Monday, August 7, 2017

National Professional Basketball League (NPBL)

The Anderson Packers were an NBL team (champions in 1948-49) who moved to the NBA for the 1949-50 season when the BAA and NBL merged into the NBA. After a decent season in the NBA (making the playoffs), the small-market franchise was bought out by the NBA and the Packers were out.

The Waterloo Hawks were another NBL team, formed in the last season of the league's existence (1948-49) and were one of the NBL teams to join the NBA in the merger. After that one season in the NBA where they had a dismal 19-43 record, they were also deemed too small of a market for the NBA and the team was released from its franchise.

The Sheboygan Redskins were one of the more storied franchise of the NBL. Having formed in the 1930's they were a charter member of the the NBL in 1936-37, and reached the finals five times, winning in 1942-43. They were one of the six NBL teams to form the NBA with the BAA merger, but being the smallest market, the team was not a good draw and received a lot of ire from the larger market NBA teams. Essentially, the Redskins were also driven out of the NBA, as was Waterloo and Anderson, in April of 1950.

With rosters but no league to call home, the three cast-off teams wound up being the cornerstone of a new professional basketball league in the Midwest: the National Professional Basketball League. Fully aware they were not of the caliber of the NBA, now easily the top professional basketball circuit in the country, the NPBL was formed as an 8-team league. Aside from the three cast from the NBA, there would be teams in Louisville, Grand Rapids. Denver*, St. Paul and Kansas City.

(* - The Denver Nuggets were an NBL team that joined the NBA with the BAA merger. The team floundered and bailed from the NBA after one very very poor season. The remnants of the franchise were reformed into the Denver Refiners.)

Right away, it was apparent the league would be in loads of trouble. The quality of play was but a fraction of the NBA, and attendance was poor. Travel for the Denver Refiners proved very burdensome, being so far from the other franchises that they played their entire November schedule at home. They did rocket off to an 8-0 start with all home games, but would begin to falter once they had to hit the road. The Kansas City Hi-Spots, although not as far west as Denver, also had travel expenses the could not meet, but unlike Denver, the Hi-Spots were a bad team, and by the middle of January had only been able to win 4 of their 23 games.

The St. Paul Lights won the first NBL game on November 1, 1950, defeating the Louisville Alumnites, and got off to a great start, winning seven of their first nine games. Despite that, though, St. Paul suffered horrible attendance and by the middle December were regularly missing bill and salary payments. The Grand Rapids Hornets were scheduled to play at St Paul on November 19, but the team got into an automobile accident on their way to St. Paul, with three players (Ostroski, McDermott and Towery) being injured. The Waterloo Hawks were able to quickly get their team to St. Paul to fill in for the Hornets, and St Paul hanging on to a 76-70 victory. This would be the last game for the Lights, for the next day, the management announced that St. Paul was disbanding.

The car accident was just another incident in the debacle of Grand Rapids' season. Bobby McDermott, long time player and coach in the professional ranks for years as well as having a greater reputation as a hot-head, caught the wrath of the league officials following a November 14 game against Denver. Following a profanity-laced tirade from the bench and on the floor, much to the shock of the fans, McDermott wound up tearing down the locker room door, too. As Commissioner Doxie Moore investigated the incident, the afore-mentioned car accident occurred, and player/coach McDermott suffered a broken wrist. Unsympathetic to the timing, McDermott was kicked out of the league on November 21. Grand Rapids General Manager George Glamack then took over the coaching duties until December 11 when he was replaced as head coach by Blackie Towery, who had joined the team as a player around Thanksgiving. By the end of December, Grand Rapids couldn't even afford to pay the rent on their home court, and the team folded.

