 NCAA MVP Kenny Sailors, 1941 NIT MVP Frankie Baumholtz, local stars Mel Riebe and Bob Faught, and later through the connection of Sailors, Clifford traded for George Nostrand. The 6’5” Faught and 6’8” Nostrand were far from traditional bigs. Even in 1946-47 6’5” was considered undersized as a center. Although Nostrand was 6’8”, he weighed less than 200 pounds which were dramatically under-weight for a big in 1946. While many big men of the early BAA were slow these two thrived on the fast break. This was small ball in its earliest form.

Which fit perfectly next to Sailors, Baumholtz, and Riebe as they were all high-octane guards who could push and shoot. These three would form the nucleus behind Cleveland’s success but the main star was Sailors. Multiple teams from both the BAA and NBL had tried to land Sailors. The New York Times declared Sailor the Knicks’ “nemesis” after an April 1st game in 1947.  It was clear he was destined to be a star.

Had the Rebels been just those five and players like them they may have survived. Denhert brought in Leo Mogus, a slow-footed pivot player who quickly turned malcontent. Dutch tried running the offense through Mogus to little success as the team started 8-9. During this time Dutch’s substitution patterns began to be questioned by his players. Baumholtz recalled having two good games to start the year and then hardly playing the next three games. In Dutch’s defense, Baumholtz scored 25 against the Huskies and 19 against the Capitols in their first two games. Then he shot 3 for 27 against the Saint Louis Bombers in the third game. Even Sailors complain about playing time.

It was clear change was needed. After 17 games Mogus and Kleggie Hermsen were sent to Toronto for Ed Sadowski. Dutch had coached Ed back on the Detroit Eagles of NBL, where the two had won the World Professional Basketball Tournament in 1941. Sadowski also carried with him championship experience from playing on the Fort Wayne Zoller Pistons of the NBL. He was similar to Mogus in his refusal to play with pace, but a significant upgrade in the half-court. Still, after fortunes remained unchanged, Sailors, Baumholtz, and Riebe attempted to freeze him out in the half-court, leaving Clifford no choice but to remove Denhert as a coach and take over himself.

Under Clifford, the Rebel realized his vision of being a run-and-gun team. During his 23 games, the Rebels scored an average of 74.1 points per game, the second highest in the league. Sailors were the greatest benefactor of the change, his scoring average nearly doubled going from 7.3 to 14.1 points per game. Clifford improved the Rebels’ record just enough to help them make the playoffs. Cleveland’s record can be looked at in three stages, they were 8-9 under Denhert with Mogus, 9-11 under Denhert with Sadowski, and they were 13-10 under Clifford.

The 1946-47 BAA Season: Detroit Falcons

Photo: RetroSeasons

Right from start, it was clear the Falcons’ management, or lack thereof was going to be a problem. Their team lacked any structure of management to the point where reserve guard Tom King stepped in to become the team traveling secretary and publicity director. Even the team’s name was a recycling of the Detroit Red Wings’ original name.

For a coach, owners Arthur Wirtz and Jim Norris selected Glenn Curtis who had recently led Indiana State to the finals of the small-college championships. Curtis’s coaching style, much like Falcon’s management, and ownership could be described as absentee. He commonly would roll the ball out and watch from the stands.

Given the commitment level of ownership, management, and the coach it is little wonder the players were less than committed. Chet Aubuchon, the key playmaker for the Falcons did not travel with the team and ended his season early to focus on teaching. Given the apathy surrounding the team, it is not surprising they also had the second lowest gate receipts in the BAA. The Falcons went 20 and 40 and would be the first BAA team to officially fold.

Despite everything, The Falcons did stumble their way into a diamond. After failing to secure a top big man, the Falcons desperate for a big man, recruited a man 6’5” big with no high school, or college experience. Stan Miasek had built a reputation playing in the Navy against pro teams, including the New York Rens. There were competing offers for him, but Miasek chose the Falcon’s $8,000 offer over the Knicks’ $5,000 offer.

The New York Times would dub Miasek, the Falcon’s “Ace”. As bad as the Falcons were, Miasek still managed to be selected for the BAA All-Star First Team, an award more similar to All-NBA First Team than being declared an All-Star. His game was simple. As he describes it “I’d rebound, outlet, and then take off. My speed and stamina were my biggest advantages.” It sounds simple but it led to Miasek scoring the third most points in the BAA.

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The 1946-47 BAA Season: New York Knickerbockers

Photo: NBA.com

The name “Knickerbocker” is not the first name someone would think to name a team nowadays. However, it was the name that multiple Madison Square Garden employees put into the preverbal hat when asked for an idea. The name originates with a fictional character, Dietrich Knickerbocker or as he was more commonly known Father, Knickerbocker from a Washington Irving novel.

Father Knickerbocker had become a symbol of New York pride. A famous 1800s magazine was named the Knickerbocker after him as well as the city’s first organized baseball team, commonly called the Knickerbocker Nine.

The BAA and the NBA owe a great debt to Knicks owner Ned Irish, who privately subsidized much of the BAA League operating expenses. The Knicks were so small of a draw that the Irish only booked 6 of their games at Madison Square Garden during their inaugural season. That said, the Irish did a lot to promote the game.

