Where were Havlicek's Celts and West's Lakers in the 1969-70 Power Rankings?
Dec. 7, 2007 -- An hour north of Milwaukee and three hours north of Chicago, the NBA once had a team called the Sheboygan Redskins. They played in an armory built by the WPA in 1942. The gym had a stage at one end and it held 3,500 people, though who knows if they ever filled it for the visiting Washington Capitals and their pugnacious coach Red Auerbach. Like many of the old barns that once dotted the NBA, it probably held a dance after the game to help draw a crowd. Some guy named Ken Suesens led the Redskins to a 22-40 record and a 1-2 record in the playoffs during that 1949-50 season.
At that time, the NBA was a mom-and-pop league. Thanks to a merger of the BAA and NBL, the first season under the new moniker of "NBA" was a crazy, and soon-to-be untenable, mix of the very, very small (Sheboygan, Anderson, Ind., Waterloo, Iowa) and very, very large (Boston, New York, Philly). Players, coaches and organizations lived hand-to-mouth. Trains, not planes moved teams through the Midwest and the eastern seaboard as sweaty uniforms were washed on board and hung out windows to dry en route the next, distant stop. A player or two may have worn Keds, but most wore black, low-top Chuck Taylors.
All who wore them were white.
Yet, to steal a phrase from the Clippers' great broadcaster, Ralph Lawler, "Me oh my, how have times changed."
Today, almost half of the 50,000 Sheboygan, Wis. citizens could fit into the United Center, which once stuffed 24,544 Bulls fans within its walls. Trains for travel? A quaint relic. Check out these chartered planes. Teams always have extra uniforms on hand. And the shoes. Designed on computers, fit directly to that player's feet and constructed of the finest leather. Some guys even wear a new pair for every game.
What about those players who wear those high-tech shoes now? They come not just from the States, but from Argentina, Australia, China, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Sudan.
But between those long, cold days in the drafty armories of yesteryear and the warm glow of the fireworks shooting out of the scoreboard today, the NBA has a deep, rich and diverse heritage that is as wonderful as the game itself.
This is why we celebrate Heritage Week in the NBA. (A week so big, mind you, that we need eight days to fit it all in.) To see what the NBA was and know now what the NBA is, is to see a transformation so complete, so thorough, it boggles the mind. Like the game itself, which has often afforded those from tough circumstances a path to a far better life, the NBA too has journeyed from humble beginnings to its unique position on a global stage.
So, journey with us this week as we look back at where the NBA has been with exclusive video, photos and a re-imagination of all the NBA.com features (a Power Rankings for 1969-70, Rookie Rankings from 1984-85 and Race to the MVP from 1961-62) we love to write each week as we try to put a fresh perspective on the sepia-toned past. This is no mere exercise in nostalgia, but an appreciation and recognition of that which came before today. We are honored to be able to share it with you, and more than happy to have you along for the ride.