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109 World Tourney Pete Ankney was dumbstruck when he saw the Chicago Stadium, that holy shrine to political conventions, college commencement exercises, and basketball games for generations of Chicagoans, for the rst time. Located just two miles from downtown on West Madison Street, the stadium was a short taxi ride from the dark, imposing Morrison Hotel in the central business district, where Ankney and the new Acme Aviators from Dayton, Ohio stayed that March in 1945. Ankney, just thirteen at the time, had obtained the job as the Aviators’ ballboy through connections—his older sister was married to the team’s player-coach, Bobby Colburn—and he had caught a ride to Chicago with his brother-in-law in his maroon-colored Pontiac. Bruce Hale, Johnny Schick, and sevWorld Tourney 7. 07Chuck.indd 11/18/05, 3:02 PM 109 110 eral other Tecs, as well as Rex Gardecki of the real Aviators, followed along as part of a motor caravan that traveled west on U.S. 40, then took a right turn at U.S. 41 in Terre Haute and went all the way up to Chicago. It would have been a seven-hour trip in those days, on those roads. Ankney was smitten with Chicago—the tall buildings, the lakefront, and the water shows at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, as well as the constant clang and din from the busy commuter trains that ringed the Loop. “I can remember going out by myself in Chicago and buying fried shrimp,”said Ankney, who retired as head football coach at the University of Dayton.“It was the rst time I ever had shrimp.” But most of all, Ankney loved the attention—everybody stared at the basketball players when they got out of a taxi, and people would ask if they were in town for the well-publicized tourney . The World Professional Basketball Tournament, sometimes called the World Tournament of Professional Basketball, was held annually from 1939 to 1948 in either the Chicago Amphitheatre near the old stockyards on Chicago’s South Side, or in the Chicago Stadium on the city’s then prosperous near West Side. It was sponsored by a populist, even right-wing, Hearst-owned newspaper of the day, the Chicago Herald-American. John Schleppi of the University of Dayton has argued that the tournament rescued pro basketball from near-oblivion in the 1940s. “Professional basketball was in disarray in the late 1930s due to poor nancial backing, quixotic leadership and the effects of the Depression,” Schleppi wrote. “Against this background entrepreneur Harry Hannin and Leo Fischer of the Chicago Herald-American promoted the World Tournament of Professional Basketball which began in March 1939. Attracting the best available teams, they included the leading black and integrated teams. This was the 07Chuck.indd 11/18/05, 3:02 PM 110 111 World Tourney rst time blacks competed with whites on an even footing for a professional team championship. Using major facilities including the Amphitheatre and the Stadium, attention was drawn to the game during the war years.”1 It was a valid tourney and drew up to 15,000 spectators per game, particularly at Chicago Stadium.The historic building with massive barrel vault roof served as the home of the Chicago Bulls until it was demolished in 1994; Michael Jordan played many of his professional home games inside it.The referees at the world tourney always were topight, according to Schleppi, which addressed a chronic complaint against pro basketball ofciating in the early days of the sport, namely that it was no good (for example, Jimmy Enright had been a referee during the 1944 competition). The World Professional Basketball Tournament was an important event, disappearing only after the merger of the National Basketball League and Basketball Association of America in 1949. Fourteen teams competed in Chicago Stadium that March. The Herald-American began daily coverage of the event early in the month, announcing that Hartford and Dayton were late entries in the competition to complete the eld.2 Some previously selected teams, such as the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, Chicago American Gears, and Oshkosh (Wisc.) Stars simply came from the National Basketball League, which was heavily midwestern in orientation and mostly had its roots in former industrial league teams, such as Chuck’s old Akron Firestone Non-Skids. Fifty teams from the Midwest and East Coast applied to play in the 1945 tournament, and the organizers always sought other nationally known teams, including socalled Negro squads...


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