The U.S. economy improved in 1940 as the recovery from the Great Depression continued. But while things were better at home, the news from abroad was worse as the Second World War continued and though the U.S. was not part of the conflict, many Americans - including professional basketball players - went to Canada to enlist in the fight against the Nazis.
The NBL shrunk - briefly - to six teams when the Indianapolis Kautskys and Detroit Eagles both dropped out. The Kautskys elected to go the barnstorming route, and scheduled games with NBL members (which of course did not count as league competition) but the Eagles dropped out because they were unable to secure a home arena in which to play. Once that situation was rectified (nearly at the last minute) and new backing secured (by a member of the Chrysler Motors board, a banker and an auto dealer) the Eagles returned to the fold and the NBL competed in 1940-41 as a seven-team circuit with all teams in one division.
Oshkosh was again expected to be the class of the league. The All-Stars had again competed in the "World Professional Tournament" - and again lost the final, this time to the Harlem Globetrotters (who were not yet the "Clown Princes of Basketball" but rather a legitimate and very solid touring club). And the NBL season debut actually was pushed back in 1940 because for the first-time ever a College All-Star team would face the World Pro Tourney champs and many new NBL players were part of the Collegiate squad. Leading the way was F Al Malone of Washington State (and a Chicago Bruin to be), but he was just the biggest name among a group that included NBL rookies Jim Lambert (Firestone), Michael Townsend (Goodyear), Rick Clark (Detroit) and Pierre D'Arcy (Oshkosh).
THE 1940-41 SEASON
Oshkosh got off to a fast start, but fell into a midseason funk that saw them plummet to fifth-place, finishing with an 11-13 mark. The void at the top was quickly filled by the Firestones, who topped the league with a strong 18-6 record behind another solid campaign from Larry Gladstone who again finished second in scoring to Goodyear's Joe Palladino (17.0 ppg), with a 13.4 average. One of Akron's biggest difference makers came in the form of F Jerry Daniels, who upped his game and teamed with center Al Ceron to give the Firestone Non-Skids the league's top two rebounders. Ceron led the way with 14.5 per game and anything he missed, Daniel cleaned up with 13.1 boards per contest. With point guard Alphonse Berube continuing his stellar play as well, the Non-Skids were easily the league's most complete team.
As a league, scoring was up with three teams topping 50 points per game, led by the Detroit Eagles at 50.7 (the Akron teams were 2-3 with the Non-Skids at 50.4 and the Wingfoots at 50.1) and the league itself averaging 48.4 points per game. Shooting also improved with the league average approaching 30 percent (.293).
Ceron won his third straight MVP award for the Non-Skids, but the team itself faltered at the worst time, losing twice to the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs. Detroit rode into the championship against Sheboygan (who had dispatched the Goodyear Wingfoots in three games), but were swept by Sheboygan and their MVP, point guard Jim Smith.
The seasonal awards went to:
MVP: PF Al Ceron, Akron Firestone Non-Skids (repeat winner)
Rookie of the Year: SF Joe Novak, Hammond Ciesar All-Americans
Coach of the Year: Tony Phillips, Sheboygan Redskins (repeat winner)
All-League Team: C Al Ceron, F Jerry Daniels (Akron Firestone), F Herb Utter (Detroit), G Jim Smith (Sheboygan), G Alphonse Berube (Firestone)