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The Tri-Cities Blackhawks were a pro basketball team that played in the NBL and NBA from 1946/47 to 1950/51 season. The team played their home games at the Wharton Fieldhouse in Moline City. The Blackhawks are a predecessor to the Atlanta Hawks who play in the NBA today.
How did the Blackhawks Start up?
The franchise was founded in 1946 as the Buffalo Bisons by business man Ben Kerner. However, the team relocated only 13 games into their first season to Moline, Illinois in the Tri-Cities region which also consisted of Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island, Illinois. The Tri-Cities region was the location of the Blackhawk war, 115 years earlier and that is what inspired the team’s new nickname.
The Blackhawks in Competition
The Blackhawks started their life on court during the 1946/47 season. That season, they struggled, finishing fifth with a 19-25 record. They shifted from the Eastern Division to the Western Division for the next season. In 1947/48 they recorded an improved 30-30 record for second, making the playoffs. They then defeated the Indianapolis Kautskys 3 games to 1 and proceeded to the Western Finals where they lost to the Minneapolis Lakers. In 1938/49 with three of the league’s best teams having left for the BAA, the Blackhawks reached the NBL Semifinals where they lost in four games to the Oshkosh All-Stars.
They joined the newly consolidated NBA for the 1949/50 season and finished in third place in the Western Division with a 29-35 record. However, they were eliminated in three straight games by the Anderson packers from the first round of the playoffs. In 1950/51, their last season in Moline, they finished in last place with a 25-43 record despite changing coaches three times.
The Blackhawks’ most Notable Moments
In 1950, Tri-Cities owner Ben Kerner hired Coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach to take over from Roger Porter. Auerbach was known as a loud mouth and hot tempered personality, but his record was impressive. While coaching the Washington Capitols, he had averaged a win percentage of .684 topped by a .817 percentage in 1947. One of the conditions for accepting the job was that Kerner was to give him total control over the team. Kerner, another hothead reneged on the promise, leading to a fallout and the eventual departure of Red to Boston. Kerner also antagonized Bob Cousy who left for the Chicago stags before being reunited with Red at Boston.
That episode set the stage for one of the most bitter personal rivalries as Auerbach went ahead to build the greatest NBA dynasty with the Boston Celtics with Cousy in his charges while the Hawks remained an average team. In 1957, with the Blackhawks having relocated to St. Louis, they somehow made it to the NBA finals against the Celtics. The seeds of discord that had been sown in 1951 erupted as Red and Kerner exchanged bitter words on the touchline throughout the series. In the end, it was the Cousy and Auerbach who had the last laugh as the Celtics triumphed in game 7 to lift the NBA championship.
The Tri-Cities Blackhawks’ most Notable Players
Don Otten played for Tri-Cities between 1946 and 1950. His best season for the team was 1948/49 when he averaged 14.0 ppg, earning him the NBL MVP. At 6’10”, he was one of the tallest players in the league. He was so successful at stopping field goals when standing near the hoop that he and two other big players, George Mikan and Bob Kurland necessitated a change to the goaltending rules.
Dwight Eddleman joined the Blackhawks as a Rookie in 1949. He led the team in scoring the following season with 826 points. During the 1950/51 he scored 1040 points, a career best tally that earned him an NBA All-Star call up.
Frankie Brian played for the Blackhawks in the 1950/51 season and had the team’s best average scoring record with 16.8 points per game. His total tally of 1144 points that season was 5th highest in the league.
What Happened to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks?
The model of the NBA made it hard for teams from small cities to survive. Teams which had joined from the NBL had it especially rough since most of them were used to exhibition games to increase their revenues. The NBA rules however restricted that source of revenue. During the 1950/51 season alone, 66 teams, mainly former NBL teams folded.
With the Blackhawks registering scant success on court, it was clear that there was no future for them in the Tri-Cities area. When the season concluded, they moved to Milwaukee where they were christened “Milwaukee Blackhawks.” The region later became the “Quad-Cities” after Bettendorf, Iowa joined but it is yet to host an NBA franchise since the departure of the Blackhawks.
1 thought on “The Tri-Cities Blackhawks”
With the news of the St. Louis Rams of the NFL relocating back to Los Angeles last month, that got me thinking of other pro teams in the past that have also moved. Immediately, I thought about a long since defunct franchise from my hometown – the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. The Blackhawks called Wharton Field House (Moline, Illinois) home for five seasons from 1946 to 1951, playing their final two seasons in the NBA. The Blackhawks’ star player was George Mikan, who had a lengthy career, playing also with the Minneapolis Lakers & several other teams. Due to the Blackhawks playing in a small market, the franchise moved to Milwaukee in 1951, then on to St. Louis in 1955 before finally landing in Atlanta in 1968 (where they’ve remained since). Despite the fact that the Hawks in their history haven’t had many winning seasons, the franchise still has a special place in my heart, having started in my hometown. R.I.P., Tri-Cities Blackhawks…1946-1951. :'(
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