The byword for the 1939-40 season was change. War had erupted in Europe and though the United States was not involved, the war occupied the newspapers, and through the papers the minds of their American readers. Also, though the NBL teams were still largely owned and operated by business interests, more players were now able to make basketball their main and sometimes only profession - a fact borne out by the fact that of the NBL's member teams in 1939-40, only the two Akron clubs still employed their players as anything other than just basketball players. And this distinction would continue to change the sport.
The game itself also continued to grow in popularity - a "World Professional Tournament" had taken place after the conclusion of the NBL's 1938-39 season and though only the Wisconsin teams (Oshkosh and Sheboygan) participated, the All-Stars made it to the final where they lost to the New York Rens. The disappointment of coming so close weighed heavily upon the Oshkosh squad and possibly provided a bit of a spark as the club prepared for the '39-40 NBL campaign.
Both Pittsburgh and Cleveland dropped out of the league. Their replacements would also be a sign of change - the new clubs came from Chicago and Detroit, two large and heavily populated cities with long-time member clubs in Major League Baseball and also in the NFL. Detroit's Eagles in particular were expected to be a strong contender in the Eastern division. Chicago's Bruins however found themselves stuck in the West with very strong - and hungry - teams in Sheboygan and Oshkosh.
THE 1939-40 SEASON
The Akron Firestones found themselves in a dogfight immediately. Not only were the Detroit Eagles competitive - they were in fact very strong. Led by guard Lenny Hendrix and bolstered by a trio of the best players from the defunct Cleveland White Horse club (Ed Barnes, Freddie Thomas and Frank Moline), the Eagles were front-runners for the entirety of the season and won the East with an 18-10 mark, three games better than the Wingfoots. Akron Goodyear (despite having Joe Palladino again lead the league in scoring) actually dropped into a last-place tie with the Kautskys, but with 13-15 records, the East was a very balanced division.
The same could not be said of the West where the All-Stars and Redskins were good and the Bruins and Ciesars were not. Oshkosh powered to a 19-9 mark with Sheboygan right behind them at 18-10. As usual Charlie Moss and Izzy Feingold did fine work for Oshkosh but it was the emergence of guard Hobie Adams that really put Oshkosh over the top. Adams provided a third scoring option beside Moss and Feingold and made the All-Stars very difficult to contain. Sheboygan point guard Jim Smith led the league in assists with a robust 7.2 per game (and added a very strong 8.8 rpg as well) and first-year forward Frank McCue led the Redskins with 8.3 points per game.
Oshkosh continued their strong play in the playoffs - easily defeating first Sheboygan and then the Firestones to capture their first NBL title. Charlie Moss captured playoff MVP honors.
Low scores continued to be the norm and only three players: Palladino (13.4), Moline (12.4) and Firestone's guard Larry Gladstone (10.2) averaged double-figures in scoring.
The seasonal awards went to:
MVP: PF Al Ceron, Akron Firestone Non-Skids (repeat winner)
Rookie of the Year: C Red Reilley, Ciesar
Coach of the Year: Tony Phillips, Sheboygan Redskins (repeat winner)
All-League Team: C Al Ceron, F Frank Moline (Detroit), F Pat Grogan (Akron Firestone), G Jim Smith (Sheboygan), G Alphonse Berube (Firestone)