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Chevette to Corvette No. 43: The 1950-51 Fort Wayne Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 32-36
  • Pythagorean record: 29-39
  • Points scored per game: 84.1 (7th of 11)
  • Points allowed per game: 86.0 (9th of 11)
  • Arena: North Side High School Gym
  • Head coach: Murray Mendenhall

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Rochester Royals, 2-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: Fred Schaus (15.1)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (10.0)
  • Assists per game: Ken Murray (3.8)

Top player

Fred Schaus

Schaus and Larry Foust both played in the NBA’s first All-Star Game. But Schaus, although he didn’t rebound quite as well as Foust, scored more and with more efficiency.


Key transaction

Drafted George Yardley with No. 7 pick

Yardley was a high-scoring wing from Stanford, an eventual Hall of Famer and an excellent pick. Blake Sebring of The News-Sentinel:

When the Fort Wayne Pistons selected George Yardley with the third pick in the 1950 National Basketball Association draft, Pistons General Manager Carl Bennett sent Yardley a telegram at Stanford University.

"Fort Wayne of the National Basketball Association drafted you," Bennett’s telegram said, according to Todd Gould’s book "Pioneers of the Hardwood." "Please call me collect late Tuesday or Wednesday at Harrison 9426 or Anthony 3264. Also advise coach Dean of our choice."

When Yardley received the notice, the Newport, Calif., native had to laugh because he had never heard of Fort Wayne.

It’s no wonder Yardley didn’t join the Pistons right away. Instead, he played AAU basketball, joined the Navy, played volleyball, prepared for the Olympics, broke his hand, missed the Olympics, toured South America and got married.

Finally, three years  later, Yardley joined the Pistons, but that’s a story for a future season.

Trend watch

End of stall era

On Nov. 22, 1950, the Pistons travelled to Minneapolis to play the George Mikan-led and heavily favored Lakers. Stew Thornley:

Fort Wayne controlled the jump and Mikan, flanked by Pollard and Mikkelsen, lumbered into defensive position. But as the trio turned around, they saw Pistons center Larry Foust standing at mid-court with the ball on his hip. And that’s where Foust—and the ball—stayed. Foust was under strict orders from Mendenhall to do nothing until the Lakers came out to play man- to-man.

The officials—Stan Stutz and Jocko Collins—screamed at Mendenhall and the Pistons to play ball. Mendenhall fired back that Minneapolis was playing an illegal zone defense, a charge that Lakers coach Kundla denied.

Meanwhile, the Auditorium crowd of 7,021 began to boo and stomp their feet in response to the inactivity. But Fort Wayne stuck to its game plan as they held the ball for as long as three minutes at a time. When one playing got tired of holding the ball, he’d flip it to a teammate, who would then tuck it under his arm.

The LakersV edge stood at 17-16 entering the fourth quarter. A free throw by Foust tied the scored with 6:10 to go in the game. But Jim Pollard dropped a free throw 12 seconds later to put the Lakers back out front, 18-17.

That score remained as the game entered the final minute. Now it was the Lakers’ turn to stall as Fort Wayne hustled to get the ball back. With nine seconds left, the Pistons forced a turnover as an errant Laker pass sailed out of bounds.

Paul “Curly ” Armstrong took the inbound pass and immediately fed the breaking Foust, who tried to put a running hook shot over Mikan’s outstretched arms. Mikan got a hand on the ball, but Foust’s shot still had enough on it to drop through the rim and give the Pistons a 19-18 lead.

Minneapolis roared back down the floor, but Martin’s shot hit off the rim as the final horn went off, ending the lowest-scoring game in the history of the NBA.

Mikan was game high with 15 points, and he produced the Lakers’ only four field goals of the evening.

The spectators weren’t the only ones fuming. John Kundla commented, “If that’s basketball, I don’t want any part of it.”

“What was wrong with it?” countered Mendenhall. “We won, didn’t we? We wanted to get those giants out in the open where we would have a chance to play basketball, not get our heads kicked in.”

Sportswriter Charlie Johnson called the exhibition a “sports tragedy.” But Minneapolis Tribune columnist Dick Cullum defended the stall as Fort Wayne’s best chance to win: “Therefore, it cannot be criticized for using it. It is a low conception of sports to say that a team’s first duty is to give you a lot of senseless action instead of earnest competition.”

“The name of the game is to win,” added Mikkelsen, “particularly when you’re playing on the road. That may have been the key to it. Since the game was in Minneapolis, Mendenhall had nothing to lose; after all, he wasn’t alienating his fans.”

But alienation of the fans was something that concerned Maurice Podoloff. “It seems to me that the teams showed complete disregard for the interest of the fans by the type of game they played,” said the league president the day after the game.

The NBA didn’t adopt a shot clock until 1954, but Podoloff’s message landed. After this game, which still stands (and likely always will) as the NBA’s lowest-scoring, teams stopped stalling.

Why this season ranks No. 43

The Pistons drafted three players this year – George Yardley in the amateur draft and Bill Sharman and Larry Foust in dispersal drafts – who would become stars. This could’ve been one of the most talented teams in Piston history, even if the top players were too young to compete yet.

But Yardley, as noted above, didn’t join the team for a few years, and Fort Wayne foolishly traded Sharman to the Celtics for Chuck Share. That left only Foust, who had a fine rookie season after Detroit picked him in the Chicago Stags’ dispersal draft.

With Foust and Fred Schaus, the Pistons made the playoffs, where they lost in the first round to a better Rochester Royals team.

Previously

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