Pro Hoops History HOF: Ed Sadowski

Ed Sadowski
Ed Sadowski

“A scowling brute of a man with close-cropped hair and a game face as belligerent as a clenched fist, Big Ed tallied most of his points with a sweeping right-handed hook shot that was virtually unstoppable. For sure he was virtually immobile and could shoot only with his right hand; the word was that if Sadowski ever had to feed himself with only his left hand, he’d starve to death.”

- Charley Rosen, The First Tip-Off

Ed Sadowski may have been completely unable to shoot any sort of shot left-handed, but when his right-handed hook was so devastating who needed a left hander? Especially considering by that point in Sadowski’s career he was an unmovable 6’5″ and 270 pounds. When the plodding and leviathan center planted himself, there was no way the opposition was going to move him.

Burgeoning obesity aside, Sadowski’s greatest claim to fame was his appearance in the first-ever BAA game on November 1, 1946. As player-coach, he led the Toronto Huskies against the New York Knicks. Big Ed paced all scorers with 18 points, but his Huskies lost 68-66. That defeat in Toronto was followed by another letdown in Cleveland at the hands of the Rebels. Thereafter the Huskies caught relative fire winning two of their next three games.

In the third match of that streak, a home crowd of 6500 fans saw Sadowski score 30 points as the Huskies rolled over the Providence Steamrollers, 85 to 68. The performance was the high-water mark of Big Ed’s Ontario tenure.

Just two weeks later in early December, Sadowski went AWOL and the Huskies suspended their high-priced big man. The disgruntled Sadowski complained he was overwhelmed by his duties as player and coach. He demanded that he – and his $10,000 salary – be traded to the Boston Celtics where he’d be reunited with his old college coach “Honey” Russell. Instead, Big Ed was traded to the Cleveland Rebels on December 16.

This gives Ed Sadowski the distinction of being the first player traded in the BAA’s history.

Although not very mobile on the court, Sadowski’s career was one of constant motion. Playing a truncated seven-year career, Sadwoski nonetheless suited up for seven different teams in the NBL, BAA, and NBA during the 1940s. The scowling Sadowski was a basketball mercenary and rode that mentality to a pretty successful career.

It all began in 1940 as Big Ed joined the Detroit Eagles of the NBL. That Eagles team finished 12-12 in league action with Sadowski leading the squad with 10.7 points per game. The team as a whole scored 40.5 points, so Ed was clearly the centerpiece of the offense with his swinging hook shot. Overall in the NBL, Sadowski finished 3rd in PPG and was 2nd in total points scored. He was the runaway selection for Rookie of the Year and was also named to the All-NBL 1st Team. In the playoffs, though, Sadowski, Buddy Jeannette, Robert Calihan and the Eagles ran into the superior Sheboygan Redskins. They lost their series 2-games-to-1.

Although ousted from the NBL playoffs, the Eagles did appear in an event just as noteworthy back in the 1940s: the World Professional Tournament (WPT). The NBL may have been the best pro league, but great pro teams still existed outside that association. The WPT brought together the best of the NBL, other leagues, and barnstormers to Chicago every spring. The Eagles stunned the tournament by upsetting the Harlem Globetrotters 37-36 (led by Sadowski’s 12 points) in the opening round. In the semi-finals, the Eagles again pulled a one-point upset, this time of the New York Rens, 43 to 42. Sadowski again led the way with 16 points. In the championship game against the Oshkosh All-Stars, Detroit knocked off the NBL champs 39-37 as Sadowski sparkled once more with 11 points.

Sadowski’s chance to repeat his big rookie season was nixed thanks to World War II. The big man served in the US Air Corps during those years and didn’t return to pro basketball until 1945.

