Sheboygan Red Skins

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Sheboygan Red Skins
Division Western (1949–1950)
Founded 1933
Arena Eagle Auditorium
(1938–1942)
Sheboygan Municipal Auditorium and Armory
(1942–1952)[1]
Location Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Team colors Cardinal and White
         
Championships NBL: 1 (1943)

The Sheboygan Red Skins (or Redskins) were a professional basketball team based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. They played for three different professional sports leagues, as well as an independent team. Their three league associations were chronologically the National Basketball League (NBL), National Basketball Association (NBA, charter member, one year of play), and the National Professional Basketball League (a single season organization).

The team has origins from 1933 in informal clubs sponsored by local businesses. By 1938, they had joined the NBL, with a syndicate owning the team, and a new name, the Red Skins. They played in the NBL from 1938 to 1949, led the league in defense five times, appeared in five championship series and won the 1942–43 title, defeating the league-leading Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons (today's Detroit Pistons) in the finals.

They were undone by the 1949 merger of the NBL into the NBA. The other league that merged into the NBA, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) had more money, played in larger cities, and generally fielded better teams. The Red Skins did not fit well, left the league, and joined the short-lived NPBL. When the NPBL folded, the team went back to its independent roots for one more year of play before it, too, disappeared.[2][3]

Early years[edit]

The team formed in Sheboygan as the Ballhorns in 1933. Sponsors changed every couple of years, and the team changed its name to match each sponsor. After success against regional rivals and against touring teams from farther away, they were invited to join the fledgling NBL in 1938. As a more consistent, full-time, professional organization, with an extensive traveling schedule, it took more than a single local business to support the team. A syndicate of Sheboygan community members took over and formally incorporated the team as the Red Skins. After some growing pains, they developed into a successful, professional team.[3]

Barnstorming roots[edit]

Before joining the NBL, Sheboygan built a reputation in the Midwest, starting in the early 1930s, with successful industrial-league and barnstorming teams. First came the Ballhorns (sponsored by a local florist and funeral home) in 1933. A local cleaners, the Art Imigs, took over in 1935, and that became the team's second name. By 1937, a gelatin producer had taken over the team and it became the Enzo Jels.[3][1]

Brothers John and Joe "Scoop" Posewitz, Les Kuplic, Slim Lonsdorf, Carl Roth, Pete and Dugan Norris and John Cinealis were among the better Sheboygan players throughout the 1930s. The 6-foot-6 Jack Mann, one of the first outstanding black players in the game, starred at center for the Art Imigs during the 1936–37 season.

In 1937–38, the Enzo Jels compiled a stellar 17–3 mark against the likes of the New York Renaissance, Harlem Globetrotters, New York Celtics and Chicago Duffy Florals.

The team had a friendly rivals with the Oshkosh All-Stars. The All-Stars' founder and president was Lonnie Darling. He helped found the NBL in 1937, and became the league's president in 1938.[3]

Transition to professional team[edit]

Based on the successful 1937 season, the Enzo Jels were admitted to the NBL on June 11, 1938, at the league meeting in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with help from Darling. They were soon renamed taken over by a group of local business leaders and renamed the Red Skins.[3][1] Their first coach was Edwin "Doc" Schutte, a local dentist.[1]

After compiling an 11–17 record in his only season, Schutte stepped down to devote more time to his practice. Then the Red Skins became a consistent winner under attorney and coach Frank Zummach from 1939 to 1942, including a spot opposite the Oshkosh All-Stars in the 1941 NBL finals. Zummach, who had been an assistant coach at Marquette University for six seasons, formed his team around Marquette alums. All-American Dave Quabius, Glenn R. "Sparky" Adams, George Hesik, Bill McDonald and Paul Sokody were former Marquette players who brought their talents to Sheboygan. Sandlotter Otto Kolar, from Cicero, Illinois, was rated as one of the best guards in the Midwest and ran the Red Skins offense.

Successful middle years[edit]

New arena[edit]

In late 1942, the Red Skins left the 1,500-seat Eagle Auditorium at 711 New York Ave., in downtown Sheboygan, and moved into the 3,500-seat Sheboygan Municipal Auditorium and Armory five blocks away on Broughton Drive, near Lake Michigan.[1] Commonly called the Armory, it was a WPA project and contained the NBL's largest floor at the time — 90 feet by 50 feet. (The Eagle Auditorium was part of the Playdium building, destroyed by fire in 1977. The Armory still stands and is being considered for redevelopment into an aerospace education center, Spaceport Sheboygan).

NBL title[edit]

The Red Skins reached the pinnacle of their sport in 1942–43 under coach Carl Roth, who had been a player for Sheboygan's industrial league powerhouses in the 1930s and played on the first Red Skins team in 1938–39.