Knicks games were live broadcasted. His halftime entertainment for the first game included models and a brief scrimmage between retired legends of the Original Celtics and current members of the New York Giants. Beyond the 60 regular season games, the Knicks played, to help win over the local market Irish also had them regularly compete against top local Colleges.

From the beginning, Irish intended to play the long game. He desperately wanted Joe Lapchick, a star of the Original Celtics, who had further endeared himself to New Yorkers by coaching St Johns University to coach the Knicks. Lapchick was unable to coach during the 1946-47 season as he had one more year on his contract with St. Johns. Irish signed him anyways to coach the 47-48 season. In turn, Irish hired Neil Cohalan, a lame duck coach endorsed by Ned Irish for the 1946-47 season.

When it came to the player recruitment part of the off-season the knicks took a swing at the biggest prospect in basketball Joe Fulks. Unfortunately, they were physically unable to locate him before he signed with Philadelphia. Failing to bring in stars, and lame duck head coaches, not much has changed for the Knicks in 75 years.

Without their star Irish, Cohalan and Lapchick set forth to build their roster with local talent, they did not just want local talent, they wanted local Jewish talent. Jewish athletes were stereotyped to be smart, cunning, able to make quick decisions, and out smart their opponents. Shikey Gotthoffer, MVP of the ABL in 1935-36 and a member of the All-Jewish Philadelphia SPHAS suggested this explanation

“Jews by very nature of the fact they were constantly under some kind of pressure had to do a lot Since there was so thinking and developing of the mind in order to be able to live and act in society. Since there was so much hatred attached to them, they had to be able to outwit a person. Knowing that these kinds of conditions existed… you learned cunning, you learned finesse, and you learned how to avoid a situation as opposed to fighting. Jews thought things out instead of throwing their bodies at each other.”

One of the successes of this thinking was luring Sonny Hertzberg to take the hometown discount. The 5’10” guard was a good shooter and ended up leading the Knicks in points scored. Another Jewish signee Ossie Schectman, not only scored the first basket in BAA history he also led the Knicks in assists.

Unfortunately for the Knicks, not all Jewish players they selected did not live up to the stereotype. After shooting out to a hot 14-3 start the Knicks stumbled in the doldrums of January and February falling back to 19-19 on February 2nd.

With the flurry of outgoing players on the horizon, the Knicks sought to bolster their team mid-season by signing the 6’4” Bud Palmer. At Princeton Bud was known for being a prolific scorer with his two-handed jump shot. Palmer failed to impress Cohalan prior to the season but got himself back into shape and enamored Ned Irish. He must have truly shaped up. In 2002 Ossie Schectman could only think of three players from his time in BAA who could possibly compete with the size and speed of modern athletes, Bud Palmer was one of them. Palmer led the Knicks in points per game.

 Just in their moment of need, Lee Knorek, a 6’7” center, dropped out of college and honored a contract he signed with the Knicks back in August. In his second game, Knorek scored 21 points leading the Knicks past the number 1 team in the BAA, the Washington Capitols. With Knorek filling the hole in the middle and the later addition of Butch van Breda Kolff, a hustle player always willing to dive, the Knicks were able to rally and snag the third seed in the East for the playoffs. Over the course of the season the Knicks traded away four of their Jewish members, Jake Webber, Ralph Kaplowitz, Hank Rosenstein, and Nat Militzok, none of whom made much of an impact in the league.

The 1946-47 BAA Season: Philadelphia Warriors

Philadelphia Arena owner Pete Tyrell, inspired by a strong Philadelphian basketball tradition, was quick to jump on the opportunity to own his own team. He chose the Warriors after Philadelphia’s ABL franchise of the same name. Yes, even in 1946 the team name Warriors was horribly unoriginal. To run/coach the team, he brought in Philly legend Eddie Gottlieb, who founded and ran one of the best barnstorming teams in basketball history, the Philadelphia SPHAs.

Gottlieb went straight to work recruiting from the ABL, and military circuits. He compiled the deepest roster in the new league From the ABL he signed Angelo Musi a crafty dribbler and playmaker, Art Hillhouse a rebounder so fierce he led the ABL in scoring one season primarily on putbacks, Matt Goukas a player teammate raved as the most unselfish forward they ever played with, and Petey Rosenberg a 5’10” guard with a right hook whose advice was the key to the Warriors success.

Gottlieb also secured former SPHA, the quick left Jerry Fleishman, and an outstanding defender from the military George “the Octopus” Sneaky. With such an established team it would have been easy for Gotty to call it a day but instead he tracked down and foxed or outbid other BAA franchises for his two stars.

The lesser-known star of the Warriors was Howie Dallmar. The Stags had attempted to sign Dallmar for 9,000, a figure they let slip to all other teams to dissuade them from making counter offers. Gottlieb put up $10,000. Dellmar could do it all. “Nothing Howie did was spectacular, but he was good at everything. He was a big guard who could rebound, pass, set good screens…” remarked Angelo Musi. At 6’4” Dallmer held a significant size advantage over most of the guards in the BAA.

