In the late spring of 1947, representatives of the National Basketball League and the upstart Basketball Association of America meet in an attempt to reach a working agreement between the two leagues. They agreed to a uniform player contract that would be honored by both leagues and established guidelines for inter-league trades. The representatives also agreed to stage a joint draft and stage a playoff series between the two league champions. In early July, the NBL and the BAA conducted a joint college draft. A bumper crop of talented rookies was set to make their debuts in 1947. The NBL signed Bobby Wanzer (Seton Hall), Frank Brian (LSU), Marko Todorovich (Wyoming), Charlie Black (Kansas), Ralph Hamilton (Indiana), John Hargis (Texas), and Wisconsin teammates Paul Cloyd and Glen Selbo. The BAA claimed Andy Phillip and Gene Vance, members of Illinois’ famed “Whiz Kid” teams, Paul Hoffman (Purdue), Red Rocha (Oregon State) and Dick Holub (Long Island). The best BAA signee turned out to be Carl Braun, who had dropped out of Colgate, to pursue a baseball career in the Yankees’ minor league chain.
The spirit of cooperation masked the reality that both leagues eyed each other warily, while coping with their own serious internal problems. The BAA faced some unpleasant facts before its second season could get underway. First-season losses had been substantial, leading to the folding of teams in Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Toronto. This left the league with an awkward seven-team membership. The Baltimore Bullets, unhappy with the declining fortunes of the American League, were induced to fill the eighth spot. In an effort to minimize expenses, the schedule was trimmed to 48 games.
The NBL had problems of its own. Miffed because he had been rebuffed in his attempt to become NBL president, Chicago industrialist Maurice White pulled his champion Gears out of the NBL to form the basis of his own league. The new Professional Basketball League of America consisted of sixteen teams scattered through the South and Midwest, all owned and operated by White. His representative in Grand Rapids was a young attorney by the name of Gerald Ford, who 27 years later would be president of the United States. White lured dozens of major league players from both leagues to his new venture with lucrative two-year contracts. His grand scheme collapsed, however, just three weeks into the season when it became apparent that fans had little interest in any of the teams in the league other than the powerful Chicago Gears with star attraction George Mikan.
The BAA refused to re-sign players that had jumped to the NPBL, but the National League decided not to take a hard line and soon most of the jumpers were filtering back to the league. Minneapolis, which had taken over the moribund Detroit franchise, captured the chief prize by signing Mikan. Jim Pollard, a graceful 6’5” athlete who had starred at Stanford and with various West coast AAU teams, joined him. Coached by former University of Minnesota star John Kundla, the Lakers easily outdistanced their Western Division competition. Tri-Cities, led by player-coach Bobby McDermott, finished a distant second.
In the East, Rochester, led by Bob Davies, Al Cervi and Red Holzman nipped Anderson and Fort Wayne for first place. Anderson, with three rookies in the starting lineup, Charlie Black, Frankie Brian and John Hargis, was the league’s fastest team. The Lakers and Royals both worked their way successfully through the playoffs to meet in the final best-of-five game playoff for the championship. Rochester, however, by the end of the season was a team riddled by injuries and could offer Minneapolis only perfunctory opposition. The Lakers quickly defeated the defending champions, three games to one.
The shrinking of the BAA by three teams and subsequent redistribution of the players greatly strengthened the competitiveness of the league. The Western Division saw all four teams finish in a pack. St.Louis took first place with Baltimore, Chicago and Washington all finishing a single game back.
In the East, Philadelphia repeated as champions behind the continued scoring prowess of Joe Fulks. The New York Knicks, under the direction of former Celtic star Joe Lapchick, finished one game back with the help of a talented trio of rookies, Dick Holub, Sid Tannenbaum and 20-year-old Carl Braun. Two former ABL teams, Baltimore and Philadelphia, emerged from the playoffs to face each other in the finals. Philadelphia took game one of the best of seven series, but Baltimore, with player-coach Buddy Jeannette in charge, won four of the next five games to take the title.
A proposed series between the NBL and BAA champions never materialized. Instead, five of the NBL teams entered the World Pro Tournament in Chicago. The title game featured a titanic battle between New York Rens’ center Sweetwater Clifton and Minneapolis Lakers’ star George Mikan. Clifton was a savvy, powerful player, who excelled at rebounding and defense, but the 6’10” Mikan overwhelmed him with forty points to lead the Lakers to a 75-71 victory. It was a fitting conclusion in what turned out to be the final year of the famed Chicago tournament. The Rens had won the initial championship in 1939 to cement their reputation as the preeminent team of the era. The Lakers were now clearly ready to dominant professional basketball for many years to come.