A significant reason Sheboygan won the 1943 NBL title was the late-season acquisition of Hall of Fame guard Buddy Jeannette, who joined Sheboygan for the last four regular-season games and the playoffs and commuted from his home in Rochester, New York. Jeannette, who was working in a defense plant in Rochester and traveling to Sheboygan and other sites of Red Skins games primarily on weekends, averaged 15.5 points per game, a stout number during the pioneer days when final scores hovered in the 30s and 40s. Other major contributors to Sheboygan's championship team were NBL rookie of the year Ken Buehler, all-league players Ed Dancker and Kenny Suesens and shooting star Rube Lautenschlager.

The team was presented the inaugural Naismith Memorial Trophy during the team banquet at the old Hotel Foeste in downtown Sheboygan.

Continued success[edit]

After winning their only NBL title, the Red Skins continued as one of the strongest teams in pro basketball and appeared in the next three championship series (1944, 1945 and 1946) behind the stellar play of twin towers Mike Novak, a 6-foot-9 former all-American from Loyola, and Dancker, a 6–7 player who did not attend college but honed his skills in the Milwaukee recreational leagues. Defensive ace Suesens, Lautenschlager, Dick Schulz, Tony Kelly, Al Lucas, Al Moschetti and Bobby Holm were other key Red Skins during this period. The signings of Lucas, Moschetti and Holm by Basketball Hall of Famer Dutch Dehnert in 1944 represented a first for the Red Skins: the acquisition of a group of name players from the East Coast.

Sheboygan lost in the finals to Fort Wayne in 1944 and 1945, despite gaining a 2–0 lead in the latter best-of-five series, and in 1946 was ousted by the powerhouse Rochester Royals, who boasted Hall of Famers Al Cervi, Bob Davies and Red Holzman. Dehnert coached the Red Skins to consecutive divisional titles, but left following the 1945–46 season to coach the Cleveland Rebels of the Basketball Association of America.

Sheboygan remained among the NBL's elite, securing playoff berths in 1947 and 1949. Before the 1946–47 season, the Red Skins became the first NBL team to fly to the West Coast. There, they played at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles and lost two close games to the Los Angeles Red Devils, whose best player was former UCLA great Jackie Robinson. The next spring, Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. Sheboygan finished the season with a 26–18 record, only two games behind first-place Oshkosh in the Western Division, but the Red Skins lost to the All-Stars 49–47 in the fifth and deciding game of their first-round playoff.

Rebuilding the team[edit]

For about a month, in December 1947, Hall of Fame player Bobby McDermott was a player-coach for the Red Skins. He was obtained from the Chicago American Gears after the Professional Basketball League of America folded in November 1947. McDermott played in 16 games for Sheboygan and scored 138 points. As a coach, he took the reins from Doxie Moore and had a 4–5 record for the Red Skins. Moore resumed coaching Sheboygan after McDermott left to join the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in January 1948. The season was one of the Red Skins' most disappointing, though, as the team was aging and in disarray and slumped to a 23–37 record.

In 1948–49, the last season of the NBL, the Red Skins unveiled a fresh group of stars, including Kentucky all-American Bob Brannum, Valparaiso star Milt Schoon, Texas guard Danny Wagner, Washington guard Merlin "Boody" Gilbertson, Iowa center Noble Jorgensen and flashy Wisconsin guard Bobby Cook. Along with holdovers Mike Todorovich, a first-team NBL pick in 1947–48, Wisconsin forward Paul Cloyd, University of Toledo guard Bob Bolyard, Northwestern football and basketball all-American Max Morris and player-coach Suesens, who had starred at Iowa and roomed with Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick there, the Red Skins finished their 11th season in the NBL with a 35–29 record.

Only the Oshkosh All-Stars, with six, appeared in more NBL championship series than Sheboygan. And only Oshkosh, with 12, played more seasons in the NBL.

The Red Skins made the NBL playoffs eight times and were invited to appear in nearly every prestigious World Pro Tournament held in Chicago. Their best finish in Chicago came in 1939, when they lost the consolation championship to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Final years[edit]

After the 1948-1949 season, the team went into decline due to changes in the professional basketball business. The rival BAA had formed a few years before. The two leagues saw an opportunity to expand the appeal and scale of t he game through a merger, but many of the NBL teams were unable to compete at the same level as the BAA teams. They did not have the big corporate money or big city fan base. The mismatch caused many former NBL teams to leave after one season, including the Red Skins.

Those teams attempted to recover by forming a new league, but it, too, only lasted one season. The Red Skins tried to continue as a going concern after that, but failed to form another new league, and closed shop after an independent run during the 1951-1952 season.

