Editor's Note: This is the 15th and final story in a series of excepts from the book ``Fort Wayne Sports History.
September 8, 2007
In 2007, the Basketball Hall of Fame debuts a presentation highlighting Fort Wayne as the birthplace of the NBA.
For more than 50 years, former Fort Wayne Pistons executive Carl Bennett had been saying Fort Wayne should be recognized as the birthplace of the National Basketball Association. While not declaring an official designation, the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., decided to present an exhibit this summer telling Bennett's story.
Basketball Hall of Fame historian Matt Zeysing visited Bennett in Fort Wayne, recording his story and visiting the house at 2920 Alexander St. where Bennett says the initial meeting took place that led to the formation of the league.
Maybe the secrecy of the meeting has hurt Fort Wayne's notoriety. In the spring of 1948, Bennett, the Pistons' business manager and a member of the National Basketball League board of directors, met with Basketball Association of America President Maurice Podoloff.
The more-established NBL and the 2-year-old BAA were stuck in a bidding war over players. It was generally accepted that the NBL had the best players, and the BAA had the big-city markets. The BAA was basically set up in the East - with teams such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington - and the NBL ruled the Midwest. The NBL's key cities were Fort Wayne, Minneapolis, Rochester and Indianapolis.
Realizing the two leagues were killing each other, Podoloff called Bennett, hoping he would set up a meeting with Fort Wayne owner Fred Zollner, who was an NBL leader. Zollner told Bennett to handle it, and Podoloff sneaked into Fort Wayne and met in Bennett's home with the idea the two leagues merge.
Podoloff and Bennett met Zollner at his Zollner Pistons plant office the next morning in a day-long meeting. The idea was to take the eight strongest BAA teams and join them with the four strongest NBL teams. An official meeting for the press was held in Chicago on May 10, 1948, announcing the four NBL teams jumping to the BAA for the 1948-49 season.
The remaining NBL members eventually sued the augmented BAA, which led to another merger and the renaming of the BAA to the National Basketball Association before the 1949-50 campaign. Unable to keep up financially, most of the remaining NBL teams from the second merger eventually dropped out, but the NBA name stuck.