From 1995 to 2005, it was fairly commonplace to see professional basketball players completely skip college for the moneyed pastures of the NBA. Nearly 60 years before, though, players routinely skipped the college process for pro basketball. That’s not to say it was the norm, but it was fairly common. Why spend time at college not getting paid when there was a Great Depression afoot?
One of the great players to take the prep-to-pro route was Charley Shipp. When he jumped from high school to the pros in 1936, the NBA was still well over a decade away. The major league that would accept Shipp’s services was the Midwest Basketball Conference, soon to be the National Basketball League (NBL). The team would be the Akron Goodyear Wingfoots.
Shipp was never a big time scorer, but was a dependable source of points for his clubs. The most he ever averaged for a season was 7.5 points in 1944, but he’d have outbursts of 11 or 12 points that’d help propel his teams. What really made Shipp a standout was his defense.
In the 1937-38 NBL Finals, Shipp’s Wingfoots took on Leroy Edwards’ Oshkosh All-Stars. The somewhat-stocky 6’1″ Shipp amazingly kept a lid on the 6’5″ center Edwards in the deciding Game 3 of the championship. Edwards, who was capable of drubbing opponents with 20-point games was held to just 9 points, well below his average of 16 for the season. Shipp did that defensive damage and also added in 8 points of his own to give Akron a 35 – 27 victory and the NBL title.
That title would prove to be the second of Shipp’s five. For the 1939-40 season, Shipp joined Edwards in Oshkosh to form a dynamite duo the rest of the NBL just couldn’t handle. That first season they reached the Finals, losing to the Akron Firestone Non-Skids (yes, Akron had two NBL teams) 3-games-to-2. In 1941 and 1942 Oshkosh reached the Finals again and each time captured the title.
The local press in 1941 was in love with their champion All-Stars and made sure that Shipp’s contributions weren’t lost amidst the love for Leroy:
Edwards gets most of the publicity and deserves all he gets, but Charley Shipp probably means almost as much to the Stars as Lefty does. Charley never went to college. After playing in high school, he got into semipro and pro ball and played with Edwards on an Indianapolis team. Nate Messenger of Brooklyn… officiated the [1941 NBL Finals] play-off seies. He said the other night:
“I lived near the Broadway Arena when I was a kid… I was watching the basketball players. I lugged grips for Holman and Lapschick [sic] and the rest of the old-time stars. I’ve seen the best and I’ve never seen a better guard than Charley Shipp.”
That’s some pretty high praise, but Shipp was nonetheless sold to the Fort Wayne Pistons prior to the 1944-45 season. True to form, Shipp wound up winning his fourth and final title that season as he tagged along with hot-shooting Bob McDermott. The Pistons squad wouldn’t be kept together much longer though. The club, particularly McDermott, proved to be rowdy including a brawl over a craps game. Owner Fred Zollner broke up the team.
Shipp spent the last days of his pro career with the Anderson Packers in 1947 and 1948, and with the Waterloo Hawks (a different franchise than today’s Atlanta Hawks) in 1949 and 1950. By his retirement in 1950, Shipp was 36-years old and a veritable dinosaur. He had begun as a pro player in a league that barely mustered a 20-game season. In his final year, the league he played in had a 62-game schedule.
That league was the NBA, in its first season as Shipp was in his last. It’d be up to a new batch of stars to carry the league, and basketball, to bigger and more lucrative pastures. Shipp and his NBL cohorts shouldn’t be forgotten, though. They were the ones who carried the sport along during the years prior and made the idea of the NBA viable.
Seasons Played: 1937 – 1950
4x Champion (1937, 1941-’42, 1945)
5x All-NBL 1st Team (1938, 1940-’43)
2x All-NBL 2nd Team (1939, 1944)
NBL – 420 Games
NBA – 23 Games
4.7 PPG, 2.0 APG, 25.5% FG, 72.5% FT
All-Time NBL Ranks
1st Games Played
9th FGs Made, 18th FTs Made