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National Basketball League (United States)

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National Basketball League (NBL)
Founded1935 (as MBC)
1937 (as NBL)
First season1935–36
CeasedAugust 3, 1949
(merged with BAA)
No. of teams38
CountryUnited States
Anderson Packers (1st title)
Most titlesAkron Firestone Non–Skids
Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons
Oshkosh All-Stars (2 each)

The National Basketball League (NBL) was a professional basketball league in the United States. Established in 1935 as the Midwest Basketball Conference, it changed its name to the NBL in 1937. After the 1948–49 season, its twelfth, it merged with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) to create the National Basketball Association (NBA). Five current NBA teams trace their history back to the NBL: the Atlanta Hawks, the Detroit Pistons, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Sacramento Kings.


The league was initially founded as the Midwest Basketball Conference (MBC) in 1935. It changed its name in 1937 in an attempt to attract a larger audience and avoid confusion with the Big Ten Conference, ofted referred to as the Midwest Conference.[1] 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 league began rather informally. Scheduling was left to the discretion of each of the teams, as long as the team played at least ten games and four of them were on the road. Games played increased yearly as the popularity of professional basketball and the NBL grew in America. 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.

Chicago newspaper sports editor Leo Fischer acted as president of the NBL from 1940–44.

In 1946, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) incorporated resulting in a three-year battle with the NBL to win both players and fans. The BAA played its games in larger cities and venues. However, NBL tended to have the bigger stars.[2] NBL teams dominated the World Professional Basketball Tournament, an annual invitational tournament held in Chicago and sponsored by the Chicago Herald American. NBL teams won seven out of ten editions of the tournament.

On August 3, 1949, representatives from the 12-year-old NBL and 3 year old BAA met at the BAA offices in New York's Empire State Building to finalize a merger. Maurice Podoloff, the president of BAA, became the president of the NBA while Ike Duffey, president of the NBL, became the chairman.[3][4] The new National Basketball Association (NBA) was made up of 17 teams that represented both small towns and large cities across the country. The NBA claims the BAA's history as its own and considers the 1949 deal as an expansion, not a merger. For example, at NBA History online, its table of one-line "NBA Season Recaps" begins 1946–47 without comment.[5] It celebrated "NBA at 50" in 1996, with announcement of its 50 Greatest Players among other things.[6][7]

The NBA does not recognize NBL records and statistics except under certain circumstances.[7] As such, the records and statistics of the BAA and NBL prior to the merger in 1949 are considered in official NBA history only if a player, coach, or team participated in the newly formed NBA after 1949 for one or more seasons.[8][9]

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 and their center Leroy "Cowboy" Edwards. 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 on George Mikan and the emergence of the big man in basketball.[10]

Early years[edit]

The Oshkosh All-Stars appeared in the championship series for five consecutive years (1938–42). They won two titles, they were led by a rugged 6' 4" (1.93 m) center named Leroy "Cowboy" Edwards. Edwards was a consensus NCAA "All American" and Helms Foundation "College Player of the Year" as a member of the 1934–35 University of Kentucky Wildcats. He left Kentucky after two years to pursue a professional basketball career, which was unheard of at the time. He led the NBL in scoring for three consecutive seasons, 1937-1940. He set numerous NBL and professional basketball scoring records and is generally credited with the introduction of the "3 second rule" in basketball which is still in existence today. Edwards played in all 12 NBL seasons with the Oshkosh All-Stars, and retired just prior to its merger with the BAA to form the NBA.

Middle years[edit]

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 was not 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 and Oshkosh for supremacy were the Sheboygan Red Skins. Beginning in 1941, the season before Fort Wayne joined the NBL, Sheboygan appeared in five of six championship series. 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, and were swept in the 1946 finals by the league's newest member, the powerhouse Rochester Royals, who boasted Hall of Famers Al Cervi, Bob Davies and Red Holzman.

