1953 NBA All-Star Game: When Ft. Wayne Was Center of Hoops Universe

Rich Mueller@sportscollectorContributor IIIFebruary 26, 2012

1953 NBA All-Star Game program and ticket stub sold recently on eBay
1953 NBA All-Star Game program and ticket stub sold recently on eBay

There once was a time when you didn't have to be the biggest city in your region, or even in your state, to have a pro sports franchise.  You could be in Akron.  Green Bay.  Portsmouth. Even Sheboygan. 

By the 1950s, though, the NFL had gone big city only.  Baseball had been there for nearly a half century.  Change was coming to pro hoops, too.  But not quite yet. 

After debuting in Boston two years earlier and returning to the Garden again in 1952, the third annual NBA All-Star Game was played in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Fort Wayne was still the home of the Pistons and the city had just opened a brand-spanking new colossus of an arena, fit more for a place like Chicago.  The young NBA was eager to show it off, and on January 13, the league's 20 greatest players convened at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum for the 1953 NBA All-Star Game. 

It would never again return to a city so small.

The city was excited.  It had the arena.  Now, it would get to see the pro game's greatest players take the court there. An attendance of 10,322 people crammed into a place that wasn't supposed to hold that many—on a Tuesday night.

In a state dominated by high school and college hoops, that was saying something.  It was the biggest turnout for an NBA All-Star Game yet.

The sports media had elected the All-Stars, which included Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Dolph Schayes and the center of attention, George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers.

There were four Celtics on the roster and three Lakers, whose coach John Kundla was back to coach the team.  Joe Lapchick, once a standout player himself, coached the East.

It wasn't pretty.

Despite being billed as "a million dollars worth of NBA talent," accuracy was a serious problem.

The East shot 37.9 percent from the field; the West just 35.1.

Bob Davies broke open a tight game with eight points in the fourth quarter for the West, which held off the East, 79-75 for their first win in three tries.  "Easy" Ed McCauley scored 18 points for the East, but it was a 22-point, 16-rebound effort by Mikan that earned him the game's MVP award.

The 154 points scored is still the lowest scoring NBA All-Star Game in history.  Heck, in 1988 the West held a 79-78 lead at halftime.

The 1953 contest also marked the first time an African-American player was named to a team.  The Celtics' Don Barksdale played 11 minutes and scored one point.

Four years later, Fort Wayne would lose the Pistons to a larger market when owner Fred Zollner, convinced he could no longer compete in such a small market, moved them to Detroit where they remain. The newly renovated War Memorial Coliseum still exists, though and is home to the NBA D-League's Mad Ants.

Vintage NBA All-Star programs are one of the best values on the sports memorabilia market with most selling for less than $200, but a surviving copy from that 1953 contest is valued at $800-$1,100.