The Fort Wayne Pistons

Graeme
By
Posted: February 8, 2015


The Fort Wayne Pistons were a professional basketball team that played in the NBL from 1941 to 1948 and the BAA/NBA from 1948 to 1957. The Pistons were a fairly successful team, boasting 2 NBL championships, 2 NBA Finals appearances and 6 division titles in both the NBL and NBA.

How did the Fort Wayne Pistons Start up?

The franchise was formed in 1941 as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons. The owner, Fred Zollner owned an automobile pistons manufacturing company in Detroit and that is where the team draws its nickname. Zollner was not new to sport as he also owned a softball team called Zollner Pistons. Initially the team played their home games at the North Side High School gym before moving to the newly built 10,000 seater memorial Coliseum in 1952.

The Pistons’ most Notable Moments

The team made it to the NBA finals two times but the 1955 version against the Syracuse Nationals is the more memorable of these for the wrong reasons. The two teams had battled all the way to game seven in the Finals series having tied 3-3. In game seven, played in Syracuse, the Pistons were leading with 12 seconds left to play. However, in what is believed to be collusion with gamblers, they allowed the Nationals to win the game through a series of suspect fouls and turnovers. Frankie Bryan committed the foul that gave Syracuse their winning free throw before Andy Phillip committed a suspect turnover that denied the Pistons a potentially game changing shot with three seconds left.

On November 22, 1950, the Pistons came up against a feared Minneapolis Lakers side that boasted the talent of George Mikans. In order to contain them, Fort Wayne coach Murray Mendenhall had instructed his players to hold the ball as much as possible. Throughout the game the Pistons did nothing but pass the ball around and commit deliberate fouls to deny Minneapolis and Mikans in particular a chance to shoot. The game ended 19-18 in favor of the Pistons, earning the infamous record for lowest scoring game in NBA history. It was directly responsible for the introduction of the shot clock which was aimed at avoiding such incidences.

Fort Wayne Pistons’ most Notable Players

George Yardley was a free scoring forward during his time with the Pistons between 1953 and 1957. He helped them to two NBA finals. He scored 1233 points and 1547 points in 1956 and 1957 respectively, his most prolific seasons. He was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame n 1996.

Bobby McDermott played for the FW Pistons during the peak of his career between 1943 and 1946. Bobby was renowned for his shooting accuracy with a free throw accuracy of over 80%. During his stay, the Pistons won two NBL championships and had a win percentage of over 80%. In each of his four seasons with the pistons he won NBL MVP and was actually voted the greatest player in NBL history.

Andy Philip played guard for the Pistons between 1952 and 1956 leading them to the 1955 and 1956 finals. Although he was famously accused by teammate George Yardley of deliberately giving away a turnover in the 1955 NBA finals, his contribution of 617 points and 408 points in 1955 and 1956 respectively cannot be overlooked.

The Fort Wayne Pistons in Competition

The team had a solid inaugural season as they posted a 15-9 record to finish in second place and advanced all the way to the NBL finals where they lost to the Oshkosh All-Stars. They reached the NBL Finals again in the 1942/43 season but were again beaten this time by the Sheboygan Red Sins. However the following season, after retaining the regular season crown they made amends to lift the NBL title, beating the Red Skins. They repeated the feat over the same opponents in 1944/45 season to retain the NBA title. In the next two seasons, they exited the playoffs at the first and second rounds respectively.

With the NBL in decline, the Pistons joined the BAA for the 1945/46 season and dropped “Zollner” from their official name to be known simply as Forty Wayne Pistons. The BAA changed to the NBA in the course of the season. The first five years in the NBA were rough for the Pistons as they only made it to the second round of the playoffs twice. They made it to the NBA finals in 1956 where they pushed the Syracuse Nationals to game 7 and lost narrowly. They lost the Finals again the following year, this time to the Philadelphia Warriors. Their time in Fort Wayne ended with a two game loss to the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round of the 1956/57 season.

What Happened to the Fort Wayne Pistons?

Although the team was performing well and was genuinely loved by fans, the fact that Fort Wayne was a small city meant that it could not provide a consistently high fan turnout throughout the 41 home games. Fort Zollner decided to move the team to Detroit which promised a bigger market for the franchise. The team was renamed “Detroit Pistons” and continues to be a successful franchise to this day.

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