EPISODE #34: The National Basketball League with Author Murry Nelson

Basketball historian and Penn State professor emeritus Murry Nelson (The National Basketball League: A History) returns to the podcast – this time to dive into the deep end of one of the modern-day NBA’s  most important formative tributaries. 

The National Basketball League was forged out of an industrial collective of independent “company teams” that dotted the Midwest in the mid-1930s – and through the corporate patronage of firms like Goodyear, Firestone and General Electric, became a full-time pro hoops circuit that eventually stretched from Syracuse to Denver – with a hefty dollop of smaller markets in between.   Teams like the Oshkosh (WI) All-Stars, Anderson (IN) Duffy Packers, Tri-Cities (IA)  Blackhawks, and Toledo (OH)-based Jim White Chevrolets – along with star players like the lane-dominating Leroy “Cowboy” Edwards, long-range shooting ace Bobby McDermott, and the pro game’s first true “big man” George Mikan – broke new ground,  and spawned the launch of an even bigger-market competitor (the Basketball Association of America, in 1946) that ultimately resulted in a 1949 merger that yielded what we now know as the National Basketball Association.

Today’s Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, and Philadelphia 76ers all emanated directly from the NBL – although you might not know it, given the NBA’s tilted version of basketball history, as Nelson tells host Tim Hanlon in this enlightening episode.

Out thanks to Podfly and Audible for their support of the show! 

The National Basketball League: A History, 1935-1949 - buy book here

EPISODE #28: Women’s Pro Basketball’s "Machine Gun" Molly Kazmer

The history of women’s professional basketball in the US pre-dates the modern-day WNBA by at least two decades, when inveterate pro sports entrepreneur Bill Byrne launched the Women’s Professional Basketball League (WBL) in 1978.  Taking cultural cues from the Equal Rights Amendment movement, the adoption of Title IX, Billie Jean King’s landmark victory in tennis’ “Battle of the Sexes,” and a surprisingly strong showing by the US women’s squad in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, Byrne hustled his way into forming an odds-defying circuit that ultimately lasted three seasons with franchises that stretched from New York to San Francisco.  The first person to sign with the fledgling league also became its most prolific scorer and reliable public relations attraction – “Machine Gun” Molly Bolin.  Nicknamed by a reporter for her dazzling shooting ability (with multiple records that still stand today), the since-remarried Molly Kazmer lit up the WBL both on and off the court with equal parts athletic prowess and sexy femininity – becoming one of the true pioneers of the women’s professional game in the process.

Kazmer joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss some of the more memorable moments in her remarkable career in the WBL and beyond, including:

  • The unique playing style of Iowa high school basketball that uniquely prepared her for breakout success in the collegiate and pro ranks;
  • The public relations spectacle of signing her first pro contract in the Iowa governor’s office;
  • The wild ride (often on a bus nicknamed the “Corn Dog”) of the Iowa Cornets;
  • Life as the “poster child” of the WBL;
  • The double-standard of being a female athlete in modern society; AND
  • How the success of today’s WNBA sends mixed signals to the original WBL pioneers whose work set the stage for the modern pro game.

We love Audible and Podfly for their support of the podcast – and you should too!

EPISODE #20: George Steinbrenner’s Cleveland Pipers with Sportswriter Bill Livingston

Award-winning Cleveland Plain Dealer sports columnist Bill Livingston (George Steinbrenner’s Pipe Dream: The ABL Champion Cleveland Pipers) joins Tim Hanlon to delve deeper into the history of the ill-fated 1960s American Basketball League – this time through the lens of one of its (and ultimately, one of pro sports’) most combustible figures.  Livingston describes how Pipers owner (and future New York Yankees “Boss”) George Steinbrenner:  

  • Retooled a local Cleveland industrial amateur team into a fledgling pro club with NBA ambitions;
  • Traded a player at halftime of a league game, and fired his collegiate hall-of-fame coach in mid-season – and still won a championship;
  • Convinced a risk-averse college star named Jerry Lucas to spurn surefire NBA stardom with the Cincinnati Royals for partial ownership/oversight of an ambitious, yet financially wobbly ABL franchise; AND
  • Outmaneuvered a similarly-aspirant Abe Saperstein in the race to secure a coveted NBA franchise, only to hasten the demise of the ABL and the financial viability of the Pipers in the process.

Thank you Audible for sponsoring this week’s episode!

George Steinbrenner's Pipe Dream: The ABL Champion Cleveland Pipers - buy book here

EPISODE #17: Abe Saperstein & the American Basketball League with Author Murry Nelson

Penn State University professor emeritus Murry Nelson (Abe Saperstein and the American Basketball League: The Upstarts Who Shot for Three and Lost to the NBA) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the oft-forgotten second incarnation of the ABL – and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer who willed it into being.  In this hidden gem of an episode, Nelson describes:

  • How the master promoter of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters attempted to parlay his influence in pro basketball circles into securing his own West Coast NBA franchise, only to be rebuffed;
  • How the advent of reliable and speedy commercial air travel encouraged Saperstein to not only launch the upstart ABL, but with franchises in virgin pro basketball territories like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu, Hawaii;
  • The peripatetic Washington-to-New York-to-Philadelphia Tapers, whose owner also secretly owned the relatively stable Pittsburgh Rens, featuring league superstar and future Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins;
  • Why the ABL’s (and Saperstein-owned) Chicago Majors outdrew the more-established NBA’s cross-town Packers; AND
  • How an ambitious young shipbuilding scion named George Steinbrenner engineered a championship for his Cleveland Pipers franchise, only to sink the ABL the following season with an ill-fated plot to secretly bolt to the NBA. 

This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends at Audible!

Abe Saperstein and the American Basketball League: The Upstarts Who Shot for Three and Lost to the NBA - buy book here

EPISODE #08: Documentarian Dan Forer & the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis

Emmy Award-winning TV producer and ESPN Films 30 For 30 sports documentarian Dan Forer (Free Spirits; Mike and the Mad Dog) joins Tim Hanlon to discuss the curious two-year odyssey of the American Basketball Association’s colorful Spirits of St. Louis franchise, whose impact still continues to haunt the modern-day NBA, forty years after the team’s demise.  Forer describes the importance of mercurial star forward Marvin “Bad News” Barnes to both the club’s success and the making of the Free Spirits documentary; why Spirits brother-owners Dan and Ozzie Silna declined to participate in the making of the film; how a baby-faced kid out of Syracuse named Bob Costas got his first professional sportscasting gig; and how three of the team’s most talented players effectively lost their careers to the evils of drug addiction. 

ESPN Films 30 For 30: Free Spirits (DVD) - buy DVD here

ESPN Films 30 For 30: Volume 2 (including Free Spirits) - buy digital video here