Pro basketball has come a long way since August 3, 1949. That was the day that two struggling basketball leagues — the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and its rival, the National Basketball League (NBL) — merged to form the National Basketball Association.
The future of professional basketball was far from certain at that time. Baseball and football were much more popular around the country, and many basketball teams were located in small, Midwestern cities that had trouble generating enough revenue to stay alive.
But popular enthusiasm for basketball started growing in the mid-1950s, thanks in large part to the performance of the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Zollner Pistons.
The team was named after Fred Zollner, who manufactured automobile and truck pistons. It was Zollner who brought the BAA and NBL together to form a single pro league. And it was Zollner who hired Charley Eckman away from officiating to coach his Pistons.
The team had won the national championship in 1944 and 1945 but had lost momentum under coach Frank Birch. Eckman seemed to fire up the Pistons again. For the next three years, the Pistons made the playoffs, though they fell just short of the championship.
Shortly after “Coaching the Pros Is Easy” appeared in the Post in 1955, Zollner moved the Pistons to Detroit. As he told author Stanley Frank, a community the size of Fort Wayne couldn’t support more than one home game a week.
Eckman went along with the team but didn’t stay long. He was let go after starting the season with a 9-16 record. He returned to refereeing and eventually moved into broadcasting.
The Pistons’ move was typical. Of the original 17 professional basketball teams in the two leagues, most have survived by changing their home towns and their names. Only two of the original teams have remained unchanged: the New York Knickerbockers and the Boston Celtics.
Here is where the other 14 teams went:
|Baltimore Bullets||BAA||1944||Folded in 1954 (Not to be confused with the Baltimore Bullets of 1963, who were originally the Chicago Packers, and are now the Washington Wizards)|
|Cleveland Rebels||BAA||1946||Folded in 1947|
|Detroit Falcons||BAA||1946||Folded in 1948|
|Minneapolis Lakers||NBL||1947||Became the Los Angeles Lakers in 1960|
|Philadelphia Warriors||BAA||1946||Became the San Francisco Warriors in 1962 and the Golden State Warriors in 1971|
|Pittsburgh Ironmen||BAA||1946||Folded in 1947|
|Providence Steamrollers||BAA||1946||Folded in 1949|
|Rochester Royals||BAA||1948||Became the Cincinnati Royals in 1975; the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1972; the Kansas City Kings in 1975; and the Sacramento Kings in 1985|
|St. Louis Bombers||BAA||1946||Folded in 1950|
|Syracuse Nationals||NBL||1946||Became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963|
|Tri-City Blackhawks||NBL||1946||Became the Milwaukee Hawks in 1951; the St. Louis Hawks in 1955; and the Atlanta Hawks in 1968|
|Toronto Huskies||BAA||1946||Folded in 1947|
|Washington Capitols||BAA||1946||Folded in 1951|