Chevette to Corvette No. 20: The 1955-56 Fort Wayne Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 37-35
  • Pythagorean record: 38-34
  • Points scored per game: 94.4 (8th of 8)
  • Points allowed per game: 93.7 (1st of 8)
  • Arena: War Memorial Coliseum
  • Head coach: Charles Eckman

Playoffs

  • Beat the St. Louis Hawks in Western Division Finals, 3-2
  • Lost in NBA Finals to the Philadelphia Warriors, 4-1

Leaders

  • Points per game: George Yardley (17.4)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (9.7)
  • Assists per game: Andy Phillip (5.9)

Top player

George Yardley

Larry Foust (16.2 points and 9.0 rebounds per game) was slightly better than Yardley (17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game) in the regular season, but Yardley outperformed Foust in the playoffs. Yardley averaged 23.0 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists in the playoffs and bested his regular-season field-goal and free-throw percentages.

Key transaction

Drafted Jesse Arnelle with No. 7 pick in second round

Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

Almost unnoticed, a milestone was passed when the Zollners signed Jesse Arnelle, the first black ever to ink a Fort Wayne contract. Although he had not signed after being their number two draft choice, the European tour of the Globetrotters was over and the Penn State six-foot-five star wanted to take a crack at the NBA.

Arnelle broke his nose and barely played the rest of the season, the first and last of his NBA career. But he had a distinguished law career and now serves on the Penn State Board of Trustees.

Trend watch

Back-to-back Finals

The Pistons made the National Basketball League finals every year between 1942 and 1945, winning the league title in 1944 and 1945. NBA success hadn’t come quite as easily, but with their second straight Finals appearance, the Pistons were in reach of matching their NBL level of play.

Why this season ranks No. 20

Before the season, a big storyline began to form. Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

The Piston Civil Action Committee would up its season ticket sales campaign and fell slightly short of the 2,500 goal; public figures were never disclosed. But selling more than 2,000 season tickets was still a hallmark figure in the NBA. Rumors persisted about moving the Fort Wayne franchise to a larger city but Zollner’s pat answer remained, "If the fans prove they want us we have no plans to move."

The Pistons started the season 1-6 before winning a Thanksgiving Day game over the Rochester Royals. Even with their poor record, that game pushed the Pistons’ attendance pace 35 percent ahead of the previous year, according to Nelson.

Fort Wayne recovered from its poor start to win the Western Division at 37-35, the division’s only winning record. That earned a first-round bye in the six-team playoffs and a Western Division Finals matchup with the St. Louis Hawks, who had beaten the Minneapolis Lakers.

St. Louis won the series’ first two games, but Fort Wayne became the first NBA team to overcome that deficit.

The Pistons weren’t so fortunate in the NBA Finals, where the Paul Arizin-led Philadelphia Warriors earned a 4-1 victory and their second championship.

Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story”:

The Zollner monthly employee magazine, The Rocket, wrapped up the season with an eight paragraph story headlined "The Big One Got Away Again." "The big one got away again, but the Pistons already are formulating plans to see that it doesn’t happen a third time… A summing up for the 1955-56 season can only be a pleasant one. The Z’s attendance increased sharply and tremendous interest in the playoff games (more than 24,000 saw the last three games at home) pointed toward another increase next season."

Previously

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