The Fort Wayne Pistons signed Sadowski as a ringer before the lastgame of the 1944-45 regular season. Already possessing the NBL’s best record and the defending league champs, the Pistons wanted a guarantee they would score a repeat title performance. Sadowski proved to be quite the unnecessary insurance policy since this Pistons team might have been the greatest squad ever fielded in the NBL: Bob McDermott averaged an obscene 20 points a night alongside Buddy Jeannette, Jake Pelkington, Chick Reiser, and defensive madman Charley Shipp. As it turned out, the Pistons fell into an 0-2 series hole against Sheboygan in the Finals. Which is really bad when it was a best-of-5 series. Fortunately, Fort Wayne righted the ship and staged a comeback winning the next three games and the 1945 NBL title. And for the cherry on top, the Pistons won the 1945 WPT as well.

The next season, Fort Wayne returned all their principal players and Sadowski enjoyed his first full season of basketball since 1941. Big Ed averaged 9.6 PPG to finish second in scoring behind McDermott on the Pistons. The Indiana juggernaut again finished with the NBL’s best regular season record and looked to secure their third straight league title. There was to be no three-peat for the Pistons, though. The Rochester Royals spanked Sadowski’s team 3-games-to-1 in the semifinals.

For his part, Sadowski was easily Fort Wayne’s top performer scoring 14 points a game during the series, but McDermott went ice cold scoring just 6 points in the series as he was hounded by the defense of Rochester’s Al Cervi. As consolation, the Pistons did win the 1946 WPT, but Sadowski’s experience with the NBL was forever done. The next time he’d don a uniform would be for his ill-fated experience with the BAA’s Huskies.

After that situation blew up and he parachuted into Cleveland, Sadowski put together a fine campaign finishing 2nd in FG% and 3rd in PPG in the BAA’s first regular season. In the playoffs, he averaged 24 points on 39% shooting from the field and 79% shooting from the free throw line. Seems terrible today, but that kind of offensive efficiency was sterling in 1947. The runnin’ Rebels were no match for the New York Knicks, however, losing the series 2-games-to-1.

Suffering terrible finances and woeful attendance, the Rebels disbanded after the season and Sadowski finally landed in Boston thanks to the dispersal draft. Now at 30 years of age, Sadowski scored a career-high 19.4 PPG that season, led Boston to its first-ever playoff series, and was named to the All-BAA 1st Team. Sadowski had another big postseason with 20 points per game, but the Celtics were knocked off by the Chicago Stags.

The vagabond Sadowski moved on once more. The mercenary now traveled down the Atlantic Seaboard to play with the Philadelphia Warriors for the 1948-49 season. In this final year of the BAA, Big Ed teamed with “Jumpin'” Joe Fulks forming the highest scoring duo in that league’s short history. Sadowski averaged 15.3 points and Fulks 26. Any hopes for playoff success were dashed by an injury to Fulks and the Warriors were swept by the Washington Capitols.

In his final pro season, Sadowski split time between the Warriors and the Baltimore Bullets in the brand new NBA. The old heavy veteran still tossed up 12.5 points a night, but his days were numbered. Still, Sadowski could take comfort in the fact that during the 1940s, no other center (besides George Mikan) was better at scoring the basketball than he was. In fact, I’m sure he took comfort in that fact.

Years Played: 1940-41; 1945-1950

Accolades

NBL -
Champion (1945)
Rookie of the Year (1941)
All-NBL 1st Team (1941)
BAA -
All-BAA 1st Team (1948)
Other -
World Professional Basketball Tournament Champion (1941, 1945, 1946)

Statistics

NBL - 59 games
10.0 PPG, 67.9% FT
BAA - 160 games
16.9 PPG, 1.8 APG, 36.4% FG, 68.5% FT
NBA - 69 games
12.6 PPG, 2.0 APG, 32.4% FG, 73.5% FT

Contemporary BAA/NBA Ranks (1946-47 through 1949-50 season)
3rd Points, 4th PPG
3rd FGs Made, 18th FG%
4th FTs Made, 46th FT%
11th Assists, 35th APG
7th Games Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Bobby McDermott

Bobby McDermott
Bobby McDermott

One of the pivotal figures in professional basketball’s transformation from regional circuit to national chain, Bobby McDermott ruled the basketball roost during the mid-1940s.

