[public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
While the people of Minnesota were the deciding factor in limiting presidential terms, they had no interest in term limits for their Minneapolis Lakers. As covered previously on TBCB, while the Lakers raised the Belt more than any other team during the 1950-51 regular season, the Rochester Royals finished the season as NBA champions, ending the Lakers reign. However, in the fall of 1951, George Mikan's Lakers returned determined to regain the championship that was once theirs. The NBA widened the lane before the 1951-52 season in an attempt to limit Mikan's dominance, but this change proved to be ineffective as Mikan and the Lakers won the next three NBA titles.
Due the college point shaving scandals and the NBA's decision to ban players who were involved, the Indianapolis Olympians lost stars Ralph Beard and Alex Groza before the 1951-52 season began. The Olympians folded two years later, but despite (or perhaps because of) the ongoing drama in college basketball, the NBA was relatively stable during the summer of 1951. The only change of note was the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (Tri-Cities refers to Moline, Illinois, Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa) moving to Milwaukee.
1951 was also the year that the world was first introduced to current NBA official Joey Crawford (b. August 30) and future stars Slick Watts (b. July 22), Bob McAdoo (b. Sept 25), and Bobby Jones (b. Dec. 18).
When we last left our tour of Championship Belt history, the Rochester Royals and New York Knicks were battling for the Belt in the 1951 NBA Finals. After a thrilling game seven that came down to the game's final minute, the Belt spent the summer of 1951 relaxing in upstate New York with Arnie Risen and Bob Davies.
On November 1, the Royals began their short-lived defense of the Belt with an opening day defeat of the Baltimore Bullets. However, the Royals were then defeated by the mighty Minneapolis Lakers in the second game of the season, sending the Belt back to the Lakers. The Lakers quickly lost the Belt to the Syracuse Nationals on November 4, but they won it again two games later and began the longest streak of the season, raising the Belt for a total of eight consecutive games. [Note: The complete list of games played involving the Belt during the 1951-52 season will soon be posted here.]
The Minneapolis Lakers are the story of the 1951-52 season. With only ten teams in the league, teams played each another many times over the course of the long season, giving each team multiple opportunities to win, lose, and regain the Belt. The Lakers took full advantage of these opportunities by winning, defending, losing, and again winning the Belt a record number of times. In total, the Lakers raised the Belt a total of 21 times during the 66 game regular season. George Mikan led the Lakers in most of these games, winning a total of 14 TBCB Player of the Game awards.
On December 2, the Lakers lost the Belt to Frankie Brian and the Ft. Wayne Pistons, who held it for only two nights before losing it to the relocated Milwaukee Hawks. [Note: Check out Brian's Wikipedia page. Apparently someone with a close connection to him has been making too many changes.] Then, after the Belt passed from the Hawks to the Baltimore Bullets and back to the Lakers, the New York Knicks took the Belt from the Lakers and raised it for a total in four consecutive games.
The Knicks were the Buffalo Bills of the early fifties. They finished the 1950-51 season by losing to the Royals in a seven game NBA Finals, and then they finished the 1951-52 season by losing a seven game Finals to the Lakers. In 1953, they again advanced to the finals. However, while only two game sevens separated the Knicks from winning both the 1951 and 1952 NBA championships, they were soundly defeated in 1953, losing the series four games to one. Adding yet another another second place finish, the Knicks raised the Belt 10 times during the 1951-52 regular season, finishing second to the Lakers in TBCB's team standings.
Walter Brown Trophy
Awarded to NBA Champions from 1949-1977
The Olympians, who retooled in the offseason after losing Groza and Beard to suspension, were led by veteran Don Lofgran and newcomer Joe Graboski during their four game streak. The Warriors were led by Paul Arizin in each of their three consecutive victories. Philadelphia's roster also featured the BAA's first star, Joe Fulks, and rookie Neil Johnston, who was soon to become an unstoppable force.
Shortly after the Warriors lost the Belt to the Bullets on March 1, the Celtics, led by young Bob Cousy and Ed Macauley, regained it and held on for five games. The season concluded with the Nationals and the Knicks each holding the Belt for two games, and the Knicks taking it into the 1952 playoffs.
Like they did in April 2012, the Knicks began the 1952 playoffs hoping hold the Belt throughout the playoffs and be crowned NBA champions. Led by Max Zaslofsky, the TBCB player of the 1940s, the Knicks defeated the young Celtics in the first round two games to one. The Knicks then handed Dolph Schayes and his Syracuse Nationals a three games to one defeat in the conference finals, setting the stage for a second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
The 1952 Finals featured a several strange occurrences, not the least of which was that six of its seven games were played in alternate venues. In New York, the Knicks were displaced from Madison Square Garden by the popular Barnum and Baily Circus. Similarly, three of Lakers' four home games were played in St. Paul because the Minneapolis Auditorium was booked for another engagement. Only game seven was played on either team's home court. Yet another odd occurrence was an official's mistake in game one that might have decided the game and the series. According to NBA.com:
In the first quarter, Knicks guard Al McGuire drove inside for a bucket and was fouled. But the goal wasn’t awarded, and McGuire was sent to the free-throw line instead.
“Neither referee saw it and they gave him two shots instead of the basket and one,” explains Al’s brother and teammate, Dick McGuire. “I saw the ball going in the basket, and we couldn’t believe they gave him two shots.”
“I remember that very well,” says Knicks All-Star forward Harry Gallatin. “If they had counted that shot, it would’ve made a big difference in the series.”McGuire missed both foul shots, the game finished tied, and the Knicks eventually lost 83-79 in overtime. The Knicks battled back to win the second game, and the teams then alternated wins, leading to a game six in New York. However, with the Lakers leading the series three games to two, only 3,000 fans decided to attend the game at the Armory, which the Knicks won 76-68. Perhaps dispirited by their lack of fans support, the Knicks were then soundly defeated in game seven on the Lakers home court in Minneapolis. With this victory, the Lakers took both the Walter Brown Trophy and the Belt, which would once again spend the summer training with George Mikan and company in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
As described above, the Lakers and George Mikan dominated the Belt during the 1951-52 season, winning TBCB's Team and Player of the Year awards. In total, the Lakers raised the Belt 21 times, followed by the Knicks (10) and Olympians (8) who finished a distant second and third. Mikan won Player of the Game honors in 14 games, and was followed by his teammate Jim Pollard and the Warriors' Paul Arizin, who each won five awards. Bob Cousy finished fourth by winning Player of the Game honors in four games.
While the Lakers went on to win the next two NBA titles, 1951-52 was the last time during the Mikan era that they dominated the Belt. With that in mind, expect to see new teams and faces leading the pack in future posts as we continue to explore the history of the Championship Belt of Basketball.
TBCB will soon post answers to frequently asked questions about the Belt, discuss how the NBA was integrated, finalize preparations for the 2012-13 NBA season, and continue to update the roster of TBCB Champions. We'll also continue to post interesting historical tidbits as we begin preparing to review the 1952-53 NBA season.
Sources: Neft and Cohen's Pro Basketball Encyclopedia (5th Edition); Michael Schumacher's Mr. Basketball: George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers, and the Birth of the NBA; previous blog posts; Basketball-Reference.com; Wikipedia; Wikimedia Commons; Youtube; and NBA.com.