The Lost MVPs: the 1946-47 BAA Season

kevin dooley (flickr)
kevin dooley (flickr)

Founded in 1946, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) for some crazy, inexplicable reason never handed out an MVP award.  When the BAA merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) in 1949, the resulting NBA still  didn’t hand out an MVP award until 1955-56 when Bob Pettit became the inaugural winner of that award. Now, it’s not like the idea of a Most Valuable Player was new-fangled and the subject of a “Eureka!” moment.

No, sir.

The NBL had been founded in 1937 and had been handing out MVPs for the entire history of its existence. But the BAA and its crack team of officials never deigned to hand one out MVPs until ’56. They kept up their silly tradition during the first half-decade of the NBA’s existence.

In total this means that there are 9 MVPs that don’t exist. An historical vacuum that needs filling. Well, like the savory fruity goo in Fig Newtons, I’m here to fill in the gap. Starting with this article, I will over the ensuing weeks catalogue the leading candidates and declare an MVP winner for each of these seasons. Now, I will base my opinion on the facts and performances of each season, but in the end, it’s just my opinion on who the winner should have been. You’re welcomed to agree, disagree or just not give a hoot. Mostly, I  just hope I do justice to the players and the stories of these early BAA and NBA years.

Every season I will declare 5 finalists for the MVP (and maybe a few honorable mentions, if deemed necessary) and do a countdown to the winner. The rankings admittedly could be arbitrary. Some seasons the distance between the winner and runner-up will be microscopic (hello, George Mikan and Alex Groza!)and sometimes an enormous gulf. I hope my information and writing put across that kind of nuance.

So, here are the finalists and winner for the 1946-47 BAA MVP award!

#5 Ed Sadowski – Toronto Huskies / Cleveland Rebels
16.5 PPG, 0.9 APG, 36.9% FG, 66.8% FT, 11.8 Win Shares

Ed Sadowski, literally the BAA's poster boy
Ed Sadowski, literally the BAA’s poster boy

Big Ed Sadowski was the dominant pivot man of the 1947 season. After spending many fine years in the NBL, Sadowski appeared in the first BAA game (poster for the event pictured above). Big Ed would spend only 10 games with the Huskies before being traded to the Cleveland Rebels after basically quitting on the Huskies. The sad sordid exit explains why he isn’t higher on this list despite his domination of the pivot. The Rebels finished 30-30 and 3rd in the Western Division.

Sadowski’s scoring prowess placed him 3rd overall in PPG that season while his FG% was good enough for 2nd place. Pretty impressive considering Sadowski was 29 years old as the season began.

#4 Ernie Calverley – Providence Steamrollers
2nd Team All-BAA
14.3 PPG, 3.4 APG, 29.3% FG, 70.3% FT, 5.5 win shares

Ernie Calverley

Calverley enjoyed his best professional season leading the BAA in assists per game (3.4) in pretty convincing fashion. The 2nd-place finisher was Cleveland’s Kenny Sailors with 2.3. A comparable event would have been Rajon Rondo leading the NBA in APG with 11.7 this past season but with the 2nd-place Steve Nash having only 7.9 APG.

Calverley also led the Steamrollers in scoring and finished 6th league-wide in PPG. The Steamrollers however weren’t as overpowering as their name suggested finishing with a middling 28-32 record and missing the playoffs. Still Calverley’s fine production and cavalier playmaking this season is worthy of this lofty placement.

#3 Max Zaslofsky – Chicago Stags
1st Team All-BAA
14.4 PPG, 0.7 APG, 32.9% FG, 73.7% FT, 9.6 win shares

Zaslofsky StagsThe 21-year old Zaslofsky led the Stags to the best record in the Western Division with a 39-22 record. The individual stats for this 6’2″ guard-forward were impressive, too.  Finishing 5th in points per game with 14.4 and also 6th in FT% with .737. By no means a bad debut for the Brooklyn native, but (much) better years were to come for him. For right now he’ll have to settle for the 4th best BAA player this season.

Ed. Note: Yes, I copped out and did a tie for #1

#1 Bob Feerick – Washington Capitols
1st Team All-BAA
16.8 PPG, 1.3 APG, 40.1% FG, 76.2% FT, 18.6 win shares

Bob Feerick
Bob Feerick

Sometimes it’s impossible to make a meaningful distinction between two players “valuableness” and that’s the case here. Feerick was the leading man on a Capitols squad coached by Red Auerbach that went 49-11 in tregular season. That amounts to a .816 win percentage and would equate to 67 wins in an 82-game schedule. That wouldn’t be matched until the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers.

The Capitols were a loaded squad, but Feerick was the best of them. He finished 2nd in the league in PPG and was the runaway winner in FG% while also finishing 4th in FT%. His win shares that season were also the most for any single player. Unsurprising given the mammoth win total of the Caps.

A well deserved co-MVP for Feerick who, along with Zaslofsky, deserves inclusion in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

#1 Joe Fulks – Philadelphia Warriors
1st Team All-BAA
23.2 PPG, 0.4 APG, 30.5% FG, 73% FT, 16.3 win shares

joe fulksThe other co-MVP for this season is Joe Fulks who presents the flip side of the arguments for Feerick in many regards. Feerick was marvelously efficient, which was possible given his supporting cast. Fulks meanwhile was a runner and a gunner.

He led the league in PPG, total points, field goal attempts, field goals made, free throw attempts and free throws made. He was  the Warriors offense that season. The proportional gulf between his 23.2 ppg and Feerick’s 2nd-place 16.8 ppg is the largest on record for the BAA and NBA.

And despite the Warriors going 35-25, Fulks finished just 2.3 win shares behind Feerick, whose team won 14 more games overall. Again, I can’t in good conscience declare one of these players better than the other this season, so they both get the MVP. It shows there is no set formula for MVP because they both got a share in wildly different fashions.

And for what it’s worth, Fulks’s Warriors would win the BAA title in the postseason.

Come on back next week where the MVP of the 1947-48 BAA season will be announced! In the meantime get the full story on Joe Fulks’s career.

(as always, the fantastic and wonderful Basketball-Reference made this exercise possible with its treasure trove of stats and standings. However BBR can only work with what it can access and stats from these early years are sometimes a pain to come by. )

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