1948-1949

After two seasons of head to head competition, the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America were pretty much where they had started.  The BAA had the big city franchises and the large arenas, but the NBL still had most of the best players. The NBL, as well, had most of the profits. The BAA owners, losing money at an alarming rate, and facing stiff monetary competition for a bumper crop of graduating collegian stars, knew something had to be done.

BAA president Maurice Podoloff put out feelers to test the waters for a merger or even better the possibility of luring one or two of the National League’s stronger teams into the BAA fold. The obvious choice was the Minneapolis Lakers, but their owner, Max Winter, was not interested. NBL commissioner Ward Lambert, weakened by illness, did little to fend off Podoloff’s predatory moves, and soon the BAA president found success. Fort Wayne and Indianapolis were the first to jump. This motivated Winter to reconsider, and he decided to join the BAA as well.  Rochester owner Les Harrison, determined not to be left behind in the ruins of the National League, also gained entry.

The new twelve-team BAA added twelve games to its schedule, returning to its original 60-game season. Washington and Baltimore were transferred to the Eastern Division cutting travel expenses, while the four National League teams joined St.Louis and Chicago in the Western Division. As expected, Minneapolis and Rochester were the best teams in the league. The surprise was that Rochester managed to nip Minneapolis by a single game to claim first place in Western Division. Chicago posted a fine 38-22 mark, good enough for third place, while St.Louis played under .500 ball, but still landed in fourth place, because of the unexpected collapse of the Fort Wayne Pistons who won only 22 of 60 games. Washington, with essentially the same club it had from the year before, won the Eastern Division. The New York Knicks finished second. Baltimore and Philadelphia finished in third and fourth places to also get into the playoffs.

After two years, the playoff system had been changed. The first and fourth place teams in each division faced off, while the second and third place teams played each other. Rochester and Minneapolis moved through the first-round easily to face each other for the right to move onto the finals. The Lakers upset the Royals in Rochester by a single point and then beat them handily at home to move to the finals. In the East, New York eliminated defending champion Baltimore, but then was ousted by Washington. The Lakers quickly took the first three games of the best of seven-game championship series, but Washington came back with two straight wins after Mikan broke his wrist. In the sixth game, Minneapolis clinched the title by trouncing Washington 77-56.

The National League’s most glamorous teams and biggest stars were now in the BAA. The Toledo and Flint teams folded, leaving just five teams in the league: Anderson, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Syracuse, and Tri-Cities.  Sheboygan coach Doxie Moore was hired to replace the ailing Lambert as commissioner. He recruited new teams in Denver, Detroit, Hammond (Indiana), and Waterloo (Iowa).

The five holdover teams all enjoyed winning seasons at the expense of the four newcomers. The league’s two strongest teams were in the Eastern Division. The Anderson Packers had been the National League’s highest scoring team the previous season with an   aggressive fast-break offense. With Minneapolis and Rochester gone, the Packers attack was all but unstoppable. Syracuse, after two losing seasons, made a major roster changes. Veteran pro Al Cervi was lured away from Rochester to serve as the Nationals player-coach. Rookie Dolph Schayes was another key ingredient to Syracuse’s success. The two teams finished one-two in the East more than twenty games ahead of their nearest rivals.

In the west, three teams staged a torrid race for first place before Oshkosh claimed the top spot just one game ahead 0f Tri-Cities and two in front of Sheboygan.  Oshkosh, with three rookies in the starting lineup, surprised its challengers. Tri-Cities geared its offense to the slow-pace of 7’0” center Don Otten. Sheboygan also played ball-control offense setting up for shots by a beefy frontline. Division winners Anderson and Oshkosh emerged from the playoffs to face each other for the league title. Anderson’s team speed proved to be too much for the slower-moving Oshkosh team and the Packers took three straight games to win the title.

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