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Chevette to Corvette No. 48: The 1951-52 Fort Wayne Pistons

Facts

  • Actual record: 29-37
  • Pythagorean record: 27-39
  • Points Per Game: 78.0 (9th of 10)
  • Opponent points per game: 80.1 (2nd of 10)
  • Arena: North Side High School Gym
  • Head coaches: Paul Birch

Playoffs

  • Lost in first round to the Rochester Royals, 2-0

Leaders

  • Points per game: Frankie Brian (15.9)
  • Rebounds per game: Larry Foust (13.3)
  • Assists per game: Fred Schaus (4.0)

Top player

Larry Foust

In his second season, Faust averaged 15.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and a career-high 3.0 assists per game to make the All-NBA second team. That recognition earned Foust a $100 bonus, according to Rodger Nelson’s “The Zollner Piston Story.”

Key transaction

Traded Bill Sharman to the Boston Celtics for Chuck Share

During the 1950-51 season, the Washington Capitols folded with a 10-25 record. So the remaining NBA teams held a dispersal draft in January to re-assign the Capitols’ players. Wisely, the Pistons took Bill Sharman, a rookie who was leading Washington with 12.2 points per game.

But Sharman, who was also pursuing a professional baseball career, refused to report to Fort Wayne, according to Ralph Hickock. Sharman sat out the rest of the NBA season following the Capitols’ demise, leaving the Pistons to handle him in the offseason.

The Pistons had wanted Share for a while, and they even thought they had acquired him earlier.

Boston drafted Share with the No. 1 overall pick in 1950,* but he opted to join the Waterloo Hawks of the National Professional Basketball League. Nelson:

Share remembered, "I was attending Bowling Green in Ohio when the Celtics drafted me. I found out when I read it in the Toledo Blade. I was contacted by Boston and I signed, I forgot for how much. Then I was contacted by a team from Waterloo, Iowa, that played in the National Professional Basketball League. They put $2500 on the table and said, Tf you sign with us, you can take this money with you now.’ I was engaged and $2,500 was a lot of money, so I signed with them, too. I even played with Waterloo for a month, then the league folded.

He tried to sign with the Pistons, who had agreed to send a first-round pick to Boston in exchange for permission to buy Share from Waterloo, according to the Associated Press. But NBA President Maurice Podoloff nixed that arrangement.

 *The Celtics infamously passed on Bob Cousy, who starred at nearby Holy Cross  and was drafted third by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, to pick Share. Larry Schwartz for ESPN.com:

Boston had the first pick in the 1950 NBA draft, and Auerbach selected 6-11 center Chuck Share of Bowling Green. After being criticized by the Boston media, Auerbach responded: "We need a big man. Little men are a dime a dozen. I’m supposed to win, not go after local yokels."

Of course, the Celtics later acquired Cousy.

As a workaround, the Pistons traded Sharman to get their man. Share, 6-foot-11 and 235 pounds, had the size they coveted, but he never blossomed into an impact player with the Pistons. His best years, highlighted by a 14 and 11 season in 1955-56, came with the Hawks, and his nine-year career was a major letdown for a No. 1 overall pick.

Sharman? He became a Hall of Famer as a player and coach and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players. I doubt the Pistons ever saw that potential before trading him, and at the time, there was his baseball career to worry about, though that latter concern didn’t stymie the Celtics.

Between the Pistons trading him and the 1951-52 season, Sharman had a unique experience with the Dodgers. Golden Baseball Magazine:

So why are we talking about Bill Sharman on this baseball page? Because of this odd fact: Although he never appeared in a major league game, he was ejected from one.

In September 1951, Bill was called up to the Dodgers, who were trying to stave off the hard-charging New York Giants for the pennant.

In a tense game September 27 against the Braves in Boston, the score was 3-3 when umpire Frank Dascoli called Bob Addis safe at home on a single in the bottom of the eighth. C Roy Campanella, who thought he had the plate blocked, screamed in protest. Campy, manager Chuck Dressen, P Preacher Roe, and coach Cookie Lavagetto were all ejected. To prevent more problems,Dascoli ordered all Dodgers on the bench, including Sharman, to the clubhouse.

Sharman played baseball a couple more seasons, but he became a lot more committed to basketball after that. By that time, though, the Pistons had already traded him.

Maybe the Pistons never would have convinced him to join him to join them. Or maybe he would’ve given up baseball and joined Fort Wayne.

Either way, the Celtics got a an all-time great, and the Pistons got nowhere.

Trend watch

Back-to-back losing seasons

For the first time since becoming a professional team, the Pistons posted consecutive losing seasons. On the bright side, they made the playoffs both those years.

Why this season ranks No. 51

Not a single NBA team had a winning road record this season. For most teams, that was a bit inexplicable and random. For the Pistons, who went 22-11 in Fort Wayne and 7-25 elsewhere, it was completely expected. Nelson:

Fred Schaus made a partial explanation for the Pistons’ road record by comparing North Side with the other venues in the league. Each court had its own characteristics. Among other things, the fans at North Side sat almost on top of the players. While the Pistons were used to it, the other teams were not. Although the court in Boston was very short, most of the others were larger. Schaus said, "We loved it there at North Side High School. We didn’t know what we were doing on those big courts."

The Pistons weren’t actually good. They just took advantage of a quirk in construction.

Still, because four of five teams in each division made the playoffs, Fort Wayne qualified for the postseason. Unsurprisingly, though, the Rochester Royals swept the Pistons in a best-of-three, first-round series.

At least the Pistons did some fun stuff that season. Nelson:

In an unusual promotion gimmick. Fort Wayne and Boston played a midnight basketball game on February 21 in Boston Garden so people who worked on the night shift could watch. The game followed a performance of Ice Follies. It must have been past the Pistons’ bedtime, as they lost to the Celtics 88-67.

Interesting, but underwhelming – that night and all season.

Previously

1 Comment

  • Oct 6, 20115:13 pm
    by tarsier

    Reply

    So I love the fact that making all-NBA second team got him a $100 bonus. Oh how times have changed.

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