Don Otten - Unseen, Unknown, and Unfufilled

Don Otten

Credit: Peach Basket Society

From Bellefontaine, Ohio, Don Otten was a 6'10" Center and was one of professional basketball's earliest Superstars. However, his name is rarely brought up in conversations. To be fair, Otten played in the 1940s-60s, so the number of people that have watched him play are probably little to none (because they're dead).

On the other hand, players like George Mikan, Paul Arizin, Bob Cousy, etc., also played in the same era, yet their names are brought up all the time. In honor of Otten's legacy, we'll be going over his three seasons in the NBL and additional four seasons in the NBA.

Fun Fact 1:

Before the goaltending rule, players were allowed to block shots even while the basketball was going downwards. As a result, players like Don Otten, George Mikan, and Bob Kurland stood under the basket and, with ease, block shot after shot.

The triplet blocked so many shots that they forced the professional basketball leagues to enforce the 1945 goaltending rule change!

Fun Fact 2:

Because of how often Don Otten blocked shots, he was nicknamed "The Goalie" in high school. Otten also happens to be one of the first players ever to dunk a basketball!


Table of Contents:


1946-1949: NBL

1946-47: Rookie Season

Don Otten joined the NBL in the 1946-47 season alongside the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, who entered the NBL as a team in the same season. You may know the Tri-Cities Blackhawks as the Atlanta Hawks nowadays. This means that Otten was the first Superstar the Hawks ever had since (spoilers) the Blackhawks never had any good players when they first entered the league.

In the 1967-67 NBL season, the Blackhawks would go 19-25 (43.2 W/L%). This would put them as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference (aka, second to last). The Blackhawks PPG was awful, ranking 11/12 (49.1). On the other hand, their OPPG was amazing, ranking first (51.8).

As for Don Otten, in this season, he averaged:

12.9 Points

4.5 Field Goals

3.8 Free Throws, 5.9 Free Throw Attempts

In his first season in the NBL, Otten was already leading the Blackhawks in EVERY stat. Out of the entire league, Otten ranked fifth in points (569), sixth in field goals (200), and fourth in free throws (169).

Even though Otten had a fantastic rookie season, unfortunately, he would lose the Rookie of the Year award to Freddie Lewis. However, it was no surprise that Lewis won since he averaged 13.3 points. Lewis was even selected to the All-NBL First Team!

What is surprising is that Otten wasn't selected to the All-NBL Second Team. Otten wasn't better than Arnie Risen or Hal Tidrick, but he was better than the other three players that were on the All-NBL Second Team:

  • Robert Calihan: 11.0 Points

  • Bob Carpenter: 11.7 Points

  • Red Holzman: 12.0 Points

This season was horrible for the Tri-Cities Blackhawks but excellent for Don Otten. All Otten needed to do was get better and for the Blackhawks to get a decent player next to Otten. Thankfully, both of these things came to fruition the following season.


In the 1947-48 NBL season, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks would add three star-level players next to Don Otten:

  • Whitey Von Nieda: 12.1 Points

  • Robert McDermott: 12.1 Points

  • Billy Hassett: 10.7 Points

In addition, Otten would improve his play from last season. This season, he averaged:

13.7 Points

4.7 Field Goals

4.3 Free Throws, 6.5 Free Throw Attempts

With the newly acquired start players and an improved Don Otten, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks would go 30-30 (50.0 W/L%). This would put them at the third seed in the Western Conference. For some reason, the team changed conferences. I have no idea why. However, that doesn't matter. What matters is that Otten and the Blackhawks were going to make their first playoff appearance.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Blackhawks beat the Indianapolis Kautskys with ease, winning 3-1. However, in the second round, the Blackhawks would get swept by the George Mikan-led Minneapolis Lakers, 0-2.

