The National Industrial Basketball League was founded in 1947, to enable mill workers a chance to compete in basketball. The league was founded by the industrial teams (teams sponsored by the large companies and made up of their employees) belonging to the National Basketball League (NBL) that did not join the National Basketball Association when the NBL merged with the Basketball Association of America.
The league first year, 1947–48, featured five teams in an eight-game schedule—the Milwaukee Harnischfegers (which won the round robin schedule with an 8-0 record), Peoria Cats, Milwaukee Allen-Bradleys, Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, and Fort Wayne General Electrics. The following season, with a 16-game schedule, the new lineup was league champion Bartlesville Phillips 66ers (15-1 record), Denver Chevies, Peoria Cats, Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, and Milwaukee Allen-Bradleys.
In the 1949-50 season, with the addition of the Dayton Industrialists making the league a six-team circuit, the Phillips 66ers repeated as champions. The league expanded again in the 1950-51 season to eight teams, adding the Oakland Blue 'n Gold Atlas and San Francisco Stewart Chevolets. The Dayton team became the Dayton Air Gems, and the Phillips 66ers repeated for their third consecutive title.
High Point of League Expansion
The league in 1951-52 expanded to 11 teams, with such new teams as the Los Angeles Fibber McGee & Mollys, Artesia REA Travelers, and Santa Maria Golden Dukes. The Phillips 66ers just edged the Oakland Atlas-Pacific Engineers and the San Francisco Stewart Chevolets for their fourth title, with a 17-5 record to their opponents 16-6 records that tied for second. The next season, the league dropped down to nine teams, but saw new opponents in the Houston Ada Oilers and the Los Angeles Kirby's Shoes. The Phillips 66ers edged the Peoria Cats for the title by one game, with a 13-3 record.
The Peoria Cats tied the Phillips 66ers for the 1953-54 title, each with a 10-4 record. Charter member Milwaukee Allen Bradleys, which managed to stay in the league, took last place for the fifth year in seven years in the eight-team circuit. Those Milwaukee fans were supportive apparently. The next two seasons, the Phillips 66ers and the Peoria Cats took first and second respectively. A new team in the greatly reduced circuit of five teams in 1955-56 was the Wichita Vickers. Milwaukee Allen-Bradley again took last place, their sixth time since the league began.
The 1956-57 season was one of the most competitive in the NIBL history, with the Phillips 66ers taking first with a 13-7 record, but tied for second were four teams with 11-9 records, among them new member the Denver-Chicago Truckers, headquartered in Denver. Milwaukee Allen-Bradley was typically the only non-competitive team, finishing last for the seventh time with a 3-17 record. This was the last season for the Milwaukee team, which had valiantly survived since the league's founding.
The 1957-58 season saw the Wichita Vickers move to the forefront, tying the Phillips 66ers for the league title, each with a 21-9 record. A new team that year was the Kansas City Kaycees.
End of the Phillips 66ers Winning Streak
Finally, in the 1958-59 season, the Phillips 66ers showed they were mortal, and took a mediocre third-place. First was the Denver-Chicago Truckers, with a 21-9 record, and second the Wichita Vickers, with a 19-11 record. Joining the league that season was the Buchan Bakers from Seattle.
Unhappily for the rest of the league, in the 1959-60 season, the Phillips 66ers were again on top.
The escalation in the salaries of the National Basketball Association had a serious impact on industrial basketball teams. When the salaries of NBA players and industrial league players were comparable in the 1950s, top-notch players saw little advantage to joining the pros. However, by the early 1960s, the industrial teams found that they could not compete with the pros salary-wise, as top college graduates increasingly gravitated to the NBA. The NIBL saw a decline in its program. The Peoria Cats, for example, disbanded at the end of the 1959-60 season.
In the NIBL's final season, 1960–61, the league had dropped down to only six members, and was divided into two divisions, Eastern (Cleveland Pipers, Akron Goodyears, New York Tuck Tapers) and Western (Denver-Chicago Truckers, Phillips 66ers, and Seattle Buchan Bakers). Instead of the round-robin schedule determining a winner, the league sponsored a four-team playoff. The Cleveland Pipers beat the Denver-Chicago Truckers for the championship, 136-100; and for third place, the Phillips 66ers beat the Akron Goodyears, 114-112.
In 1961 the league reorganized changing sponsorship from industrial companies and became the National AAU Basketball League (NABL). The Cleveland Pipers and the New York Tapers joined the newly-formed American Basketball League in 1961.
The Bartlesville Phillips 66ers won the league championship in 11 of the league’s 14 seasons.
1947-48 Milwaukee Harnischfegers
1948-49 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1949-50 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1950-51 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1951-52 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1952-53 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1953-54 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers/Peoria Cats
1954-55 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1955-56 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1956-57 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1957-58 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers/Wichita Vickers
1958-59 Denver Denver-Chicago Truckers
1959-60 Bartlesville Phillips 66ers
1960-61 Cleveland Pipers