The Grand Rapids soap opera was rolling around as the Kansas City Hi-Spots were faltering. An abysmal 2-10, player / head coach Paul Cloyd quit the team after a 108-67 drubbing at Waterloo. Following a loss to Louisville a couple days later under new coach Gene Eurash, the 2-11 team merged with the independent St. Joseph (Missouri) Ponies on December 8. Among the personnel changes was the release of Jack Carter and Charlie Parsley, and adding and Don McMillen. However, after two games with the Ponies/Hi-Spots merger, Kansas City dropped out of the league on December 15. Two weeks later, they returned to league play on December 26 with a victory over Grand Rapids (in their final game.) The win improved Kansas City's record to 4-12, but they would not win another game and dropped from the league for good on January 23, 1951.

Starting the 1951 calendar year as a six-team league with Grand Rapids and St Paul out and K.C. back, the league decided to remove the defunct teams' games from the standings. This created some confusion (researching it over 60 years later it became real hard to reconcile the standings with games played) with things like Waterloo removing 10 games played due to a heavy schedule thus far against the Lights and the Hornets. The NBL struggled through January not dealing with just KC's departure, but also with the demise of the Denver Refiners. Prior to the Denver contest against Kansas City in Sidney, Nebraska (in what would be the Hi-Spots' final game), the Refiners announced that after their next three upcoming games on the road, they, too, would be terminating their season. The team that started so promisingly with an 8-0 start had struggled on the court and in the pocketbook, sitting with an 18-13 record and losing money furiously. They lost those final three games on the road in glorious fashion, including an 85-point loss in Sheboygan. Faced with being a four-team league, the NPBL recruited the Evansville Agogans to take the place of the Denver Franchise. The plan was for the Agogans, an established independent team sponsored by a Bible School in Evansville, to take Denver's place in the standings and assume their record. Not sure why this accommodation was suggested, since Evansville had their own roster and there was no plan to transfer the Refiners roster to Evansville. Any claim by other historians that "Denver moved to Evansville" is not wholly accurate. Only the franchise charter was transferred, not the rosters. Evansville operated as a totally different team than Denver and was only given Denver's win-loss record (which was short-lived also).

The players and rosters of the league were now in a big mess. Players from the defunct teams were reassigned to remaining teams in a draft of sorts. Blackie Towery, in fact, played for three teams this season. Starting in Grand Rapids, going to Kansas City after the team collapse, and then to Evansville after the Hi-Spots' disintegration.

An even bigger mess were the official standings of the league. The idea of removing results of defunct teams, the practice which started in late December, instead of all league results, proved even more confusing. There were four teams gone, but one new team with an old team's record restored. The NPBL also was flipping from two divisions to one and then back to two, which didn't help matters in the slightest. Owner meetings and discussions began to get heated, especially between Sheboygan and Waterloo as both teams were claiming the best record in the league, which of course was all dependent on what methods were used to determine which games counted in the standings.

As the remaining five teams limped into February, it became even more clear that the Louisville Alumnites were imploding as well, and on February 12, 1951, they ended their season.

The last four teams: the Anderson Packers, the Sheboygan Redskins, the Waterloo Hawks and the Evansville Agogans, continued play through February and March, but it was plainly evident that the league was a complete failure. Plans for a playoff series were scrapped, and when Waterloo defeated Evansville on March 14, that would be the last game of the NPBL. There was no official championship, although both Waterloo and Sheboygan claimed the title in press releases.

The impact of the NPBL is very minor, except that it was the last attempt at a challenge to the NBA as a major league until the ABA in the 1960's. With the concurrent demise of the American Basketball League at the same time, the NBA was the only major professional basketball league in the United States.

The Anderson Packers were no more. After the NPBL, the team split, as did the Evansville Agogans. The Sheboygan Redskins still had fan support at home, and there was talk in the summer of 1951 of a Western Basketball Conference, which would have 8 or 10 teams, including the Redskins. However, no serious support could be found, and the concept faded quickly. The Redskins played as an independent team in the 1951-52 season before disbanding for good.

The Waterloo Hawks drew very well at home, and were the only NPBL team to turn a profit, but in the end, the death of the NPBL was the death of the Hawks. As a former NBA team, they remain the only major professional sports franchise out of the state of Iowa.

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