Buffalo Bisons HISTORY

Player infoTeam info
Atlanta Hawks History


Quick facts:

Founded:                   1946
Moved                      1946
Arena:                     Memorial Auditorium
Capacity:                  14,000
Built in:                  1940
Cost:                      2.7 Million
Founder:                   Leo Ferris
Division Championships:    None
NBA Titles:                None
NBL Titles:                None
Playoffs:                  None

How The Bisons got their nickname:
Bison is the name of the large North American animal, which is also known as the buffalo. The city of Buffalo is named after this animal so it took the more scientific name.

There have been several other teams in Buffalo also called the Bison or Bisons. Most notably one of the founding teams of the National Basketball League was also named the Bison, as well as a minor league baseball team.

Nat Hickey
Hickey was tabbed as the Bisons first coach, but like he did many times in his coaching, he ended up also playing for the Bisons as well. He played 8 games for them. Hickey would also play/coach for the Raiders of the NBL and the Steamrollers of the BAA. When he suited up for the Steamrollers at age 46 he became the oldest player in NBA history, a distinction he still holds to this day.

Leo Ferris tagged Hickey as the head coach because Hickey had played for the original Celtics and was a barnstorming legend. The theory was that a high profile coach may help attract ticket sales. Unfortunately, Hickey was not up for the job and the team suffered record wise as did ticket sales.

In addition to being a basketball player, Hickey was also an accomplished minor league baseball star playing 15 seasons in the minors but never getting called up to the majors.

William "Pop" Gates
One of the first additions that the Bisons made when they became a team was to add William "Pop" Gates; one of the best black players in the country. This was not the first time the NBL had added black players and indeed there were four black players in the NBL at the time, but Gates was one of the biggest names.

The NBL's newly formed rival, the BAA, would not allow black players to play in the new league and since the BAA had taken over most the major markets a lot of black barnstorming players needed to find new teams. The BAA's refusal to allow black players to join lasted until 1950 when it finally allowed Earl Lloyd to join. Some historians have theorized that the reason the BAA's history counts as NBA history and the NBL history does not is because of the NBL's use of black players.

In the 1930s, before the MBC, Buffalo had another team also named the Bisons, who signed a black player named Hank Williams, and this may be the first time a black athlete was allowed to compete with white players in a professional league in American history.

Unfortunately for Gates, he was involved in a major brawl with Chick Meehan of the Syracuse Nationals. This brawl caused a lot of racial tension in the league and by the following season all black players were gone from the league. This ended after only one season when the Dayton Rens replaced the Detroit Vagabond Kings. The Rens were a famous black barnstorming teams who played mostly out of New York but also Washington and any other city that they could. The coach of this team was Pop Gates, making him the first black coach in a major American league.

Shuffle off from Buffalo
The Bisons were only in Buffalo for a total of 13 games, one of the shortest stints of any surviving sports franchise. After compiling a 5-8 record in 13 games the team packed up and moved to the banks of the Mississippi River in an area known as the Tri-cities. The Tri-cities are comprised of Molina and Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa; though most of the games were played in Molina.

After moving to the Tri-cities area the team would take a new nickname as well and be called the Blackhawks.

The team would last until 1951 in Tri-cities before moving to Milwaukee. After just four season in Milwaukee the team would pack up again and move to St Louis were they stayed until 1968 before finally settling in on Atlanta and staying there ever since.

Buffalo would not get another NBA team until 1970 when the NBA added the Buffalo Braves. The Braves would leave upstate New York for San Diego and eventually settle in Los Angeles as the Clippers.

Season   W  L  %    Finish
1946-47  5  8  .384 4th

Don Otten and Leo Ferris.

Don Otten and Pop Gates

Article about Buffalo joining the NBL

Memorial Auditorium being built in 1940.

Two of the same team photos, just one is of better quality

Leo Ferris: The man who saved the NBA

The early days of basketball often seen slow fan-unfriendly low scoring matches that often left spectators bored. Games often only got into the 40s and many of the best players averaged less than 15 points a game. Many early basketball games looked more like a glorified version of the childrens game of keep-away than an action packed professional sport. This style of play culminated in a game between Minneapolis and Fort Wayne, where the Pistons of Fort Wayne held the ball most of the second half nursing a 1 point lead over the Lakers. The Pistons would win 19-18 in the lowest scoring game in NBA history. Prior to that the fewest points ever score 33 points, just 4 fewer than both teams scored, and that game was one the opening night of the NBA, or BAA as it was called back then.

This place pace bored fans, many of whom where promised an action packed fun experience and attendance and interest in the new league had begun to dip. The NBA needed a solution and needed it fast. The solution was an ingenious one and one that would revolutionize the game as we know it. A simple clock, with just 24 seconds on it would forever change the game.

The clock was the brain child of Syracuse Nationals general manager Leo Ferris, a man that the NBA has long forgotten in one of the biggest travesties in the games history. Ferris, is as important to the early days of the NBA as anyone and one could argue that without Ferris there would be no NBA today; and there definitely would be no Atlanta Hawks, or Philadelphia 76ers. The NBA would look much different today without Ferris's input all those years ago.

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