Born: January 2, 1920
Died: June 8, 1976
Oshkosh All-Stars (NBL): 1945-1946
Washington Capitols (BAA): 1946-1949
Washington Capitols (NBA): 1949-50
Bob Feerick didn’t enjoy a lengthy pro career, but – as with so many things of the mid-20th century – you can blame that on World War II. Like so many men of military age, Feerick was in the armed forces. Luckily for Feerick, he wasn’t sent to fight, and possibly die, on the beaches of Normandy or the sands of Saipan.
Instead he was sent to the domestic naval station at Norfolk where he encountered the fiery oddball, Red Auerbach. Feerick, who’d been a standout college player at Santa Clara, was an ace of the so-called Norfolk Naval Training Station Quintet. The team barnstormed on the weekends to make some extra cash, but the relationship formed between assistant coach Auerbach and Feerick would pay dividends in the coming years.
After leaving the service, Bob Feerick found himself in little Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as a member of their NBL squad, the All-Stars. During his one season (1945-46) with the team, Feerick averaged 9.5 points and 82% free-throw shooting. Oshkosh would lose in a hard-fought five-game series against their bitter rivals, the Sheboygan Redskins, in the playoffs. The NBL title was absolutely legit, but back in the 1940s, the World Professional Basketball Tournament held in Chicago was the most prestigious title to win.
The All-Stars made that tournament and Feerick turned up his play. In the semi-final against the Chicago Gears (and their rookie center George Mikan), Feerick lodged 22 points in a 72-66 victory to put them in the Finals. The venerable Leroy Edwards, a mainstay of the All-Stars, made a valiant effort with 24 points and Feerick chipped in 19, but the All-Stars were defeated by the Fort Wayne Pistons in the third and deciding game of that Finals series. For Feerick, this brief stay in the NBL proved he was indeed one of pro ball’s best players.
A new pro league and an old acquaintance soon came calling for his help.
Red Auerbach, stuck coaching high school ball in DC, persuaded the owner of the Washington Capitols to make him the new coach of this new franchise in the brand new Basketball Association of America. Red immediately got together some of his old Norfolk buddies, Feerick and Fred Scolari, and a basketball powerhouse was born.
Feerick, aged 25 and at the peak of his game, was widely regarded as the BAA’s best all-around player that season and the next. He was good on the boards, good at passing, and could rifle in a set-shot with no problem. And despite Auerbach being the official coach, Feerick was a brilliant basketball mind and was the de facto coach on the floor. He often called timeouts to stem opponents’ runs and walked to the bench mumbling under his breath at how incompetent the 29-year old Auerbach was at times.
With Feerick leading the BAA in FG% and finishing 2nd in PPG, the Caps set a blistering pace that year with a 49-11 record, which included just one home loss.
The torrid regular season pace came back to haunt the Caps in the playoffs. Their fastbreaking style and Auerbach’s insistent use of just seven players left them worn out. It also didn’t help the BAA inexplicably pitted its two best teams in an opening round playoff series. The second seed Chicago Stags upset top-seed Washington 4-games-to-2.
Over the next two seasons, the Caps continued to be regular season powerhouses. They placed first in their division 1949 season and finally reached the BAA Finals where they tangled with the Minneapolis Lakers losing in six games. Feerick, however, wasn’t around. He was out with injury for all but two of the games that postseason.
After a brief stint in 1949-50 as the Caps’ player-coach in the newly-formed NBA, Feerick retired from professional basketball to coach his alma mater, Santa Clara.
Feerick’s starring role on one of pro basketball’s best teams of the 1940s is his crowning achievement. The 1947 Caps’ win percentage of .817 was never bettered by a BAA team, and no NBA team did so until the 1966-67 Sixers won 68 games, a percentage of .840.
That success came as a result of Feerick’s all-around play at forward. His career is also as a reminder of an awkward time in pro basketball’s history. A grand basketball career of possibly 12 years gets cut to a career of just five years thanks to war, drafts, and jobs that paid better with half the hassle. Despite that reduction in career length, Feerick obviously made the most of it in his short time as a pro ball player.
2x All-BAA 1st Team (1947-’48)
All-BAA 2nd Team (1949)
Regular Season Career Averages (242 games):
13.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, .362 FG%, .805 FT%
Playoff Career Averages (14 games):
10.2 PPG, 1.4 APG, .311 FG%, .795 FT%