Charter member of the NBA[edit]

On August 3, 1949, Sheboygan and six other NBL teams merged with the 10-team BAA to become the National Basketball Association. The Red Skins, who played in the NBA's all-time smallest arena and market, competed in the 1949–50 season under coach Suesens and finished with a 22–40 record, good for fourth place in the six-team Western Division. When Oshkosh folded soon after the merger, Sheboygan laid claim to being the oldest professional basketball franchise in the nation. The Red Skins marched to a 7–2 start on the strength of home wins over the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Rochester Royals and Indianapolis Olympians.

The most spectacular win of the 1949–50 season came on Jan. 5, 1950, when they defeated George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers 85–82 in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 3,800 fans at the Sheboygan Municipal Auditorium and Armory. Four future Hall of Famers were on the floor for Minneapolis that Thursday night: Mikan (who scored 42 points), Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen and Slater Martin. The Lakers' coach was Hall of Famer John Kundla. The stunning victory over that season's eventual NBA champion gave the Red Skins a 13–13 record, after which injuries took their toll and the team faded. But they qualified for the playoffs, where they nearly upset the Western Division champion Indianapolis Olympians.

Forced into National Professional Basketball League[edit]

The team was made unwelcome in the NBA during their first season. Ned Irish, president of the New York Knicks, refused to participate in the same league as the "bush leagues" - various small town charter NBA teams originating from the NBL, such as the Red Skins, Waterloo Hawks, and Anderson Packers. Sheboygan withdrew from the NBA on April 24, 1950, and joined the new National Professional Basketball League, along with several other NBA one-season wonders.[2][4]

Sheboygan posted the NPBL's best record (29–16) in 1950–51. Sheboygan and Waterloo finished first in their respective NBPL divisions, but the league never ran any championship games, dissolving at the end of its regular first season. Both teams claimed the one-time championship status based on divisional play.[5]

In 13 seasons of professional organized basketball, Sheboygan compiled a 250–238 regular-season record.

Attempt to save franchise[edit]

In summer 1951, longtime Red Skins president Magnus Brinkman led a drive to form an organization that would have been called the Western Basketball Association, consisting of eight to 10 teams and looking to include two fellow NBA castoffs, the Waterloo Hawks and the Anderson Packers. But competition from the NBA became too great and the effort failed.

Instead, the Red Skins played one season of independent basketball, in 1951–52, before hanging it up. Bobby Cook, who had scored an NBA-record 44 points in a Red Skins home game against the Denver Nuggets in January 1950, coached the team. That final Sheboygan Red Skins team consisted of several former University of Wisconsin players and compiled a winning record, primarily playing other Midwest barnstorming, or independent, teams. However, sparse crowds attended and the team discontinued operations after losing its final game, to the College All-Stars at the Sheboygan Municipal Auditorium and Armory.

Players of note[edit]

Basketball Hall of Famers[edit]

Other key players[edit]

Head coaches[edit]

Season-by-season records[edit]

Note: W = Wins, L = Losses, % = Win–Loss %

Season W L  % Playoffs Results
Sheboygan Red Skins (NBL)
1938–39 11 17 0.393
1939–40 15 13 0.536 1–2 Lost Western Division finals
1940–41 13 11 0.542 2–4 Lost NBL finals
1941–42 10 14 0.417
1942–43 12 11 0.522 4–1 NBL champions
1943–44 14 8 0.636 2–4 Lost NBL finals
1944–45 19 11 0.633 4–4 Lost NBL finals
1945–46 21 13 0.618 3–5 Lost NBL finals
1946–47 26 18 0.591 2–3 Lost Western Division semifinals
1947–48 23 37 0.383
1948–49 35 29 0.547 0–2 Lost Western Division semifinals
Sheboygan Red Skins (NBA)
1949–50 22 40 0.355 1–2 Lost Western Division semifinals
Sheboygan Red Skins (NPBL)
1950–51 29 16 0.644 Top mark when league dissolved

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Wisconsin Stories". Green Bay, Wisconsin. March 9, 2010. Wisconsin Channel (PBS). WPNE.  Missing or empty |series= (help)
  2. ^ a b Surdam, David George (2012-10-23). The Rise of the National Basketball Association. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252037139. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Nelson, Murry R. (2009-04-09). The National Basketball League: A History, 1935-1949. McFarland. ISBN 9780786453610. 
  4. ^ Salzberg, Charles (1998-03-01). From Set Shot to Slam Dunk: The Glory Days of Basketball in the Words of Those Who Played It. U of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803292503. 
  5. ^ "History of the National Professional Basketball League". www.apbr.org. Retrieved 2016-10-30. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Peterson, Robert W. (2002). "Seeds of the NBA". Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball's Early Years. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 124–141. ISBN 0-8032-8772-0. 

External links[edit]