The second star for the Warriors was found off the recommendation of Petey Rosenberg, Gottlieb spent a week searching the country for the recently discharged Joe Fulks.  After a few days of negotiating Fulks signed with Philadelphia for $8,000. Less than a week later The Knicks were able to track Fulks down but it was too late. The NBA’s first star was already signed. To put Fulks in a modern context, think about the offense of James Harden. No one in the BAA was as likely to shoot or draw a foul as Fulks.. In his first season, Fulks led the league in points scored with the next closest player only scoring 3/4th as many points as Fulks did. He also almost doubled second place in free throws made. He was also as unlikely to play defense as Harden

Joe scored using the jump shot earning him the nickname Jumping Joe, but he was not the only leaper in the league. He may have been the tallest leaper in the league, however. At 6’5” Fulks was as tall as a few teams’ centers. His height added to his leaping made him nearly impossible to block. Those who saw him had to admit he was one of the greats. Boston Celtics Coach Honey Russell who was not complimentary of the “modern” players of 1946-47 commented “Fulks is slow and he’s not a great defensive player. And how can he be a great team player when he takes so many shots? But I wish I had him, I’d build my whole team around him.”

Winning over the past generation is difficult but Russell was not the only one who recognized Fulks’ skills. Former Original Celtic and at the time Knicks consultant Joe Lapchick would be critical of Fulks stating “In bygone days, professional basketball looked for good defensive players. Today they don’t care about defensive basketball. If a boy can hit that basket with great regularity from almost anywhere on the floor, they’ll grab him.” And yet in the same interview, he claims “I wish I had him (Fulks) in St Johns.”

Philadelphia played right into Fulks’ strengths, feeding him just about every time. Gottlieb was not known for running a lot of plays. He believed in letting his team do what was best, and what was best was giving the ball to Joe. “It was understood that Gotty let us pass and cut to our hearts’ content, as long as the ball eventually wound up in Joe’s possession,” said Goukas. Dallmar explained how the offense worked saying “if he (Fulks) went into the pivot then the center would move out to the wing and anticipate going after the rebound.” Whatever Fulks did his teammates played off of it.

The strategy worked well enough for the Warriors to finish 35-25 with the 4th best record among the 11 teams. They never dipped below .500 and never had 3 straight losses the whole season. The team would qualify as the 2nd seed in the Eastern division for the playoffs where they would face the St. Louis Bombers.

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The 1946-47 BAA Season: Pittsburgh Ironmen

Photo: NBA Hoops Online

Like New York, Boston, and Cleveland, Pittsburgh Ironman owner John Harris sought out a member of the Original Celtics to coach his team. Paul Birch had a great basketball legacy starting with being a star at Duquesne, then a stretch with the Original Celtics, followed by joining the Zoller Pistons a powerhouse in the NBL. When he was done playing Birch coached the Youngstown Bears of the NBL. Like Celtic’s Jack “Honey” Russell, Birch was under contract when the BAA formed and got a late start recruiting players.

Birch’s late start was far from the only hindrance the Ironman faced on his behalf. The second detraction imposed by Birch was a change in his demeanor when he reached the BAA. Moe Becker had played under Birch in Youngstown commented on the change in his coach saying “where he used to be easy to get along with in Youngstown, he turned into a monster in Pittsburg.” Birch was both physically and verbally abusive towards his players. Punching his own players was not uncommon for Birch. John “Brooms” Abramovic recalled a time when Birch in his anger “took a heavy wooden chair and threw it across the locker room.” Bobby Knight has nothing on Paul Birch. Birch used ethnic and racial slurs as a “common practice” to motivate players.

If that was not enough. Birch was a bad coach with an outdated style. When it came down to X’s and O’s, Birch believed in the slow-it-down grind-it-out brand of basketball that fellow Original Celtic alums Honey Russell and Dutch Denhert used. Playing through the pivot man started fine when the team had the unselfish Walt Miller, but by December 4th he had had enough of the abuse and left the team. His replacement in the lineup, Coulby Gunther was a blackhole. Once the ball touched his hands it never came back out, much to the dejection of the rest of the Ironmen.

Adding to the misery Birch insisted on using zone defenses to the point where the BAA stepped in and banned the practice for slowing down the game. Birch would be fined and warned multiple times during the course of the season. The games were so miserable at one point only 897 people attended a game.

With all the trouble caused by Paul Birch it was no surprise the Ironmen were the worst team in the league. When Nate Silver of Five ThirtyEight applied the Elo rating system against every season of every team in NBA/BAA history this season is credited with last place. With the season a complete lose, John Harris ended Pittsburgh’s BAA dream.

Of the lack lust roster seen in Pittsburgh, few players held any lasting impact on the sport after this season. Their best player, the ambidextrous Brooms Abramovic would leave the BAA shortly into the following year to join with the superior NBL. Their leading scorer Coulby Gunther would also leave the BAA after this season to join the start-up Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League. When he returned in 48-49 he would be a little used big as opposed to the offensive focal point. The most impactful legacy came from the 21-year-old 6’9” Noble Jorgensen, who played sparingly for the Ironmen but after two years in other leagues would have four solid seasons in the NBA.

The 1946-47 BAA Season: Providence Steamrollers

Photo: Albersheims.com

After Providence failed to establish a lasting Hockey presence, Rhode Island Auditorium owner, Louis Perri, was convinced to take a chance on the BAA by Celtics owner Walter A Brown. Perri had been a strong basketball fan and a decent player in his day at Brown University. After being unsuccessful in luring a top college coach to helm the Steamrollers, Perri pivoted to signing one of Rhode Island’s top high school coaches Robert Morris.

