National Basketball League (United States)
National Basketball League (NBL) Sport Basketball Founded 1937 No. of teams 38 Country(ies) United States Continent FIBA Americas (Americas) Ceased 1949 Last champion(s) Anderson Packers (1st title) Most titles 2 titles each:
Akron Firestone Non-Skids
Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons
Founded in 1937, the National Basketball League, often abbreviated to NBL, was a professional men's basketball league in the United States. The league would later merge with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949.
The NBL started with thirteen previously independent teams in 1937. The league began as the Midwest Basketball Conference in 1935, but changed its name in 1937 in an attempt to attract a larger audience. The league was created by three corporations: General Electric, Firestone and Goodyear. It was primarily made up of Great Lakes area small-market and corporate teams. The NBL lasted twelve years before merging with the three-year-old Basketball Association of America in 1949, with the resulting combination being renamed the National Basketball Association.
The league began rather informally. Scheduling was left to the discretion of each of the nine teams, as long as the team played at least ten games and four of them were on the road. Games consisted either of four ten-minute quarters or three fifteen-minute periods. The choice was made by the home team. Some of the teams were independent, while others were owned by companies that also found jobs for their players.
The history of the NBL falls into three eras, each contributing significantly to the growth of professional basketball and the emergence of the NBA. The first dynasty centered on the Oshkosh All-Stars. The middle years saw the emergence of the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, who were later instrumental in the survival of the NBA during its infancy. The final period of note during the NBL's existence centered around George Mikan and the emergence of the big man in basketball.
The Oshkosh All-Stars, who appeared in the championship series five consecutive years (1938–42) and won two titles, were led by rugged 6' 4" (1.93 m) center Leroy "Cowboy" Edwards. He led the NBL in scoring three consecutive years (1937–40).
The Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons—so nicknamed because they were owned by Fred Zollner, whose company made pistons for engines—were led by tough veteran Bobby McDermott. The Pistons finished second in 1942 and 1943 and won the league title in 1944 and 1945. Like many teams of that era, it wasn't uncommon for Fort Wayne to play its games in taverns, armories, high-school gyms or ballrooms.
Under Zollner, the Pistons would eventually play an important role in the survival and growth of the NBA. Zollner's financial support of the NBA helped the league stay afloat during its tumultuous formative years.
Challenging the Zollner Pistons for supremacy were the Sheboygan Red Skins. Beginning in 1941, the season before Fort Wayne joined the NBL, Sheboygan appeared in five championship series in six seasons. They lost to Oshkosh in the 1941 finals, beat Fort Wayne for the title in 1943, but lost to the Zollner Pistons in 1944 and 1945. In 1946, Sheboygan was swept in the finals by the league's newest member, the powerhouse Rochester Royals, who boasted Hall of Famers Al Cervi, Bob Davies and Red Holzman.
The NBL's third era was dominated by Mikan, the 6'10" (2.08 m), three-time All-American center from DePaul who would emerge as the dominant player in the game. As a rookie, Mikan led the Chicago American Gears to the 1947 NBL title, but before the next season, owner Maurice White pulled his team out of the league and formed his own 24-team circuit called the National Professional Basketball League. That venture quickly failed, and Mikan was signed by the NBL's Minneapolis Lakers, where he teamed with the versatile Jim Pollard to win the 1948 championship.
After the 1947–48 season, Mikan's Lakers and three other NBL clubs left to join the Basketball Association of America (Rochester, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis). Stripped of its best teams and prime gate attraction, the NBL lasted only one more season, the Anderson Duffey Packers winning the league's last championship before six of its members were absorbed by the BAA, which changed its name to the National Basketball Association.
The NBL added an all-black team in December of its final season, when one of its replacement clubs folded, the Detroit Vagabond Kings. That franchise was awarded to a famous barnstorming team, the New York Rens, composed entirely of African Americans, to play out the season in Dayton, Ohio as the Dayton Rens. (The BAA was still all-white and the NBA continued as an all-white league.)
The NBL obviously contributed significantly to the foundation of the NBA, but it also had major accomplishments in other areas, most notably in offering opportunities for African-American players. In the 1942–43 season, with many players in the armed forces, two NBL clubs, the Toledo Jim White Chevrolets and the Chicago Studebakers, filled their rosters by signing African-Americans—five years before Jackie Robinson would break baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Neither team fared well. Toledo signed several black players to start the season, including Bill Jones, who had starred at the University of Toledo, but the team lost its first four games and folded due to financial difficulties. Chicago stocked its roster with several members of the Harlem Globetrotters, who worked during the week at the Studebaker plant, but it also folded after compiling an 8–15 record.
Five current NBA teams trace their history back to the NBL. Three teams joined the NBA in 1948: the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers), the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings), and the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons). Two more teams joined the NBA in 1949: the Buffalo Bisons/Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now the Atlanta Hawks), and the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers).
Five former NBA teams also trace their history back to the NBL: the Anderson Packers, Denver Nuggets, Indianapolis Jets (as the Kautskys), Sheboygan Red Skins and Waterloo Hawks played in the BAA/NBA.
