The war's impact was fully felt for the first time - but not the last - in the NBL (as in the rest of the country) in the 1942-43 season. With many colleges giving up athletics during the war, and many professional athletes either drafted or enlisted in the armed forces, the NBL (like Major League Baseball and the NFL) pondered shutting down during the war. But the government encouraged the professional athletic leagues to continue during the war for morale purposes and so the league, like the country at large, soldiered on.
The war did have a definite impact on the league's structure however. Like the Firestone Company, Goodyear discontinued its athletic program and the Wingfoots left the NBL much like the Non-Skids had - on the heels of a strong season. The Chicago Bruins also departed with team owners George Halas and Bill Bidwell deciding that pro basketball wasn't for them (although pro football certainly was). Those departures left just four teams: Fort Wayne, Oshkosh, Sheboygan and Toledo. A fifth team was formed when the United Auto Workers at the massive Studebaker factory in Chicago decided to enter the league. The factory itself had been converted to war industry but the UAW felt that a pro basketball team would make a good diversion. So the NBL went into the 1942-43 season with five teams and a 24-game schedule.
History was made in this somewhat jury-rigged season - for the first time black and white players would play together on NBL courts as both Toledo and Chicago featured integrated rosters. Toledo signed Ernie Barnett from New York, a former member of the Globetrotters and Casey Price, a local player who had briefly played at Purdue. Chicago signed Jimmy Franklin, a talented guard from Pittsburgh. True (or permanent) integration was still a distant dream, but the foundations were laid in 1942.
THE 1942-43 SEASON
On the court where many of the league's familiar faces were missing due to military service, it was Sheboygan who turned in the best performance. Jim Smith, 33 years old and married, was still with the team - a big advantage that the Redskins used to good effect. The best passer in basketball to that point, Smith dished out seven assists per game and bolstered that with 8.5 rebounds and 13.2 points per game as well. Joe Palladino now with the Studebaker club after Goodyear's fold, again finished third in scoring. The big surprise came in who led the league in scoring: forward Jerry Conway, who had been a bit player in three previous seasons with one brief appearance three times - once for the White Horse club and twice for the Detroit Eagles, scoring a total of two baskets - became a big player for the Zollner Pistons, playing every game and posting a robust 18.0 scoring average. Al Ceron (16.8) and Charlie Moss (15.4) again were the top rebounders and Smith led the way in assists.
Toledo and Oshkosh each finished at 13-11, one game behind Sheboygan with Chicago's Studebaker Flyers finishing at 12-12 for fourth place. The Zollner Pistons struggled to an 8-16 mark with a roster heavily depleted by wartime departures.
Jim Smith played superbly in the abbreviated, single-round of playoffs, leading Sheboygan to a two-game sweep of Toledo and the 1943 NBL championship.
The seasonal awards went to:
MVP: C Charlie Moss (Oshkosh) - repeat winner
Rookie of the Year: G Jimmy Franklin (Chicago)
Coach of the Year: Tony Phillips (Sheboygan)
All-League Team: C Charlie Moss, F Rich Clark (Oshkosh), F Woody Johnson (Chicago), G Jim Smith (Sheboygan), G Ronnie Robbins (Fort Wayne)