This comes as a surprise to many local basketball fans, but the Pacers are not the city’s first NBA team. That honor would go to the Indianapolis Olympians, who were an immediate sensation when the NBA began operations in the 1949-50 season but folded operations after four seasons.
It’s a long story, and one I hope to tell in a book someday. I did include an overview of their unique history in the preface to “Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis.” They began with five players from the University of Kentucky as the core, drew big crowds to Butler Fieldhouse, had two players seemingly destined for the Naismith of Hall of Fame (Ralph Beard and Alex Groza) and then were ruptured by a point-shaving scandal dating back to college.
This video includes clips of three games from either 1951-52 season or the following one, after Beard and Groza had been banned for life. They provide a good look at the NBA game as it was played then. Notice how well the fans dressed. The 24-second shot clock had not yet been introduced, but as you can see it wasn’t needed most nights.
You might notice Arnie Risen in one of the clips. He had been a star player for the Indianapolis Kautskys, the city’s first true pro team, then was sold off for $25,000. He went into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1998 with the class that included Larry Bird. I got to know him well and usually visited with him when the Pacers played in Cleveland, near where he lived in his later years. I wrote about him in the Stories section on this site.
You’ll also see Bill Tosheff, an Indiana University grad. There’s a One on One episode with him on this site. He was the kind of guy who, when you brought up his name to people who knew him, they said something like, “Oh-oh” or rolled their eyes. Not because they didn’t like him but because he was a character. He devoted his later years to extending the NBA pension plan to the players of his era, and succeeded. Good on him.
You’ll also see Ralph “Buckshot” O’Brien, who graduated from Indianapolis Washington High School and Butler University. There’s a One on One episode on this site with him as well. I once visited him at his condo in Clearwater, Fla. He was in his Nineties then. Really nice guy.
Take a look, these highlights are entertaining.
Tagged with: Arnie Risen, Bill Tosheff, Buckshot O'Brien, Indianapolis Olympians