One of the most important days in NBA history and Maurice Podoloff’s greatest triumph didn’t happen at a swank Midtown hotel but rather at the modest two-story Fort Wayne, Indiana home of Carl Bennett.

“Mr. Podoloff came to Fort Wayne and Fred Zollner told me, “See what he wants,” said Bennett, former GM and head coach of the Zollner owned Fort Wayne Pistons.

What NBA President Podoloff wanted was to sell Zollner on the benefits of merging the Basketball Association of America (BAA), with its rival, the National Basketball League (NBL). This was back in 1948 and the BAA was taking a financial hit due to rising salaries in competing with the NBL for players.

Several cups of coffee and a few hours later, Bennett liked what he heard and decided to take the proposal to Zollner, who was in the process of building a mammoth piston plant and left the proposal listening and overall details of basketball business to his right-hand man Bennett.

“When we went out to Mr. Zollner’s office, it didn’t take long for him to say, ‘Sounds great to me. Well, Carl, take care of the details,’” said Bennett. “That was the start of the NBA.”

And now, 59 years later, it was more than appropriate that one of the most important men in league history, the 91-year-old Bennett, properly ushered in the new era of professional basketball in Fort Wayne at the Mad Ants’ D-League opener on Friday night.

Wearing a red blazer given to him by the organization, Bennett tossed the honorary jump ball at center court after being introduced to the home crowd as “one of the founding fathers of professional basketball in Fort Wayne.”

The man who served on the league’s executive committee along with other heavy hitters in Podoloff, Ned Irish (founder, New York Knickerbockers), Walter Brown (founder, Boston Celtics) and Eddie Gottlieb (owner, Philadelphia Warriors) was also involved with a notable on-the-court development that eventually changed the game as well as some championship near misses..

The Game That Inspired the Shot Clock

Bennett was front and center at the lowest scoring game in league history, the one that led to the most important rule change in NBA history, the 24-second shot clock. Bennett recalls the Pistons’ 19-18 triumph over George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers.

“We were traveling by railroad at that time, heading up to Minneapolis to face George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Vern Mikkelsen and the Lakers, a team we’d had never beaten in Minneapolis.

“Murray Mendenhall was our coach at that time and on the train ride he said to me, “Carl, we haven’t beaten these guys. We can’t beat those three guys. What if we sit on the ball tonight, get lucky and maybe get a last second shot and beat them?”

“Those were actually his words. And we did just what he said. There was no rule against it [holding the ball].

“The score after the first half I think was 8-7. So we played the second half the same way. The Lakers wouldn’t come out and get us and we wouldn’t go inside because you couldn’t get close to the basket with Mikan, Pollard and Mikkelsen in there.

“The ball went out of bounds with six seconds to go right in front of Murray and I. We had a time out and Murray set up a play for Frankie Brian to take the shot. Everybody was all over Frankie and Larry Foust came out from under the basket towards the ball. They threw it to him, he threw the ball over his shoulder and it hit the upper part of the backboard and went right through.

“We beat them 19-18 and all hell broke loose. Sixty-five hundred fans there that night were all throwing paper and peanuts and booing and they were going to kill us. In fact it took a couple of hours for them to get out of the gym.

“Mr. Podoloff called me and told me to send Murray to New York because he wanted to see him about playing that kind of ball. I talked it over with Murray and told him he didn’t do anything wrong. The rules are as the rules are and I didn’t think he needed to go to Podoloff’s office to have him tell him that we can’t play that style anymore. It wasn’t long before Danny Biasone started working on the development of the shot clock.

George King Secures Nats’ NBA Title Over the Pistons, Game 7, 1955 NBA Finals

The 24-second shot clock made an immediate impact on the game as scoring increased 13.6 points to a league average 93.1. The season of the shot clock also showcased one of the more memorable Finals matchups in NBA history as Syracuse won Game 7 in dramatic fashion over the Pistons thanks to George King chasing down Andy Phillip and making the championship-saving steal in the final seconds.

Here’s Bennett’s take on the Pistons’ heartbreaking Game 7 loss:

“We had a 17-point lead in the first half. Charlie Eckman, our coach was a former referee and had no previous coaching experience, but he had kept good team morale because all the players would get some minutes. I think in a playoff game you play it to win. You don’t take any chances, you don’t try to satisfy somebody. You try to have your best ballclub on the floor.

“After Eckman started substituting, we eventually would run down hill and got down to where there were a few seconds to go and George King stole the ball from Andy Phillip. Beat us by one point, 92-91. That’s the way it goes. Next year was about the same except Philadelphia beat us in five games.”