The Syracuse Nationals

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The Syracuse Nationals were a basket ball team based in Syracuse, New York between 1949 and 1963. The Nationals played in the NBL from 1946 to 1949 before joining the NBA. They are the predecessor to the Philadelphia 76ers of today. They were a descent team, regularly making the playoffs as well as three NBA finals appearances with one resulting in triumph.

How did the Syracuse Nationals Start up?

The team was started by Italian Immigrant Daniel Biasone in 1946, becoming the easternmost team in the largely Midwest based league. The team initially played their home games at the state fair coliseum from 1946-1951 and then the Onondaga War Memorial from 1951 to 1963.

The Syracuse Nationals in Competition

The Nationals’ first season in play was 1946/47. That season, they posted a 21-23 record which put them fourth in the NBL. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Rochester Royals. The following season they reached the playoffs again but were thrown out by the Anderson Duffey Packers. They were again eliminated by the Packers in 1948/49, this time in the semifinals.

They joined the newly created NBA for the 1949/50 season where they registered instant success with a league best 51-13 record. They went all the way to the NBA Finals but were beaten 3 games to 1 by the Minneapolis Lakers. The team would wait till 1953/54 to return to the NBA Finals and again lost to the Lakers in seven games. The 1954/55 season saw the introduction of the 24 hour shot clock by the NBA at the suggestion of the team owner Biasone. That season, the Nationals clinched their first NBA title by beating the Fort Wayne Pistons in a dramatic game 7 which saw the team snatch the lead with 12 seconds left.

Their championship win was followed by four Eastern Conference Finals in six years which all ended in defeat. In 1961/62 and 1962/63, their final two seasons in Syracuse, they were eliminated at the first playoff round.

The Nationals’ most Notable Moments

The dramatic 1955 NBA Finals triumph over the Fort Wayne Pistons represents the pinnacle of the Nationals’ life in the NBA. Coming off the back of a finals loss to the formidable Minneapolis Lakers, the two teams each won their home games tying the series at 3-3. In game seven, playing at home, the Nationals found themselves trailing 41-24 in the second quarter. With 12 seconds left in the game, they had fought back to tie the scores at 91-91 when Frankie Brian of the Pistons inexplicably fouled George King. From the resulting free throws, the Nationals took a one-point lead which they preserved thanks to a turnover by the Pistons’ Andy Phillip with three seconds left.

On March 21, 1953 the Nationals met the Boston Celtics in game 2 of the three game Eastern Conference semifinals series. Having dropped game 1 at home, Syracuse needed to win in Boston to have any hope of winning the series. The game was hard fought with the teams going into fourth overtime. The game, which ended 111-105 in Boston’s favor entered the record books the longest playoff game in NBA history.

Syracuse Nationals’ most Notable Players

Dolph Schayes, a forward who played for Syracuse his entire career would have to be the pick of this lot. He led the team in scoring for 14 straight seasons between 1948/49 and 1960/61. He was also renowned for his tenacity, perhaps best epitomized by playing an entire season with a cast due to a broken arm. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.

Earl Lloyd was with the Nationals from 1952 to 1958, arguably the team’s most successful years. In the 1955 championship winning season, Earl had his personal best year as he averaged 10.2 ppg and 7.7 rebounds per game.

Al Cervi served the team in player-coach capacity from 1948 to 1957. He instilled his competitive spirit in the team, leading them to the NBA Finals three times of which they triumphed once in 1955.

What Happened to the Syracuse Nationals?

With salaries and operating costs rising, a small town like Syracuse would inevitably have trouble supporting an NBA team. The NBA was encouraging teams to move to big cities particularly in the west. The Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco following the 1961/62 season, leaving Philadelphia without and NBA team. In 1963 Danny Biasone sold the team to investors Ike Richman and Irv Kosloff who moved the team to Philadelphia to fill the void left by the Warriors. The team was renamed Philadelphia 76ers and plays on to this day.