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Hoops Thru The Years

1942-43 Recap

BACKGROUND

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)

 

 

1941-42 Recap

BACKGROUND

During the bulk of the 1941 calendar year, the U.S. had, by initiating the Lend-Lease program with Great Britain, more involved in the war and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 would officially drive the nation into World War II. By December 7, the NBL season had been underway for around a month, but the impact of the nation's preparation for war had already made an impact and entry into the war would only accelerate the effects.

Many NBL players had joined reserve units and some had enlisted in one of the active duty branches of the armed forces. But it was not only players that were effected. The Detroit Eagles were forced to drop out of the league when their home court, the Naval Armory, was closed to them so it could be used for its intended military purposes. With no home court available, the team was forced to leave the NBL. Also dropping out were the Hammond Ciesars. but the biggest surprise was the loss of the powerhouse Akron Firestone Non-Skids when the Firestone Company decided to no longer sponsor a club. Many of Akron's top-flight players would quickly land with other teams.

Returning to the NBL was the Indianapolis Kautsky club after a one-year stint as a touring team. Two other clubs would sign on as well - the Toledo Jim White Chevrolets came on board as well as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons. Fred Zollner, who had founded a team the year before, had first wanted to schedule some exhibitions against the NBL clubs, but league president Jim Fischer traveled to Fort Wayne and convinced Zollner to join the league as a full-fledged member. Of course the Pistons would go on to become a cornerstone of what would eventually evolve into the National Basketball Association and are still playing today.

Larry Gladstone landed with the Jim White Chevrolets as did Alphonse Berube, giving the new Toledo entry some much-needed proven talent. Fred Zollner quickly moved to ink Al Ceron, the three-time MVP, to be the cornerstone of his team and added Joe Novak, the former Hammond star as well. The Kautskys brought a handful of the players they had when they last played in the NBL back with them (Larry Ratliff, Basil Norman, Jimmy O'Bannon and most importantly Carl Brown) and bolstered them with fresh finds from their touring days as well as a few warm bodies from now defunct teams.

THE 1941-42 SEASON

The Zollner Pistons proved to be a good addition to the NBL. Led by forward Joe Novak (who came over after the Hammond Ciesar All-Americans hung it up) and his 17.5 points per game and featuring a defense anchored by three-time MVP Al Ceron (who finished .1 behind Charlie Moss' league-leading 15.0 rebounds per game), Fort Wayne finished with a 15-9 mark. That record tied them with the resurgent Akron Goodyear club. The Wingfoots hadn't added much in the way of extra firepower, but the players they had strung it all together - they had Palladino who while failing to lead the league in scoring for the first time in three seasons, still led the team with a 17.9 mark (good for third place) and a big man tandem of Lon Sweet (12.8 rpg) and Pat Grogan (11.9) a pair of veterans in the middle. Point guard Elmer Williams and forward Michael Townsend completed the starting five for the Wingfoots.

Finishing third was the ever-powerful Oshkosh squad (featuring MVP Charlie Moss and Rookie of the Year Theo Bastian) with Sheboygan filling out the fourth playoff seed. And it would be Sheboygan who would ultimately claim the title, easily dispatching the Wingfoots in two games and then taking down the Zollner Pistons in three games. 

The seasonal awards went to:

MVP: C Charlie Moss (Oshkosh)
Rookie of the Year: F Theo Bastian (Oshkosh)
Coach of the Year: Ken White (Fort Wayne)
All-League Team: C Charlie Moss, F Al Ceron (Fort Wayne), F Larry Ratliff (Indianapolis), G Jim Smith (Sheboygan), G Elmer Williams (Akron Goodyear)

 

 

1940-41 Recap

BACKGROUND

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)