Like many ball players who came of age in the 1930s, McDermott didn’t have the financial wherewithal for college. The Great Depression was crippling and Bobby needed some cash fast. So he became paid ball player in his teens for many of the city leagues in New York City. By 1934, he had joined the Brooklyn Visitations of the American Basketball League (ABL), one of the larger pro leagues at the time. McDermott torched the ABL with averages routinely near 10 points per game. Outbursts of 20 points on occasion. Given that final scores rarely reached the 40s, McDermott was indeed an offensive powerhouse.

By the late 1930s, McDermott suited up for the Original Celtics. This Celtics squad was a barnstorming outfit based in New York City and had dominated the world of pro ball in the 1920s. This 1930s version was a reincarnation and didn’t reach the heights of their predecessors, but McDermott was by now a huge draw as folks came to see the basketball wizard who could now score 30 points on any given night.

After a brief return to the ABL in 1939, McDermott saddled up with the NBL for the 1940s and reached his apex as a ball player.

Powering the Gears and Pistons

Spending five-and-a-half seasons with the Fort Wayne Pistons, McDermott torched the NBL. His legendary long-distance shooting proved unstoppable. From 1942 to 1946, McDermott led the Pistons to five straight NBL Finals and won the title twice. He was named to the All-NBL 1st Team every one of those seasons.

And he was also MVP of the league from 1943 to 1946. So dominant was this sharp-shooting guard that the NBL in 1946 named him the greatest player in league history. He’d eventually secure the all-time points scored record for the NBL.

But as the 1946-47 season unfolded, McDermott would be traded from the Pistons to the Chicago Gears. Sure McDermott was now in his early 30s and showing some signs of slowing down, but the real problem was his temper and alcohol. Aboard a train back to Fort Wayne, McDermott and a teammate got into a fistfight after a craps game. Pistons owner Fred Zollner relieved McDermott of his coaching duties and summarily traded him to the Chicago Gears.

The trade happened to produce the first great Big Man, Little Man pairing in pro basketball’s history.

Already on the Gears was a rookie player by the name of George Mikan. With Mikan commanding double teams, McDermott was often on the loose to hit any and all two-handers he could muster. Mikan and McDermott powered the Gears to the NBL title in 1947 giving McDermott his third and final title in the league.

Thereafter McDermott bounced around the NBL until that league’s demise and merger with the BAA in 1949. McDermott’s career ended in 1950 after short stints back in the ABL and with the NPBL (a short-lived revival of the NBL).

At a time when balls still had huge laces to hold them together and two-hand set-shots were still the norm, McDermott helped revolutionize the game. Yes, he still was beholden to the traditional two-hander, but he let that traditional shot set sail from unconventional places. McDermott showed that with practice and imagination, a player could take 20-,30-, and even 40-foot shots as effective means to defeating an opponent and entertaining crowds.

And although little footage survives of McDermott in action, contemporaries hailed him as the greatest long-distance shooter in the history of basketball. The praise of contemporaries reminds us that men and their titles are temporal, but their deeds are eternal. Because for all of the future “greatest shooters in the history of basketball”, their temporal achievements rest in large measure on the eternal bedrock solidified by McDermott.

Years Played: 1934 – 1950

Accolades

NBL -
3x Champion (1944-’45, 1947)
4x MVP (1943-’46)
6x All-NBL 1st Team (1942-’47)
All-NBL 2nd Team (1948)

Statistics

NBL - 287Games
11.7 PPG, 71.3% FT
PPG Leader (1943)

All-Time NBL Ranks
1st Points, 1st FGs Made
5th FTs Made, 4th Games Played

ProHoopsHistory HOF: Charley Shipp

(Big Blue History)
(Leroy Edwards [29] and Charley Shipp [27] / Big Blue History)
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

Accolades

NBL -
4x Champion (1937, 1941-’42, 1945)
5x All-NBL 1st Team (1938, 1940-’43)
2x All-NBL 2nd Team (1939, 1944)

Statistics

NBL - 420 Games
5.2 PPG
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
11th Points

Pro Hoops History HOF: George Yardley

George Yardley
George Yardley

The one thing I’m most proud of as a coach is playing Yardley. He became the first player to score 2,000 points in a season, and he was such a skinny, chalky-white bastard that you thought he was dying from malnutrition.

