In 1935 a grocer from Indianapolis teamed up with the athletic & recreation director for the Akron-based Firestone Tire & Rubber company to form a basketball league. Their creation was dubbed the Midwestern Basketball Conference and would last just two years before that grocer (Frank Kautsky), rec director (Paul Sheeks) and several other officials would aim for the big time by renaming their organization the National Basketball League.
The NBL would debut in the fall of 1937 with 13 clubs. About half the member clubs were tied to industrial or business concerns with a large percentage (sometimes all) of the players being actual employees of the business. Among these were the Akron Firestone Non-Skids and their crosstown rivals the Goodyear Wingfoots, the General Electric's club (dubbed the Electrics), and the Columbus (OH) Athletic Supply company alongside smaller business-owned returnees from the Midwest Conference in the Indianapolis Kautskys, Warren Penns and Whiting Ciesars (from Pennsylvania and Indiana respectively). Joining these clubs were teams from Pittsburgh, Dayton, Buffalo, Kankakee (IL), Richmond (IN) and Oshkosh (WI). Split into a seven-team Western Division and six-team Eastern Division, the NBL would start small but eventually succeed in going national, albeit with a different name and pedigree.
THE FIRST SEASON
Early favorites for the first season of the NBL were the Firestone Non-Skids and their rivals from Goodyear in the East and the Electrics in the West. The big unknown was the Oshkosh club which would compete in the West and which looked like it could be a formidable assemblage of talent. In fact, only some of the preseason expectations were met - the Non-Skids were strong, taking first place in the East, but the Wingfoots struggled to a last-place finish; and while the Electrics were good, Oshkosh was great, posting the league's best mark and winning the west by one game.
Oshkosh featured the league's best player in center Charlie Moss. Moss was the league's lone double-figure scorer (10.8 points per game) and also led the circuit in rebounds at 11.3 per contest. Oshkosh also had a talented guard tandem in Izzy Feingold and Larry Lemon. The Non-Skids won the East with a strong front court (C Pat Grogan and PF Al Ceron both topped 10 rebounds per game and Ceron was second to Moss with 11.1 per game) and solid guards Larry Gladstone and Alphonse Berube. Other top players were Uly Jackson of the Kautskys, Danny LeCompte of the Electrics and Ed Barnes of the Penns.
The division winners would meet the runners-up in a best-of-three series to determine the championship matchup and it was here that the General Electrics got their revenge on the upstarts from Oshkosh. With center Jack Read playing dominant defense on Moss, the Electrics downed the All-Stars by scores of 31-27 and 31-19 to advance to the championship round. The Non-Skids also had trouble with their divisional foe, needing three games to defeat the Warren Penns. With the championship matchup featuring the two teams expected to be there, there was plenty of anticipation for the finals and the series lived up to the hype.
The Elecrtics captured the first game by a final of 31-28 in Akron. The Non-Skids returned the favor on the Electrics' home court in Fort Wayne, forcing a third game by eking out a 34-33 win on a late basket by star center Pat Grogan. The series shifted back to Akron for the third and final game, and once again the road team would take the victory. This time the Electrics played stifling defense to earn a 27-18 win. Read earned playoff MVP honors for his strong play that included good defense against both Oshkosh's Charlie Moss and Akron's Pat Grogan and his work on the boards where he posted 12.8 rebounds for the five games played.
Other seasonal awards went to:
MVP: C Charlie Moss, Oshkosh All-Stars
Rookie of the Year: Danny LeCompte, Fort Wayne General Electrics
Coach of the Year: Bill Carter, Warren Penns
All-League Team: C Charlie Moss, F Al Ceron (Firestone Non-Skids), F Uly Jackson (Indianapolis Kautskys), G Ed Barnes (Warren Penns), G Alphonse Berube (Firestone)