The NBL also created the Indianapolis Olympians for the 1949-50 NBA season. When the NBL and BAA merged, this team joined the NBA without playing a single NBL game.
Also still surviving are the Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, the initial NBL Champion in 1938. The Wingfoots suspended operations for World War II and were not included in the NBL/BAA merger. Instead, they remained in the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL), which in 1961 became the National AAU Basketball League (NABL). The Wingfoots are still an AAU Elite team in the NABL.
All-time NBL teams
Note: * denotes a team currently playing in the NBA.
- Akron Firestone Non-Skids (1937–41)
- Akron Goodyear Wingfoots (1937–42)
- Anderson Duffey Packers (1946–49)
- Buffalo Bisons (1946)*
- Chicago Bruins (1939–42)
- Chicago Studebaker Flyers (1942–43)
- Chicago American Gears (1944–47)
- Cincinnati Comellos (1937–38)
- Cleveland Chase Brassmen (1943–44)
- Cleveland Allmen Transfers (1944–46)
- Columbus Athletic Supply (1938–39)
- Dayton Metropolitans (1937–38)
- Denver Nuggets (1948–49)
- Detroit Eagles (1939–41)
- Detroit Gems (1946–47)*
- Detroit Vagabond Kings/Dayton Rens (1948–49)
- Flint Dow A.C.'s/Midland Dow A.C.'s (1947–48)
- Fort Wayne General Electrics (1937–38)
- Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons (1941–48)*
- Hammond Ciesar All-Americans (1938–41)
- Hammond Calumet Buccaneers (1948–49)
- Indianapolis Kautskys (1937–48)
- Kankakee Gallagher Trojans (1937–38)
- Minneapolis Lakers (1947–48)*
- Oshkosh All-Stars (1937–49)
- Pittsburgh Pirates (1937–39)
- Pittsburgh Raiders (1944–45)
- Richmond King Clothiers became Cincinnati Comellos (1937–38)
- Rochester Royals (1945–48)*
- Sheboygan Red Skins (1938–49)
- Syracuse Nationals (1946–49)*
- Toledo Jim White Chevrolets (1941–43)
- Toledo Jeeps (1946–48)
- Tri-Cities Blackhawks (1946–49)*
- Warren Penns (1937–38)
- Warren Penns/Cleveland White Horses (1938–39)
- Waterloo Hawks (1948–49)
- Whiting Ciesar All-Americans (1937–38)
- Youngstown Bears (1945–47)
All-time scoring leaders
* Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Rank Player Team(s) Games Points PPG 1 Bobby McDermott* Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, Chicago American Gears, Sheboygan Redskins, Tri-Cities Blackhawks 287 3,583 12.48 2 Leroy Edwards Oshkosh All-Stars, Indianapolis Kautskys 322 3,221 10.00 3 Gene Englund Oshkosh All-Stars 238 2,600 10.92 4 Ed Dancker Sheboygan Redskins, Oshkosh All-Stars 321 2,490 7.76 5 Al Cervi* Buffalo Bisons, Richmond King Clothiers, Syracuse Nationals 187 2,326 12.44 6 Don Otten Buffalo Bisons, Tri-Cities Blackhawks 168 2,292 13.64 7 Michael Novak Chicago American Gears, Sheboygan Redskins, Syracuse Nationals 267 2,279 8.54 8 Bob Carpenter Oshkosh All-Stars, Hammond Ciesar All-Americans 209 2,140 10.24 9 George Glamack Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, Rochester Royals, Indianapolis Kautskys, Hammond Calumet Buccaneers 202 2,138 10.58 10 Jake Pelkington Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 226 1,949 8.62 11 Charles Shipp Akron Firestone Non-Skids, Oshkosh All-Stars, Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, Waterloo Hawks 376 1,935 5.15 12 Stanley Patrick Chicago ?, Midland Dow A.C.'s, Hammond Calumet Buccaneers 212 1,765 8.33 13 George Mikan* Chicago American Gears, Minneapolis Lakers 81 1,608 19.85 14 Arnie Risen* Indianapolis Kautskys, Rochester Royals, Toledo Jeeps 123 1,606 13.06 15 Howie Schultz Anderson Packers 165 1,600 9.70
Year Winner Finals Loser Games 1937–38 Akron Goodyear Wingfoots Oshkosh All-Stars 2–1 1938–39 Akron Firestone Non-Skids Oshkosh All-Stars 3–2 1939–40 Akron Firestone Non-Skids Oshkosh All-Stars 3–2 1940–41 Oshkosh All-Stars Sheboygan Red Skins 3–0 1941–42 Oshkosh All-Stars Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 2–1 1942–43 Sheboygan Red Skins Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 2–1 1943–44 Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons Sheboygan Red Skins 3–0 1944–45 Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons Sheboygan Red Skins 3–2 1945–46 Rochester Royals Sheboygan Red Skins 3–0 1946–47 Chicago American Gears Rochester Royals 3–2 1947–48 Minneapolis Lakers Rochester Royals 3–1 1948–49 Anderson Packers Oshkosh All-Stars 3–0
