The Chicago Zephyrs

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The Chicago Zephyrs were a basketball team that played in the NBA during the 1961/62 (as the Chicago Packers) and 1962/63 seasons. The team wore a blue and yellow strip. The Washington Wizards, a successful team in the NBA today can trace its roots to the Zephyrs. They were based at the International Amphitheater during their first season and then relocated to the Chicago Coliseum for the second season.

How did the Chicago Zephyrs Start up?

The team was founded as an expansion franchise in 1961, becoming the NBA’s first expansion team in 12 years and the first pro basketball team since the departure of the Chicago Stags eleven years earlier. They were originally known as the Chicago Packers, named after the meatpacking district of South Side Chicago. They adopted the name Zephyrs (meaning westerly winds) in 1962 as a reference to the city’s “Windy City” nickname.

The Zephyrs in Competition

The team enjoyed little success on court during their two years of existence. During the 1961/62 season the team performed poorly, finishing last with an awful record of 18-62. The only bright spot in their campaign was the performance of rookie Walt Bellamy who picked the Rookie of the Year award.

The following season Jack McMahon was appointed coach and the team changed their nickname to “Zephyrs”. Another rookie, Terry Dischinger was the star of the campaign, scoring 25.5 ppg to win the Rookie of the Year award. Although they increased their win tally to 25 games, they again finished the season in last place.

The Chicago Zephyrs most Notable Moments

The Chicago Zephyrs team was a little known franchise. Don Nelson, a 1962 draft pick who later became Dallas Maverick’s coach once said, “No one knew there was a team in Chicago…it didn’t matter who we were playing, we never got any headlines, only a box score and a very small write-up.” On October 7, 1962, the Zephyrs were to play a preseason friendly against the Cincinnati Royals in Michigan City, Indiana. The program cover was done by Willard Mullin, a renowned sports artist. In an incident that underlined their obscurity further, Mullin misspelled the team’s nickname as “Zephers”, a sin that is unimaginable today.

It seemed that the Zephyrs had an excellent eye for rookies as two of their drafts brought back-to-back Rookie of the Year awards. In 1961 they picked Walt Bellamy in the first round draft. Bellamy led the team on court to be crowned Rookie of the Year. In 1962, Terry Dischinger was picked in the second draft round as the tenth overall pick. He averaged 25.5 ppg, returning the Rookie of the Year award to Chicago. The two rookies played together during the 1962/63 and saw the Zephyrs improve their win percentage. However, they did not get a chance to gel further and perhaps bring real success to Chicago as the team relocated to Baltimore, Maryland at the end of that season where it became the “Baltimore Bullets”.

The Chicago Zephyrs most Notable Players

Rookie Walt Bellamy was undoubtedly the star performer for the Zephyrs during their first season. He had an impressive return of 31.6 points per game which was only second in the league to Wilt Chamberlain’s haul of 37.6 ppg. His record of 19 rebounds per game was third in the league behind Walt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.

Terry Dischinger joined the Zephyrs as a rookie in 1962/63 preseason in another clever drafting by the team. That season, he scored 25.5 points per game, a return which gave him the Rookie of the Year award, the second in a row for Chicago.

Other notable players for the Zephyrs include Woody Sauldsberry, Bob “Slick” Leonard and Charles Hardnett.

What Happened to the Chicago Zephyrs?

From the outset, the team found it hard to draw fans to their games. During the 1961/62 season, fewer than 3000 fans turned up for most games. The name change to the more flamboyant “Zephyrs” moniker was meant to increase fan interest alongside the relocation to the larger Chicago Coliseum. However this strategy foundered as the crowds continued to be lean. Eventually, it was clear to the owners that there was no future for the Zephyrs in Chicago. Following the conclusion of the 1962/63 season, the team was moved to Baltimore and it was renamed “Baltimore Bullets”. It would not be long before the NBA returned to Chicago as the Chicago Bulls were started as an expansion team in 1966.