- Fort Wayne Pistons coach Charley Eckman in Tall Tales

George Yardley was indeed the first player to score 2000 points in an NBA season. The Bird, as the fleet forward was called, pulled off the feat in the 1957-58 season. In the final game of the year, he needed 25 points to reach the 2000-point mark. Against the Syracuse Nationals, he scored 26 points and ended the year with 2001 points on 27.8 points per game.

That little factoid can be Yardley’s calling card, but the swingman deserves to be remembered for so much more.

Along with Philadelphia Warrior Paul Arizin, Yardley was a pioneer of off-the-dribble jump shooting. As Yardley himself attested, Arizin and he were the only guys who took their jump shots at the apex of their jump instead of while shooting on the way up.

Yardley was probably the most athletic player in the mid-1950s NBA with a quick first step. This put defenders in a bind since Yardley could nail a jump shot standing still, but if you closed out too hard he would blow by you to the basket. And even if you did recover, Yardley was a beast at making off-balance or fading away jumpers. Basically, he’s the antecedent for players like Reggie Miller, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant who love to fire up jump shots.

Yardley spent the majority of his career with the Fort Wayne Pistons, had a brief stint in Detroit after the Pistons relocated there in 1957, and closed out his brief 7-year career with the Syracuse Nationals. The brevity is partly because he had to serve two years in the Navy delaying the start of his career and partly because he retired early to start his own engineering company.

He still packed those seven years with significant achievement. He was a six-time all-star and played in back-to-back NBA Finals. The first of those was a nail-biting seven-game series with Fort Wayne against Syracuse. The Pistons lost the final game by one point. The next season the Pistons again lost to the Philadelphia Warriors in a much-closer-than-it-looks five games. They lost three of the four games by a combined eight points.

When Yardley did finally step away from the game, he still had some juice left averaging 20 points and 8 rebounds on career-highs in FG% and FT%. His 20 PPG that year made him the first player to retire while averaging over 20 PPG in his final season. Since then he’s been joined by Bob Pettit, Rudy LaRusso, Paul Arizin, and Michael Jordan.

Now that’s some good company for the Bird to find himself in.

Years Played: 1953 – 1960

Fort Wayne Pistons 1950s
Fort Wayne Pistons

Accolades

NBA -
All-NBA 1st Team (1958)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1957)
6x All-Star (1955-’60)

Statistics

NBA - 472 Games
19.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 42.2% FG, 78.0% FT
PPG Leader (1958)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1953-54 through 1959-60 season)
6th Points, 8th PPG
7th FGs Made, 12th FG%
5th FTs Made, 23rd FT%
11th Rebounds, 20th RPG
30th Assists
12th Games Played, 8th Minutes Played

Pro Hoops History HOF: Larry Foust

Larry Foust
Larry Foust

As I’ve said before, Larry Foust likely was never the best center in the NBA. If he ever was, it was during the 1954-55 campaign. He wasn’t the best at scoring, wasn’t the best at rebounding, and not the best defense. But if the Hall of Fame was predicated on only admitting the guys who were the best at what they did, we’d have some shockingly bare halls.

Larry Foust certainly was great, though. Great enough to deserve a vaunted spot in the Hall of Fame.

The big man from Philadelphia was an all-star six times with the Fort Wayne Pistons and twice with the Minneapolis Lakers. Between George Mikan early in his career, Neil Johnston in the middle, and Bill Russell at the end, Foust didn’t manage too many All-NBA teams, especially since there was no All-NBA 3rd Team back then. Still, he managed to carve out a selection on the All-NBA 2nd Team in 1952 and an All-NBA 1st Team selection in 1955.

Foust certainly was not a ballerina on the court or an exemplar of grace. Pistons teammate Zeke Sincola recalled that Foust “had the worst hands of any center I’ve ever seen… Thank God Foust had a big body so he could get inside and get some layups.”  But he did have that big body and he did get near the hoop to make a slew of deposits.