Given the relative obscurity of the BAA in its first season, many teams struggled to sign established stars and top college players away from the NBL. Additionally. Perri and Morris knew they would struggle to attract players away from BAA franchises in Boston and New York gave the proximity and market size. In turn, they focused heavily on local Rhode Island players. Out of the 17 players who would don a Steamroller’s uniform in their first season 8 would be from the state.

This strategy did have some success as the Steamrollers were able to sign University of Rhode Island’s Ernie Calverley, fresh off of being declared the NIT Tournament’s MVP in the spring of 1946. Calverley had been born and raised in the same town Morris coached high school ball in. He was immensely popular in Rhode Island having been voted the Best Rhode Island Athlete in 1946. Calverley was such a star with passing the ball that the league decided to record assists as a stat. Subsequently, Calverly would lead the league in assists with 3.4 per game. Passing was not Calverey’s only skill, as Detroit Falcon’s guard Tom King remembers “Ernie could shoot from just about anywhere on the court.”

With Calverly leading the charge and keeping the ball moving, several steamrollers would establish themselves as successful players. Earl Shannon, Hank Beenders, and Dino Martin would join Calverly averaging over 10 points per game. Shannon was a slashing-cutting player, Beenders ran well for his size, but it was the 5’8” Dino “Mighty Mite” Martin who could catch fire shooting the ball.  In an early season matchup against the Cleveland Rebels Martin would get exceptionally hot, recording the first 40-point night in BAA history.

Morris would be inspired by the success the Rhode Island State had with its run-and-gun style of play. He adopted an offensive first focus that would have made Mike D’Antoni proud. Defensively the Steamrollers would lay off bad shooters to bait them into shooting more in hopes they could run out for an easy basket. To make up for this defensive deficiency, Rhode Island State had a dominant big man to help with closeouts, protecting the rim, and rebounding. The largest player for the Steamrollers was Hank Beeners who stood 6’6” and weighed 185 pounds. By comparison, Detroit’s “undersize” lineup used a 6’5” 210-pound big man.

Providence took the size gamble going all in on offense, leading to 26 games decided by more than 10 points for the Steamrollers. In their average win, Providence won by 8.7 points and in their average losses, they lost by 10.8 points. The gamble worked far greater at home as the Steamrollers went 19-11 at home and just 9-21 on the road. The resulting 28-32 record was a disappointment for Providence however with Calverley’s local celebrity and their home record the franchise was more successful than other franchises. The Steamrollers had the 3rd best gate receipts in the league although they would finish middle of the pack with the 7th best record. Of the 5 teams to miss the playoff only Providence and Boston would return for a second run in the BAA.

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The 1946-47 BAA Season: St. Louis Bombers

Photo: Internet Archive

Playing in St Louis meant playing for Ken Loeffler, whose previous basketball post was coaching at Yale. During his younger days, Loeffler played on the Pittsburgh Morries whom he claims “could beat any team in the country aside from the Original Celtics. During World War 2, he would serve in the pentagon as a defense attorney for those in the military. It is safe to say Ken was a smart, educated man who was equally direct and demanding. As far as coaches go, he blended the old and the new. He embraced a run and gun style like the young coaches, but pressed a hard nose defense and told his players “I’m not your coach. I’m your boss.”

Of the players in St Louis, most would play multiple years in the BAA/NBA, yet none are all that exciting from a historical perspective. Well, none except the 7’1” Ralph Siewest who lasted a mere 7 games but would be the first 7’er in the league. They were a tall team, with just one player below 6’ on the roster but height can only get teams so far. John Barr who would only make it this one year in the BAA was their only player with prior pro experience. Another John, John Logan was arguably the best of the Bomber, he was named to the All-BAA second team this season. His two-handed set shot led the Bombers in points and he dished out the most assists on the team. Bob Doll was a multi-positional big man, who anchored the Bombers defense by fronting larger offensive players, a unique tactic in this era. Outside of those three, the late addition of Belus Smawley added the team’s second-leading scoring punch with 11.9 points per game coming off St Louis’s bench.

To make up for the lack of top-end talent the Bombers employed futuristic strategies. Much of modern basketball strategies can find some flashbacks of itself in the Bombers. Believing that his team needed to run to be successful, Loeffler taught an aggressive defense, a tactic Avery Johnson would use in the mid-2000s when coaching Dallas. He also believed in using two lineups (and his whole roster) as opposed to staggering his starters. He built his starting lineup for strength to bully opponents then the bench was built to run. Phil Jackson used this strategy with the 2009 & 2010 championship Lakers. Loeffler used interchangeability, throwing every player into the post when he had the right match-up. The Bomber beat Kerr to the death line up playing without a center almost 70 years earlier while maintaining the flexibility to use a two big line up.

The even-handed almost egalitarian Bombers’ offense worked well in the regular season. With anyone able to catch fire, St Louis often confused the opposing team’s home fans by switching out their hot hand for better players. Knicks fans were confused at the benching of Cecil Hankins who had 18 on them in late November not realizing that Hankins tied his season high that night and the multiple strong scorers carried a balanced load. On the season the Bombers’ scoring was so even of their 10, 20-point players combined for 10, 20-point performances with Logan having 4 of those. The scoring diversity helped catch teams off guard in the regular season leading to a 38-23 record and the second seed in the Western Division.

