History of early professional basketball in Indiana
Before the Indiana Pacers joined the ABA and eventually the NBA, the state of Indiana was the hot bed of professional basketball. From 1935 until 1953 the state hosted no less than 11 different teams in the major professional basketball leagues. Unfortunately, almost all of them would end and leave the state with no professional basketball teams for nearly two decades.
Indiana is synonymy with the game of basketball. The University of Indiana is one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball winning 5 NCAA titles, but it was Purdue who would bring the state its first NCAA basketball title in 1932.
Through out the early years of basketball a lot of fly by night leagues and teams called Indiana home, in fact Indiana even had its own semi-pro league of teams completely made up of teams in the Indianapolis region. It was not until 1935 when the Midwest Basketball Conference formed did the state of Indiana start seeing regular professional basketball at the highest levels and quality.
In 1935 Indianapolis grocery store owner Frank Kautsky got without mid-west business owners and started the Midwest Basketball Conference. The league saw three teams from Indiana join up. Kautskys team based in Indianapolis would be called the Indianapolis Kautskys, they would be joined in Indianapolis US Tires and the Fort Wayne General Electrics. Both the Kautskys and the Electrics would find moderate success in the MBC as both would make the finals in different years but both would lose.
The MBC would last two season before it would be reorganized into the National Basketball League. The NBL would go on to be the most successful of the early leagues and is the first professional national basketball league to succeed. When the MBC reorganized into the NBL several teams went with it, and several others joined as well. Two of the three Indianapolis teams did not joined the new NBL. Only the Electrics would play in the first season of the NBL while the two Indianapolis teams would go back to the AAU level. Joining the Electrics was the King Clothiers from Richmond, and the All Americans from Whiting. sportsbetting-x.com was not around back then like it is now so odds were harder to get
The NBL, like the MBC before it, was made up mostly of corporate sponsored teams who would take the nickname of the company they represented. The Kautskys were named after Frank Kautsky's grocery store chain, the Electrics where named after the General Electric plant, and the King Clothiers were named after the King Clothier store in Richmond. Other corporate named teams in the NBL included the Akron Firestones, and Goodyears.
The first year of the NBL was a tough one, especially for the Indiana teams. The King Clothiers lasted but 3 games before they moved to Cincinnati, the Electrics were able to stick it out for the entire season before dropped out of the NBL at the end of the season. The King Clothiers who moved to Cincinnati and became the Comello's also disbanded after the season. Of the x teams who started the inaugural NBL season, 5 disbanded and one moved after the season. The lone team to move was the Whiting All-Americans who moved to Hammond.
The Kautsky's short lived AAU experience ended after one season when the team joined the NBL for its second year. Both Indiana teams struggled to find success in the NBL but at the same time neither of them were complete failures. The Kautskys would be financially successful because of the large crowds they could draw from the greater Indianapolis area, and the All-American's could draw from the Chicago area and behind their star John Wooden.
Right when the NBL began to find stability the world pretty much fell apart. World War II would find its way to America during the 1941-42 season and completely change the NBL forever. Indiana had added a new team to the NBL, the most successful of any of the Indiana franchises, the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, but the Pistons were really an exception to the rule for the NBL during the war years. Between 1942 and 1945 the NBL lost nearly half of its teams and dropped down to just six teams in the league.
The war years were tough on all sports and all area's of American life, but it was especially tough on the NBL. With most able bodied men off fighting in the war, the NBL began to allow black players to play in the league. This did not, however, mark the first integration or a permanent integration of the league. The first black player joined the MBC back in 1935, and following the war years black players were few and far in between. None of the Indiana teams had black players, but the Pistons did attempt to court Dolly King, one of the best black players in the country, away from the Harlem Globetrotters but they got out bid for his services.
Hammond did not survive the war years and folded shortly after the 1941 season. Fort Wayne and Indianapolis however did survive and both seen success. The Pistons lost in the finals in 1942 and in 1943 but would win the NBL title in 1944 and 45.
With the end of World War II and the new found hope for the future found in America, the NBL began to experience a resurgence and started to see unprecedented success. Eight new teams were added to the league, including one in Indiana. The Anderson Packers would join the league in the 1946 season and would quickly establish themselves as one of the top teams in the league.
There were dark clouds hovering around though. In 1946 a rival league had started with teams in big markets such as New York, Chicago, and Boston and this league began competing for players with the NBL. Initially the NBL was able to hold onto its top players, but the money by this new league had was unlike anything the smaller market NBL could offer. The new league christened the Basketball Association of America was giving the NBL its first real challenge and it was beginning to win.
The first crack in the armor of the NBL began in 1948 when three NBL teams left the league for the BAA. They included the Kautskys, who because the BAA did not allow corporate sponsorship changed their name to the Jets and the Pistons
The NBL added another Indiana team to replace the Jets and Pistons, the Hammond Calumet Buccaneers. The Packers would go on to win the championship this year, in what would be Indiana's last professional championship until 1970.
The NBL decided to add another team in Indianapolis for the 1949-50 season, but before that season could begin representatives from the NBL and BAA met in New York city to discuss a merger. The merger was approved on August 3, 1949 and the two leagues would be called the National Basketball Association.
The merger would have great effect on the teams in Indiana. First, the Hammond team would try to raise the necessary funding to join the new NBA but would fail to do so and disband. The Jets, who joined the BAA a year before the merger, would also not be included in the merger, instead the new expansion Indianapolis NBL team would be included. The NBL champion Packers would be allowed to join with the other remaining NBL teams.
The new Indianapolis team would be called the Olympians and they would become the first and thus far only NBA team to be completely owned by their players. The teams stars Ralph Beard and Alex Groza were 2 of 5 former University of Kentucky stars, who represented the United States in the Olympics who also owned part of the team. The Olympians would see a lot of on the court success but off the court issues would rock the franchise.
The Packers lasted only one season in the NBA before the league forced them, the Waterloo Hawks, The Denver Nuggets and the Sheboygan Redskins out of the league. All four teams would join a new leagued called the NPBL which would not even last a season.
In the 1940s and 50 gambling scandals rocked the basketball world and it would soon bring an end to basketball in Indianapolis. While at the University of Kentucky both Groza and Beard were implicated and eventually convicted of a gambling scandal. Both would receive life time bans from the NBA and be forced to sell their interests in the Olympians. With the loss of their stars and the financial burdens incurred by the remaining owners the team disbanded in 1953.
1957 would bring an end to professional basketball in Indiana. After 18 years in Fort Wayne the Pistons packed up and moved to the bigger market of Detroit. This would also mark the end of professional basketball in Indiana for another decade.
The state of Indiana would not see another major professional basketball team in the state until 1967 when the American Basketball Association formed and placed the Pacers in Indianapolis. The Pacers would go on to be one of, if not the most, successful franchises in the ABA winning 3 titles.
When the NBA and ABA merged in 1976 the Pacers were amongst the 4 ABA teams who joined the NBA. The Pacers have also translated their ABA success into NBA success. The team has won 6 division titles, and 1 conference finals, though sadly for Pacer fans they have not won an NBA title as of yet.
The likelihood of Indiana hosting another major professional are slim. Though the WNBA's Indiana Fever called the state home, there are not a lot of other major professional basketball leagues out there, and with the number of NBA teams already in the area mixed with the smaller market sizes of cities outside of Indianapolis, there just is not the demand for another NBA team in the area. Though, Fort Wayne did get a minor league team in the D-Leagues Mad Antz, but other cities are too close to other major population centers to get a minor league team.