Later years[edit]

The NBL's third era was dominated by George Mikan, the 6'10" (2.08 m), three-time NCAA "All-American" center from DePaul University in Chicago. As a rookie, he 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 Professional Basketball League of America. 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 quit the League to join the Basketball Association of America (BAA), along with three other NBL clubs: Rochester, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis.

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. In 1949, after a three-year battle with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) for fans and players, the NBL merged with the BAA and became the National Basketball Association.[11] A few years after the merger, the NBA adopted the BAA history as its own.[12]


The NBL 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 BAA 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 were part of the merger that created 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 NBL/BAA/NBA. The Jets played in the BAA for the 1948–49 season only; the remaining teams for the 1949–50 season only. Anderson, Sheboygan, and Waterloo joined the National Professional Basketball League in 1950.

The NBL also created the Indianapolis Olympians for the 1949–50 NBL 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.


[13] Note: # denotes a team currently playing in the NBA. [14] [15]

Division Team City Arena Capacity Club Founded NBL Years BAA/NBA successor
Eastern Division
Akron Firestone Non–Skids Akron, Ohio Firestone Clubhouse 1,500 1932 1937–1941
Akron Goodyear Wingfoots Akron, Ohio Akron Goodyear Hall 5,000 1918 1937-1943 (see above)
Buffalo Bisons Buffalo, New York Broadway Auditorium 7,500 1925 1937-1938[16] -
Dayton Metropolitans Dayton, Ohio Montgomery County Fairgrounds Coliseum 4,200 1935 1937-1938 -
Columbus Athletic Supply Columbus, Ohio ? ? 1936 1937-1938 -
Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Duquesne U Gym ? 1931 1937-1939 -
Warren Penns Warren, Pennsylvania Beaty JR High Gym 900 1926 1937-1938 -
Cleveland White Horses Cleveland, Ohio Cleveland Arena 6,000 - 1938-1939 -
Detroit Eagles Detroit, Michigan Detroit Light Guard Armory ? - 1939-1941 -
Toledo Jim White Chevrolets Toledo, Ohio Civic Auditorium 3,600 1941 1941-1943 -
Cleveland Chase Brassmen/Allmen Transfers Cleveland, Ohio Cleveland Auditorium 10,000 1943 1943-1946 -
Youngstown Bears Youngstown, Ohio Youngstown South Field House 3,500 1945 1945-1947 -
Rochester Royals Rochester, New York Edgerton Park Arena 4,500 1923 1945-1948 Rochester Royals#
Buffalo Bisons/Tri-Cities Blackhawks Moline, Illinois Wharton Field House 6,000 1946 1946-1949[17] Tri-Cities Blackhawks#
Toledo Jeeps Toledo, Ohio The Field House (University of Toledo) 6,000 1946 1946-1948 -
Syracuse Nationals Syracuse, New York State Fair Coliseum 7,500 1946 1946-1949 Syracuse Nationals#
Detroit Vagabond Kings Detroit, Michigan Holy Redeemer Church Gym /
Dearborn High School Gymnasium
6,000 1948 1948-1949 -
New York/Dayton Rens Dayton, Ohio Springfield High School Gymnasium 1,200 1922 1948-1949 -
Pittsburgh Raiders Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Duquesne Gardens 5,000 1943 1944-1945 -
Western Division
Oshkosh All-Stars Oshkosh, Wisconsin South Park School Gymnasium 2,000 1929 19371949 -
Fort Wayne General Electrics Fort Wayne, Indiana North Side High School Gym 3,000 1935 19371938 -
Indianapolis Kautskys Indianapolis, Indiana Hinkle Fieldhouse 15,000 1931 1937-1948 Indianapolis Jets
Kankakee Gallagher Trojans Kankakee, Illinois Gallagher Business School ? 1937 1937-1938 -
Cincinnati Comellos Cincinnati, Ohio Freeman Avenue Armory Gym ? 1937 1937-1938 -
Richmond King Clothiers Richmond, Indiana Richmond Civic Auditorium ? 1937 19371938 -
Hammond Ciesar All-Americans Hammond, Indiana Hammond Civic Center 6,000 1936 1937-1941 -
Sheboygan Red Skins Sheboygan, Wisconsin Sheboygan Municipal Auditorium and Armory 3,000 1933 19381949 Sheboygan Red Skins
Chicago Bruins Chicago, Illinois Chicago Coliseum 6,000 1925 1939-1942 -
Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons Fort Wayne, Indiana North Side High School Gym 3,000 1941 1941-1948 Fort Wayne Pistons#
Chicago Studebaker Flyers Chicago, Illinois Chicago Coliseum 6,000 1942 19421943 -
Chicago American Gears Chicago, Illinois International Amphitheatre 9,000 1944 1944-1948 -
Anderson Duffey Packers Anderson, Indiana Anderson High School Wigwam 4,800 1946 1946-1949 Anderson Packers
Detroit Gems Detroit, Michigan Ferndale High School Gymnasium 6,000 1946 1946-1947 -
Minneapolis Lakers Minneapolis, Minnesota Minneapolis Auditorium 10,000 1947 1947-1948 Minneapolis Lakers#
Flint/Midland Dow A.C.'s Flint /
Midland, Michigan
Flint Industrial Mutual Association Auditorium/ Midland High School Gym 6,000 / ? 1947 1947-1948 -
Hammond Calumet Buccaneers Hammond, Indiana Hammond Civic Center 6,000 1948 1948-1949 -
Waterloo Hawks Waterloo, Iowa McElroy Auditorium 5,155 1948 1948-1949 Waterloo Hawks
Denver Nuggets Denver, Colorado Denver Auditorium Arena 6,841 1948 1948-1949 Denver Nuggets