The 1946-47 BAA Season: Toronto Huskies

Photo: Sports Encyclopedia

Instead of trying their luck with a retired basketball star at the helm like many teams did with former Original Celtics members, or pulling from the military, colleges, or high schools, the Toronto Huskies went all in on making NBL star, Ed Sadowski their player-coach. After being a star in the NBL for 7 seasons the 6’5” 240 lbs center seemed like a sure-fire star for the BAA, which makes him landing with the Huskies even more surprising. Sadowski wanted to play for the Knicks but at 30 years old was passed over in favor of younger talent. His second choice Boston did not reach out due to Honey Russell’s delay in recruiting. This left the door open for Toronto to swoop in with the league’s largest contract $10,000 and the privilege to make his own decisions.

 Although at the time Ed was the only player-coach in the BAA, it was not uncommon amongst other professional leagues. Many of the former Original Celtics that were now employed by the other BAA franchises got their coaching start as a player-coach. The Huskies did employ a business director, Ley Heyman who would do Sadowski’s recruiting for the team. Sadly, the rest of the team he constructed lacked substantive talent. Outside of trades, of the 17 players that made their BAA debut with the Huskies 10 never played in the BAA again. Dick Fitzgerald, Charlie Hoefer, Rey Wertis, Bob Fitzgerald, and Mike McCarron would see a second season but the 5 of them would only play a total of 41 games for the rest of their careers. Not one of them played more than 20 games. The only player whose career lasted significantly longer than the Huskies would be Ed Sadowski and his back up the 6’8” George Nostrand.

After just 12 games, the Huskies were 3-9, Sadowski had only played in 10 games in which the team would go 2-8. The game he missed was due to a shoulder injury. When asked the cause of the shoulder injury his teammates joked it was from shooting too much. Sadowski quickly grew disgruntled with his situation demanding a trade to a winning team. There were rumors he was considering going back to the NBL. During his absence, Toronto took a swing trading Nostrand to try and find a future star. The player they returned, Kleggie Hermsen, stood 6’9” and showed potential. After 6 games Sadowski would be moved to the Cleveland Rebels for their lesser version of him, Leo Mogus.

Having Mogus in the middle was not much better for the Huskies. Like Sadowski, he was a slow plodding big man who called for the ball far more than he gave it back. Still, after acquiring Mogus the Huskies would have their best 8-game stretch going 5-3. Hermsen had three 20-point games in that stretch, leading the Huskies in scoring 4 times. Things were starting to look up when the schedule shifted to tougher teams resulting in a 6-game losing streak. Just one win after the streak brought an end to their partnership with Hermsen. He asked to leave to be with his family during the birth of his son, but while away he jumped ship signing with the Baltimore Bullets in the American Basketball League.

If losing, having your first star demand out, and your second up-and-coming star quit was not enough, the Huskies had to contend with Canadian’s apathy towards basketball. After playing the Huskies, Knicks guard Sonny Hertzberg commented “it was interesting playing before Canadians. The fans did not understand what was going on at first. To them, a jump ball was like a face-off in hockey. But they started to catch on and really liked the action.” Unfortunately not enough of them caught on. Business director Ley Heyman tried every promotional gimmick he could think of post-game quizzes with prizes, booking high school teams to play before the pros, giving away stockings to the first 100 ladies, he even tried to educate Canadians by giving away free rule books. Alas with poor attendance and a lackluster team, Huskies owner Harold Shannon would disband the team following their first season.

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The 1946-47 BAA Season: Washington Capitols

Photo: Peach Basket Society

It was in Washington where the future Celtics legend, Red Auerbach would get his coaching start. At this point Auerbach was a 29-year-old nobody, coaching at Roosevelt High School. Having previously met Capitols owner Mike Uline while playing basketball in the Navy, Red approached Uline and convinced him that he could bring the best players the military had to offer. Uline, not knowing much about basketball, agreed to sign Auerbach to a cheap $5000 single-year contract and placed him in charge of all recruiting, coaching, and contract negotiating.

Unlike most teams who sought to find locals, Red believed the diversity of regional basketball styles could be blended to make a stronger team. Auerbach explained his thought process saying “my belief was that certain geographic areas produced players who excelled in certain areas of the game. Players from big cities, for example, were usually good ball handlers; so that’s where my guards came from. With few exceptions, forwards and guards who could run and drive came from the Midwest. You got your rebounders from wherever you could, but not from New York, which was mainly noteworthy for its guards. The majority of one-handed shooters, of course, came from the West Coast.”

Auerbach’s words may not have fully reflected in his roster but you can certainly see a variance in its composition. For his big man he brought in the 6’8” John “Stretch” Mahnken from New Jersey. Mahnken was such a great defensive big that during a night of smothering Boston Celtic’s Chuck Connors, Connors would say “whatever you do, John, please don’t foul me because I’m even worse free-throw shooter than a field-goal shooter.”

