Friday, April 28, 2017

Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League (PCBL)

Right after World War 2, the troops were coming back home to the United States and Canada. The economy was going for war production back to consumer goods.People were generally doing well, and leisure and recreation were being enjoyed in the new America. Baseball and football saw their attendance spike, and professional basketball, still in its infancy for the most part, was all over the landscape, coast to coast. It was during this time that the sport began to centralize into one dominant professional league. By the mid 1950's, only one major professional league stood. But in 1946, The American Basketball League was the longest running league, and the National Basketball League survived the player depletion of the war. They saw new competition with the formation of new professional leagues: The BAA started in major cities in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, Southern League attempting to rise from the land of Dixie, and out west, the Pacific League was formed.

The fact that a lot of talent was out west was not in question. By 1946, Utah, Wyoming, Stanford and Oregon had all won the NCAA championship, with Oregon winning the first title in 1939. A team from Colorado had grabbed the NIT one year. However, a lot of these players had only AAU and independent teams to play for. They, for the most part, were localized collegiate players and did not want to move to the other side of the country, far away from family and friends, to play a game that really did not pay that much.

That is where the Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League stepped in.

Major League baseball had already found the talent pool of the West. The Pacific Coast League for baseball had given the major leagues Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and the DiMaggio brothers. That PCL was a shade below the major leagues in talent, but produced a higher quality of baseball than any of the minor leagues in the east. It seemed natural the a Pacific League for basketball would easily rival the quality of play in the American or National Basketball Leagues. Seemed logical.

The PCBL was set to be an eight-team league, with teams in Bellingham, Portland, Salem, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver and Yakima. Commencing on December 3, 1946, Commissioner Bobby Morris said the league have a 64-game schedule over 16 weeks. The teams would play four games a week, consisting of two two-game series. They hoped at the end of the seasonn, they would meet with the champions of the NBL, BAA and ABL for a playoff to determine the World Champion.

Lofty goals, all of which would never come to be.

Spokane and Tacoma had problems right off the start. The Spokane franchise could not get organized in time for the start of the season and began two weeks late. Tacoma failed to get a team together and folded before playing a game. Limping into the new year, the seven-team league began to have schedule and travel issues that hampered the league's viability. Salem was dogged with poor attendance and kept looking at new venues to draw. Spokane's late start didn't help the teams fortune, and neither did their inability to find a sutiable place to play home games. However, not all teams were failing at the gate. Bellingham, for example, drew very well at home. But the troubles with other teams were hard to overcome. Even after Salem dropped ticket prices from $1.50 to $1.00, the team still failed to draw. A mere 150 bothered to show up for a January game in Yakima. It was clearly evident that four teams (Bellingham, Vancouver, Seattle and Portland) in the league were doing well enough to survive. The other three (Salem, Spokane and Yakima) were crumbling fast.

Late in January, the Salem Trailblazers began looking beyond Salem to find a place to play. They chose to reorganize and become essentially nomads.  They played a home game in Mt. Angel on January 31 before trying to call Tacoma home. (They played as the Tacoma Blazers on February 5 in a 82-58 trouncing at the hands of Bellingham.) Two days later, after a 57-47 loss to Yakima, the team had all but disintegrated.

As Salem tried their best to survive that first season, the Spokane Orphans were an ill-fated franchise from the beginning. As stated before, they were barely able to start the season, and when they did, they only managed one victory and rarely could keep their schedule obligations, playing all road games (by January 27, they had played on 8 league games while every other team had played 22 gamed or more.)

Salem, now on the verge of folding, found a lifeline with Spokane. The league approved a merger of the two teams, and they were to finish the season as the Spokane Blazers. Players Dave Teyema, Jack Vaughn, Bill Osterhaus and Ernie Maskovich were released, new players (Dick Anderson, Lowell Doud, Dale Genry, Bob Burns, Jack Riggins and Wally Beck) were brought aboard.

The league limped through February with six teams. The Blazers team, despite the merger and efforts to stay afloat, last two more weeks before ceasing operations. The Yakima Ramblers, with their 8-25 record and mounting debt and revenue losses, withdrew from the PCL on February 14, 1947. In order to preserve the league and the four remaining teams, Commissioner Morris chose to cut the regular season short and begin the playoffs. Instead of a normal playoff series system, they went with a round-robin format, with each team playing each other four times. The second-place Bellingham Fircrests went 9-3 in these round-robin games, finishing ahead of regular season leader the Portland Indians (7-5), Vancouver Hornets (6-6) and Seattle Blue Devils (2-10) to win the PCBL championship.

Following the 1946-47 season, the Blue Devils folded, leaving only Bellingham, Portland and Vancouver. Three new teams, the Seattle Athletics, the Astoria Royal Chinooks and the Tacoma Mountaineers, joined for the 1947-48 season. Astoria was unable to finish the season for financial reasons. The Portland Indians won the 1947-48 championship.

Still optimistic, League President Ray Clark announced  in January of 1948 that plans to expand in the 1948-49 season to include a Southern Division with teams in Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Stockton and either Redding or Long Beach. Additionally, The Astoria club was to be revitalized and would relocate to either Everett or Bremerton in Washington. Unfortunately, during the summer of 1948, Clark decided against trying a third season and the Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League was dead.

I used the APBR site for initial research, but that page has not been updated in almost 20 years (!) so a lot of the following research will be from scratch.

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