The Bullets and the amazing comeback of 1948

Bullets-1948

The Cleveland Cavaliers recently engineered the greatest second-half comeback in NBA playoff history when they rallied from 25 down at the half to beat the Indiana Pacers 119-114.

Amazingly, that broke a record that stood for nearly 70 years, ever since the Baltimore Bullets came back from 21 down to beat the Philadelphia Warriors 66-63 in the 1948 NBA Finals.

In an era without the 24-second clock and a three-point line, the Bullets came all the way back to win, on Philadelphia’s home floor no less. And it remained the largest comeback for 70 years, a lifetime of games. None of the great Celtics or Lakers team or Jordan’s Bulls or the Spurs or anyone else ever made a bigger comeback,

In 1948, the defending champion Warriors, fresh off their Game One victory, rolled to a 41-20 halftime lead over the Bullets. “In those days, if you got behind that far, the game was over,” Baltimore player-coach Buddy Jeannette recalled years afterward. “There was no 24-second clock to help you come back. But somehow we did. We took our time and made our shots and caught ’em. I don’t know if we were so good or Philly was so bad.”

Philly’s leading scorer Joe Fulks helped matters by continuing to shoot — and miss. And the Bullets helped themselves by driving to the basket for good shots. The home crowd sat stunned. The Bullets cut the gap to 48-40 in the third quarter. Then, in the last period, it was all Baltimore. “We were up by one with four seconds to go, and I tipped in a missed free throw,” Bullets forward Paul Hoffman recalled.

Connie Simmons led the Bullets with 25 points that night, Hoffman had 12 and Kleggie Hermsen 10.Joe Fulks led the Warriors with 27, most of them in the first half. 

The 66-63 victory was one of the more impressive comebacks in sports history. Unfortunately, nobody paid much attention to pro basketball then. The story received a few paragraphs on the back page of The New York Times. Still, it gave the Bullets the momentum they were looking for.  

The Bullets went on the win the series in six games for their only NBA championship. The Bullets were, in effect, an expansion team in the 1947-48 season having come over from another league, the American Basketball League to the Basketball Association of America, which would become the NBA beginning in 1949. The Baltimore franchise folded in 1954, and the Bullets remain the only defunct team to win an NBA championship.

The Baltimore Bullets returned to the NBA in 1963, after two years in Chicago as first the Packers and then the Zephyrs. They became the Capital Bullets in 1973, the Washington Bullets in 1974 and the current Washington Wizards in 1997. The Bullets beat the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games in 1978 to win their only NBA title.

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Warriors also won first NBA title in 1947

And the last shall be the first. Although not much was made of it, the last NBA champion, the Warriors, also won the league’s first title. So the Warriors span the NBA championship bridge from the first in Philadelphia to the last in Golden State.

The year was 1947. Less than two years after the end of World War II, Harry Truman was President, The Best Years of Our Lives won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier,and ENIAC, the world’s first electronic digital computer, was turned back on after being shut down for a nine-month refurbishment.

And the Philadelphia Warriors won the championship in the inaugural 1946-47 Basketball Association of America (BAA) season. Following the 1948–49 season (the BAA’s third season of play), the BAA and the National Basketball League merged to form the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Warriors championship is considered the first NBA title.

Eddie Gottlieb coached the Philadelphia five that year and forward Joe Fulks won the NBA’s first scoring crown, averaging 23.2 points per game. Fulks, who joined the Marines in 1943 and served in the the South Pacific, scored 37 points in Game One of the Finals, including 21 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Warriors to an 84-71 win over the Stags. Jumpin’ Joe is #18 in the team picture above.

Philly won the next two games, and wrapped up the series in five when forward Howie Dallmar snapped a tie by nailing a jump shot with less than a minute remaining to give the Warriors the lead for good in an 83-80 victory. Fulks led all scorers with 34 points in the clincher.

Led by Paul Arizin, Neil Johnston and Tom Gola, the Philadelphia Warriors also captured the 1956 NBA championship, beating the Fort Wayne Pistons in five games. Following the 1961-62 season, Wilt Chamberlain and the Warriors moved to San Francisco.

Later renamed Golden State, the Warriors swept the Washington Bullets in the 1974-75 NBA Finals. Hall of Famer Rick Barry averaged 30.6 points per game for Golden State that season.

In addition to their four championships, the Warriors lost three NBA Finals, to the Baltimore Bullets in 1948 while representing Philadelphia, and in 1964 to the Boston Celtics and 1967 to the Philadelphia 76ers, both while playing in San Francisco. Al Attles, a lifelong Warriors guard, played in both Finals and later coached Golden State to the 1975 NBA championship.

If you liked this blog, you might like: The 1947 Holy Cross Crusaders were another great basketball team. Read the SportsLifer – Holy Cross was Once King of Hoops.


Believe It: No Celtic Has Ever Led The NBA in Scoring

Incredibly, no Boston Celtic has ever won the NBA scoring title

The Celtics, along with the New York Knicks, are the only original NBA teams dating back to the Basketball Association of America (BAA) which began in 1946. The Philadelphia Warriors, who moved to California to become the Golden State Warriors in 1962, were also part of that inaugural BAA season.

Just before the start of the 1948-49 season, four teams from the National Basketball League (NBL) joined the BAA — the Fort Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons, Indianapolis Jets, Minneapolis (now Los Angeles) Lakers and Rochester Royals (now Sacramento Kings).

Before the 1949 season, the six remaining NBL teams — Anderson (Ind.), Denver, Sheboygan (Wis.), Syracuse Nationals (now Philadelphia 76ers), Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now Atlanta Hawks), and Waterloo (Iowa) — joined the BAA, along with the new Indianapolis Olympians, and became the National Basketball Association.

As for the two other original teams, the Knicks have had one scoring champion, Bernard King in 1985. The Warriors have had a number of scoring champs, including Joe Fulks, right, in 1947, Wilt Chamberlain (6), Neil Johnson (3) and Paul Arizin (2). However the Warriors have not had a scoring champ since Rick Barry averaged 35.6 points per game in 1967.

BTW, Lakers who led the league in scoring were George Mikan, three times with Minneapolis beginning in 1949, Jerry West in 1970 and Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.

Related NBA reading: Celtics-Lakers Would Be Historic NBA Final