Foust’s career culminated in 1955 when shot a then-record 48.7% from the field for the regular season, led the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes and, along with George Yardley, took the Pistons all the way to the NBA Finals. The Pistons lost that series to the Syracuse Nationals in the seventh game by one point. The next year, they returned to the Finals, with Foust again leading the NBA in WS/48, but again they lost. This time the defeat was to the Philadelphia Warriors in 5 games.

Foust’s career then took a tour to the Minneapolis Lakers for two final all-star caliber seasons and another defeat in the NBA Finals. This defeat came in 1959 as the Boston Celtics swept the upstart Lakers led by Elgin Baylor. After this crushing blow, Foust landed in St. Louis with the Hawks as their backup center retiring after the 1962 season. Two more Finals heartbreaks awaited Larry, though, as the Hawks lost to the Boston Celtics in 1960 and 1961 for the title.

Larry Foust could have been “5x NBA Champion Larry Foust”. But that’s a stretch. His teams very well could have taken the 1960, 1956, and 1955 NBA titles, though. “3x NBA Champion Larry Foust” still sounds pretty darn good.

The fact of the matter is, however, that “0x NBA Champion Larry Foust” is still a Hall of Famer, even if the one in Springfield doesn’t think so. You don’t make eight all-star games while scoring the 8th most points and grabbing the 2nd most rebounds for a decade in the NBA without securing a place in the Pro Hoops History Hall of Fame.

Years Played: 1950 – 1962

Fort Wayne Pistons
Fort Wayne Pistons

Accolades

NBA –
All-NBA 1st Team (1955)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1952)
8x All-Star (1951-’56, 1958-’59)

Statistics

NBA - 817 Games
13.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 40.5% FG, 74.1% FT
FG% Leader (1955)

Contemporary NBA Ranks (1950-51 through 1961-62 season)
4th Rebounds, 17th RPG
8th Points, 30th PPG
9th FGs Made, 33rd FG%
7th FTs Made, 30th Assists
3rd Games Played, 9th Minutes Played*

*stat not kept until the 1951-52 season

The Lowdown: Larry Foust

Years Active: 1951 – 1962
Regular Season Stats: 817 games, 29.2 MPG
13.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 40.5% FG, 74.1% FT
Postseason Stats: 73 games, 27.4 mpg
12.4 PPG 9.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 39.4% FG, 78.1% FT
Accolades: 8x All-Star (1951-56, 1958-59), All-NBA 1st Team (1955), All-NBA 2nd Team (1952)

Larry-Foust

Larry Foust, rugged Piston center, poured in 37 points as Fort Wayne made it four straight over the Royals. Foust scored six of his team’s seven points in the overtime after the regular game ended, 94-94.

- Via The Milwaukee Journal, Decemeber 2, 1954

Larry Foust is one of the many victims of failed basketball memory. The depths and passage of time naturally erode the ability to recall the greatness of things achieved by those in the past. Compounding this natural tendency is the fact that none of Foust’s clubs exist as he knew them.

The Fort Wayne Pistons have since moved on to Detroit. The Minneapols Lakers headed west to Los Angeles. The St. Louis Hawks went down south to Atlanta. Nevertheless, Foust is a player worth not only recalling, but one worthy of Hall of Fame induction. During the 1950s he was one of the premier NBA centers and yet is unrecognized as such.

During his heydey (1951-58), Foust recorded the 4th most win shares for a center. Of the top 6 players on this list, Foust is the only one not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. George Mikan, Neil Johnston, Ed Macauley, Arnie Risen and Clyde Lovellette are all deservedly in.

Looking at Foust’s production, this is an unfortunately recurring theme. He is routinely in the lofty company of various Hall of Fame players and yet he is the one outside looking in. During the entirety of the 1950s, Foust scored the 3rd most points and grabbed the most rebounds of any center in the NBA. Amongst all players he was 8th in points scored and 2nd in rebounds. Finally, his player efficiency rating (PER) of 21.0 was 5th amongst centers and 9th overall.

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