Season leaders and awards
* Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
Season Player Team(s) Points PPG 1937–38 Leroy Edwards Oshkosh All-Stars 210 16.2 1938–39 Leroy Edwards (2) Oshkosh All-Stars 334 11.9 1939–40 Leroy Edwards (3) Oshkosh All-Stars 361 12.9 1940–41 Ben Stephens Akron Goodyear Wingfoots 265 11.0 1941–42 Chuck Chuckovits Toledo Jim White Chevrolets 406 18.5 1942–43 Bobby McDermott* Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 316 13.7 1943–44 Mel Riebe Cleveland Chase Brassmen 323 17.9 1944–45 Mel Riebe (2) Cleveland Allmen Transfers 607 20.2 1945–46 Bob Carpenter Oshkosh All-Stars 473 13.9 1946–47 Al Cervi* &
Rochester Royals &
Chicago American Gears
632 16.5 1947–48 George Mikan* (2) Minneapolis Lakers 1195 21.3 1948–49 Don Otten Tri-Cities Blackhawks 899 14.0
Most Valuable Player
Season MVP Team 1937–38 Leroy Edwards Oshkosh All-Stars 1938–39 Leroy Edwards (2) Oshkosh All-Stars 1939–40 Leroy Edwards (3) Oshkosh All-Stars 1940–41 Ben Stephens Akron Goodyear Wingfoots 1941–42 Chuck Chuckovits Toledo Jim White Chevrolets 1942–43 Bobby McDermott* Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 1943–44 Bobby McDermott* (2) Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 1944–45 Bobby McDermott* (3) Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 1945–46 Bobby McDermott* (4) Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 1946–47 Bob Davies* Rochester Royals 1947–48 George Mikan* Minneapolis Lakers 1948–49 Don Otten Tri-Cities Blackhawks
Coach of the Year
Season Coach Team 1937–38 Cliff Byers Akron Goodyear Wingfoots 1938–39 Paul Sheeks Akron Firestone Non-Skids 1939–40 Paul Sheeks (2) Akron Firestone Non-Skids 1940–41 George Hotchkiss Oshkosh All-Stars 1941–42 Lon Darling Oshkosh All-Stars 1942–43 Carl Roth Sheboygan Red Skins 1943–44 Bobby McDermott* Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 1944–45 Bobby McDermott* (2) Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons 1945–46 Lester Harrison* Rochester Royals 1946–47 Lon Darling Oshkosh All-Stars 1947–48 Murray Mendenhall Anderson Duffey Packers 1948–49 Al Cervi* Syracuse Nationals
Rookie of the Year
Season Rookie Team 1937–38 Bob Kessler Indianapolis Kautskys 1938–39 Jewell Young Indianapolis Kautskys 1939–40 Ben Stephens Akron Goodyear Wingfoots 1940–41 Ed Sadowski Indianapolis Kautskys 1941–42 George Glamack Akron Goodyear Wingfoots 1942–43 Ken Buehler Sheboygan Red Skins 1943–44 Mel Riebe Cleveland Chase Brassmen 1944–45 Red Holzman Rochester Royals 1945–46 George Mikan* Minneapolis Lakers 1946–47 Fred Lewis Sheboygan Red Skins 1947–48 Mike Todorovich Sheboygan Red Skins 1948–49 Dolph Schayes* Syracuse Nationals
National Basketball Association Eastern Conference Western Conference Atlantic Central Southeast Northwest Pacific SouthwestOthers: 1998–99 NBA lockout · 2011 NBA lockout · 50 Greatest Players · Arenas · Awards · BAA · Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (Members) · Criticisms and controversies · D-League · Dress code · Defunct teams · Draft eligibility · Europe Live Tour · First overall draft picks · Head coaches (Current · Player-coaches · Champions) · Larry O'Brien Trophy · Midwest Division · NBA champions · NBA Store · NBA TV · NBL · Players (Current rosters · Foreign players · Banned or suspended) · NBA records (regular season, post-season, All-Star Game) · Relocated teams · Rivalries · Salary cap · Seasons · WNBA Category · Basketball Portal · 2011–2012 season NBL navigation boxes National Basketball League (United States) All-Time TeamJerry Bush • Bob Carpenter • Al Cervi • Chuck Chuckovits • Ed Dancker • Bob Davies • Leroy Edwards • Gene Englund • William "Pop" Gates • George Glamack •
Buddy Jeannette • Bobby McDermott† • George Mikan • Mike Novak • Don Otten • Mel Riebe • Arnie Risen • Charley Shipp • Ben Stephens • Mike Todorovich
† Special voting by the media selected Bobby McDermott as the NBL's all-time greatest player National Basketball League (United States) Most Valuable Player Award National Basketball League (United States) Coach of the Year Award National Basketball League (United States) Rookie of the Year Award National Basketball League (United States) season scoring leaders
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