Bones McKinney was a fan favorite for his trick shooting and fancy fakes. It was not uncommon for McKinney to shoot free throws backward for fans’ amusement. The Chicago Stags were ready to sign Bones McKinney before Auerbach interceded. By matching the Stags’ offer, Auerbach was able to keep the North Carolina native closer to home. When the Huskies were trying to trade the lone established NBL star the BAA had lured away from the NBL, Ed Sadowski, they offered him to Washington straight up for Mahnken or Bones McKinney.

In the backcourt, the Capitols had two stars, from the West Coast, Bob Feerick, and Fred Scolari. Feerick at 6’3” had the size to play forward but had the ball handling and shooting of a guard. He led the team in scoring at 16.8 ppg while leading the league in field goal percentage hitting 40.1% of his shots.  Fred Scolari aka “Fat Freddie” was a lightning rod scorer whose heavier-set body could punish slimmer guards. Dino Martin called Scolari one of the best guards in the league.

Rounding out the rest of the rotation, Red recruited sharp shooting John Norlander, formerly of the ABL, and Irv Torgoff, a good defensive player formerly on the Philadelphia SPHAs. Red did not play much of a bench. Most nights these 6 players would carry Washington for all but a few minutes. They were so dominant that at one point the Celtics tried to buy three of the 4 starters off Washington. Reports differ on which four, some list Feerick, McKinney, Norlander, and Mahnker while others listed Scolari in Mahnker’s spot.

It is questionable how much Auerbach knew about coaching at this point and time. According to Scolari a lot of players, including McKinney and Feerick knew more than Red. However Red had two big things going for him. First, he demanded respect, establishing himself as in control of the team. Second Red played a switchable offensive style where any player could take his man to the pivot. This gave him a tactile matchup against the standard defense.

When they took the court, the Capitols lived up to Auerbach’s promise of greatness going 49-11 in the BAA. His offense ranked second in points per game. Washington’s starting five was packed with great players for the day. The New York Times described the team as having “exceptional balance is the distinguishing feature of Washington’s success.” The Capitols dominated their home court going 29-1 in the Uline Arena. Unlike many of the other teams in the BAA, the Capitols were so successful they had to pull back on promotions. A popular promotion for 50-cent tickets for women on Ladies’ night would commonly be canceled due to too much interest in the team. When the playoffs started Washington was the heavy favorite to win it all.

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The 1947 BAA Playoffs

Looking at the original playoff format for the BAA it is a bit jarring. Instead of competing against your own conference first the respective 1-seeds, 2-seeds, and 3-seeds, from the opposing conferences competed against each other. The 1-seeds engaged in a best of seven series while the 2-seeds and 3-seeds played a best of 3 where the winners would face off against each other in another best of 3, before finally facing the winner of the 1-seeds in a best of 7. This somewhat confusing practice was mirrored the playoff format used in the National Hockey League at the time.

The 1947 BAA Playoffs: First Round

New York Knicks versus Cleveland Rebels

It is always a shame to see a series marred by injuries and absentees. Even the earliest series in BAA history was marred by “what ifs” and “If only’s”. Prior to the playoff, the Rebels had routinely beaten the Knicks, winning 4 out of their 6 regular season matchups. However, the Knicks had hope, in the teams’ most recent meeting, on March 16th they bested Cleveland by 12 points. This win was not a fluke, Cleveland’s leading guard Frankie Baumholtz had left the team to head to spring training for the Cincinnati Reds. He would be the first major absentee.

The second player to miss the series would be Ossie Schechtman, who after scoring 12 points to end the regular season would be rushed to the hospital for immediate surgery on a ruptured intestine. Although he would recover, Schechtman, the man who scored the first basket in league history would never play in the league again.

In Game 1, Knorek seemed unable to overcome the 25-pound advantage in Sadowski’s favor. Big Ed pushed Knorek around collecting 24 of the Rebels’ 77 points.  The absence of Schechtman showed for New York would struggle to generate offense, only scoring 51 points at home. Instead of the Knicks having a two-pronged attack from the guards, Cleveland was able to focus its defense on Hertzberg holding him scoreless. Defensive credit was given to both Nick Shaback and Kenny Sailors who in turn tossed in 13 points.

Game 2 would be as the New York Times described a “banner night” for the Knicks’ Stan Stutz in Cleveland. The 5’10” Stutz found his way to the foul line 16 times, converting on 14 attempts on his way to 30 points. Scoring 30 points in a game was something that only occurred 26 times during the regular season and playoffs combined in the 1946-47 season. With Stulz’s great game and the early exit of Kenny Sailors after scoring just 2 points, the Knicks easily won game 2. Bud Palmer added in 22 points for the Knicks.

Sailors’ early exit was not just due to foul trouble. He had been informed his wife was ill and needed to rush home. Her illness lasted through Game 3 causing Sailors to not travel back to New York. Without Sailors, the Rebels were hard pressed to generate offense, and lacked enough defensive coverage to limit Stultz and Hertzberg. The Knicks won easily 93-71, with Palmer and Stultz scoring 26 and 25 points respectively.

If Cleveland had been at full strength, they likely would have pushed past the Knicks. Rebel’s owner Al Sutphin would disband the Rebels after this failed playoff run. He had hoped a good playoff performance would have helped with team finances but losing so soon ended that dream. If Sailors had traveled to New York or if Blaumholtz had played, could we still have the Cleveland Rebels?