Season leaders, awards, and championships[edit]


  1. ^ "Court league changes name". The South Bend Tribune. Associated Press. 6 October 1937. p. 5. Retrieved 24 June 2024 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  2. ^ "The Merger"
  3. ^ Glenn Gaff (4 August 1949). "Cage peace: Form 18-team league". Star Tribune. p. 20. Retrieved 23 June 2024 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  4. ^ "Pro hoop war comes to end". The Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. 4 August 1949. p. 13. Retrieved 23 June 2024 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  5. ^ "NBA Season Recaps" Archived July 17, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. NBA History (nba.com/history). July 1, 2014. Retrieved 2015-03-02.
  6. ^ "NBA at 50 celebrates legends of league" Archived May 22, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. Announced October 29, 1996. NBA History (nba.com/history). August 26, 2011. Retrieved 2015-03-02.
  7. ^ a b "NBA's bogus birthday sweeps Syracuse's contributions under the confetti (Editorial Board Opinion". The Post-Standard. 28 November 2021. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  8. ^ "Basketball Association of America League Minutes 1946–1949" Archived November 25, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. The Association for Professional Basketball Research. APBR.org. Retrieved 2015-03-02.
  9. ^ 2012–13 Official National Basketball Association Register Archived March 4, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. NBA.com.
  10. ^ "NBA Roots". Hoopedia: the Basketball Wiki. NBA.com. Reprinted(?) from "Early Professional Leagues" by Robin Deutsch and Douglas Stark, The Official NBA Encyclopedia, chapter 8(?). Archived 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2015-03-02.
  11. ^ "NBL, BAA merge, end pro net war". The Republic. UP. 4 August 1949. p. 11. Retrieved 21 June 2024 – via Newspapers.com.Open access icon
  12. ^ Curtis Harris (21 January 2022). "How the NBA's 75th anniversary sweeps away its early history". The Washington Post. Retrieved 23 June 2024.
  13. ^ Nelson, Murry R. The National Basketball League: A History, 1935–1949. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009.
  14. ^ "NBL National Basketball League".
  15. ^ "The Origins of All 30 NBA Team Names". 2018-10-17.
  16. ^ "National Basketball League 1937-38 to 1948-49". members.aol.com. Archived from the original on 1999-11-11.
  17. ^ "Tri-Cities Blackhawks (1946-1951)".

External links[edit]