St. Louis Bombers versus Philadelphia Warriors

With the regular season series split 3-3 this series was viewed as a tossup. The Bombers had a better regular season record against the rest of the league, however, in head-to-head match ups, the Warriors outscored them by 404 to 383. As evenly matched as the Warriors and Bombers were, their styles were completely different. The Bomber’s starless team prided itself on its defense, while the Warriors with the first true superstar Joe Fulks, played defense to support their star’s scoring.

In this best of 3 setup, the team with the worst record hosted game 1, while the team with the superior record hosted games 2 and 3. Game 1 in Philadelphia was described as a nip-and-tuck affair by the New York Times. Fulks struggled with Bob Doll’s tough defense. When the night ended, he was held to just 17 points, 6 below his average on a terrible 6 for 27 shooting. Still, the Warriors pulled out the home game 73-68. Bombers’ coach Ken Loeffler believed things would be different in St Louis saying “Our players have always let the Philly fans get the best of them… but there will be a different story when we return to St Louis.”  Over the course of the regular season the Warriors were 24-7 at home but just 11-18 on the rough.

As the series shifted to St. Louis Loeffler looked to be proven right. Fulk’s struggles continued as he picked up 4 fouls early and shot just 2-15 on the night. He was not the only Warrior to struggle shooting, as a team Philadelphia would make just 14 field goals. Belus Smawley led the Bombers with 17 as they routed the Warriors 73 to 51.

After two great defensive games against Fulks, in Game 3 Bob Doll would put up one absolute sinker of an outing. Not only would Fulks shake loose scoring 24 points but Doll would go 1 for 12 from the floor. As lopsided as game two was, Game 3 ended with a similar score but a different victor, as Philadelphia would win 75 to 59.

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The 1947 BAA Playoffs: Semifinals

New York Knicks versus Philadelphia Warriors

The Knicks Warriors series helps to illustrate the flawed method of this playoff format. By having the same seeds from opposite divisions face each other in the first round, the Semifinals took place between the Eastern divisions 2 and 3 seeds. Although the two teams finished within 2 games of each other in the win’s column Philadelphia had beaten the Knicks 4 out of their 6 matchups. Added to the Knicks’ underdog narrative was the absence of their leading playmaker Ossie Schectman.

Game 1 started with a blistering pace. Angelo Musi scored on 3 of the Warriors’ first 5 possessions. Between the two teams, 210 field goals were attempted. In comparison teams last season averaged just 88.1 field goals per game. Although the Knicks would get within 3 points of the Warriors during the third quarter, Philadelphia kept the lead in large part due to free throws. The Warriors would make 24 of their 26 attempts from the charity stripe, while the Knicks faltered making just 18 of 26. Ultimately the Warriors would pull away winning Game 1 at home 82 to 70.

In Game 2 Knicks coach Cohalan tried starting the 6’10” Bob Cluggish to provide better defense against Joe Fulks who had led the Warriors with 24 points. Cohalan’s strategy backfired. Sluggish was too slow to keep up with Fulks allowing the Warriors to jump out to an 18-4 lead in the first quarter.  Meanwhile, the Knicks’ shooting could only be described as atrocious even by 1947 standards. At half time the Knicks had attempted 72 shots from the floor but only converted 7 of them. Adding insult to injury, they converted just 5 of their 14 free throws at that point. Warriors would handle the second half, cruising to a 72-53 win.

Chicago Stags versus Washington Capitols

Given how dominant the Capitols had been all season long, this series was expected to be an easy victory for Washington. During the regular season, Red Auerbach and the Capitols bested the Stags in 5 of their 6 matchups by an average margin of 15.2 points per game. Given their dominance, the Stags taking Game 1 was a shocker.

Combo wing Tony Jaros played arguably his best game as a pro. He scored 29 points, a total he had never reached and would never reach again in his next three seasons in the league. The game seemed a bit off. The Chicago stars Max Zaslofsky and Don Carlson combined for just 13 points while Bones McKinney made just 1 shot from the floor for the Captiols. He and Fred Scolari would finish in foul trouble while John Mahnken fouled out. Chicago coach Olsen contributed to the win by replacing Rottner in the starting lineup with 6’4” Chuck Gilmur, a defense player known as “the bad man of basketball” due to his pension for aggressive fouls. “He played nothing but center all season but putting him in with Halbert we had more height and more control of the backboard,” said Olsen. Red Auerbach thought Washington was simply too confident.

Game 2 was a physical match-up. Gilmur held McKinney without a field goal for the first time in McKinney’s professional life. Bones was not the only Capitol unable to hit the mark. As a team, Washington shot a mere 1 for 22 in the first quarter and just 16 for 91 in the game. The D.C. newspaper The Evening Star dubbed this game the “Cap’s worst game ever.”

Prior to Game 3, Red addressed the Washington press saying they had been too slow at subbing and would use more of the bench in the teams’ third meeting. Game 3 started slightly better for the Capitols with them taking an early lead however by the end of the first they were down 19-12. A hot third quarter from Don Carlson helped Chicago establish an 11-point lead the team would never lose going into the fourth. Chicago now possessed a 3-0 lead. Only John Norlander believed Washington could make the comeback.

For a few minutes, Norlander appeared right. In Game 4, McKinney was finally able to get free, scoring 15 of the Capitols’ 76 points. Chicago’s big three of Zaslofsky, Carlson, and Halbert thrived. Scoring 59 of the Stags’ 69 points, but Jaros who had been hot all series averaging 15.7 points per game in the first three meetings scored just 2 points.  Game 4 would also go the Capitol’s way. McKinney, Feerick, and Norlander would combine to score 12 points in the final 2 and half minutes, extending the Capitols’ lead from 3 points up to 12 at the end of the game.

Unfortunately for Washington, winning four straight was not in the cards for the Capitols. Halbert and Zaslosky carried the Stags to a 66-61 victory in Game 6, but there was a fair amount of discord in Washington over Chicago’s victory. A higher than usual number of fouls had been called on Washington all by referee Nat Messenger. Midway through the third, the Capitols had a 6-point advantage when “the Stags made a parade to the foul line” according to Norlander. In August it would be revealed that Messenger was betting on the Stags to win the series. Unlike modern series where referees rotate, Messenger had been assigned to officiate every game of this series. The heavy favorite for the BAA championship was dispatched by a crooked ref, costing Red his first ring and forever altering NBA history.

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The 1947 BAA Playoffs: Finals

Chicago Stags versus Philadelphia Warriors

Chicago entered the first BAA finals as the favorites after beating the Warriors in 5 out of their 6 regular season meetings. All of these games were close. No game was decided by more than 6 points except for the lone Warriors win, which happened to be these teams’ most recent meeting. Another warning sign Chicago fans should have noticed heading into the series was Philadelphia was the worst match-up for their stars Max Zaslofsky and Chick Halbert who averaged fewer points per game against the Warriors than any other team during the regular season. On the other side for Philadelphia, Joe Fulks thrived against the Stags. He scored over 30 points in 3 of 6 games. Considering scoring 30 points only happened 23 times by any player, during the regular season, Having the same player does it to the Stags in half their matchups should have been a bad omen.

Game 1 should have been played in Chicago due to the Stags’ superior record, however, the Chicago Stadium was playing host to the circus, so the Finals tipped off in Philadelphia instead. The. Jumping out to an early 20-12 lead at the end of the first, the Warriors would never trail. Chicago’s gambit of playing Chuck Gilmur increased minutes to slow a hot shooting player worked against Washington’s Bone McKinney backfired against Joe Fulks. Fulks played one of his best games all season scoring 29 of his 37 points in the second half, on 41.9% shooting for the game.

After Game 1 was played on April 16th, Game 2 was played on April 17th. Yes, the first BAA Finals had back-to-back games as an opener. While Fulks slowed down in Game 2, tossing in just 13 points, two out of Chicago’s big three had an atrocious game. Zaslofsky, Halbert, and Don Carlson would all be held scoreless during the first period. Halbert bounced back, finishing the game with 18 points. Zaslofsky could not buy a basket hitting just 1 of his 19 attempts from the floor. Carlson managed 4 for 24 shooting on the night. As a team, the Stags attempted 150 shots in the game and converted just 30.

For Game 3 the series made its way to Chicago. The saying basketball is a game of runs is held very true in this game. There were multiple points where the Warriors would string together double-digit scoring runs. Each time they did Chicago would claw their way back in. At the end of each quarter, the score was always within a basket. After Fulks scored a quick 11 points in the first quarter, Gilmur’s defense would hold him to just 5 points in the second and third combined. The Stags found some offense by feeding Halbert. He helped put the Warriors in foul trouble. Still, when the Warriors needed a bucket most, Fulks came through stretching the lead to 5 with seconds remaining.

Game 4 would be another back-to-back. While there would be fewer fouls called in this game than the previous one, Halbert’s play in the pivot helped to foul out Art Hillhouse, the Warriors starting center. Fulks would also spend most of the game in foul trouble including sitting out most of the third quarter.  With Philadelphia’s two biggest players in foul trouble, Zaslofsky and Carlson had what must have felt like a field day, combining for 38 points hitting 18 of their 36 shots from the field. Taking game 4 at home gave the Stags some room to hope. Gilmur had shown he may be able to slow Fulks, Halbert kept Arthouse in foul trouble, and Howie Dallmar was having foot calluses.

Game 5 was particularly close. Entering the fourth down by 5 the Warriors would fight hard to tie things up. A Howie Dallmar shot gave the Warriors a 2-point advantage in the closing moment. Then what was supposed to be a free throw by Petey Rosenberg sealed the game for the Warriors. Petey Rosenberg had not made a basket all series and was the player who should have attempted the game-sealing free throw, however, Eddie Gottlieb quickly switched out Rosenberg for Kaplowitz who was 5 for 5 from the line during the game.

Neither official realized the change, and Philadelphia won the championship. After winning this first BAA Championships Fulks simply said he would be heading home soon because as he put it “I‘m already two weeks late in planting my potato crop.”

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Podcast host for Hoops Temple and blogger for Temple Entertainment and Media. Studied Kinesiology with an emphasis on sports psychology and coaching basketball at Michigan State University. Coached at the High School level for 8 seasons.

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