For their first playoff run, this was pretty good. In addition, Don Otten played AMAZINGLY during the playoffs. He averaged:

16.3 Points

5.7 Field Goals

5.0 Free Throws, 6.3 Free Throw Attempts

Don Otten wasn't the only one that played fantastically during this game. Whitey Von Nieda played just as well as Otten during the playoffs:

16.2 Points

6.8 Field Goals

2.5 Free Throws, 4.7 Free Throw Attempts

Combined, the duo scored 32.5 points. By today's standards, this is nothing. Stephen Curry is singlehandedly averaging 32.0 points. However, the Blackhawks only scored 60.9 PPG. This means that Otten and Nieda scored 53.3% of the team's points!

Unlike last season, this season, Don Otten was selected to the All-NBL Second Team. However, Otten deserved to be on the All-NBL First Team. Besides George Mikan, who averaged 21.3 POINTS this season, Otten was better than or on-par with everybody else on the First Team:

  • Mike Todorovich: 13.0 Points

  • Jim Pollard: 12.9 Points

  • Red Holzman: 10.2 Points

  • Al Cervi: 13.4 Points

Also, out of the entire league, Otten ranked second in points (824), third in field goals (282), and second in free throws (260).

Somehow, this isn't even the biggest snub. Otten's right-hand man, Von Nieda, wasn't even selected to All-NBL Second Team, and he only averaged 1.6 fewer points than Otten!

1948-49: MVP Season

The 1948-49 NBL season was the last season that the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and Don Otten would be in the NBL. Thankfully, for Otten at least, it ended with a bang.

This season, on top of the Big 4 from last season, the Blackhawks added two other star players onto the team:

  • Hoot Gibson: 10.1 Points

  • Don Ray: 7.1 Points

With an even better team than last season, the Blackhawks would once again improve their record. They went 36-28 (56.3 W/L%) and were ranked second in the Western Conference, the highest they've ever been during their three seasons in the NBL.

This was also the only season that the Blackhawks were Top 5 in PPG and OPPG. They were ranked third in PPG (65.1) and fifth in OPPG (62.4)!

Okay, let's get back to Don Otten. This season, Otten averaged:

14.0 Points

4.7 Field Goals

4.6 Free Throws, 6.6 Free Throw Attempts

Once again, Don Otten improved. In addition, Otten would finally be given the respect he deserved and was selected to the All-NBL First Team. Not only was he on the First-Team, but Otten was the 1949 NBL MVP! In the NBL's last season, Otten clutched and secured the last MVP awarded by the NBL before they eventually ceased operations.

Don Otten was ranked first in points (899), second in field goals (301), and first in free throws (297)!

Although I'm happy that Don Otten won MVP this season, a lot of luck was on his side. George Mikan, the previous NBL MVP, just left the NBL this season to join the BAA. In the 1948-19 BAA season, Mikan averaged:

28.3 Points, 3.6 Assists

41.6 FG%, 77.2 FT%

If Mikan had stayed in the NBL, there's no way that Otten would have won MVP. If you combined the top-two leading scorers on the Blackhawks, Otten and Gibson, they still would have had fewer points than Mikan:

  • Otten and Gibson: 24.1 Points

  • Mikan: 28.3 Points

As for the playoffs, they went the same as last season's playoffs. In the first round, the Blackhawks swept the Sheboygan Redskins, 2-0. However, in the second round, the Blackhawks would get stomped by the Oshkosh All-Stars, 1-3.

Also, like last season's playoffs, Don Otten played amazingly:

15.2 Points

4.0 Field Goals

7.2 Free Throws, 9.2 Free Throw Attempts

Even though Otten played amazingly, I don't think the Blackhawks would have even made it past the first round if it weren't for Dee Gibson. Whitey Von Nieda, Billy Hassett, and Hoot Gibson (I have no idea if Dee and Hoot Gibson are related) didn't play that well. On the other hand, Dee Gibson did:

9.5 Points

3.2 Field Goals

3.2 Free Throws, 5.0 Free Throw Attempts

These aren't All-NBL Team numbers, but this was a massive improvement from his regular-season play, where he only averaged 4.7 points.

By the end of his career, Don Otten would have the 20th most games played (168), 8th most field goals (783), fourth-most free throws (726), and sixth most points (2292). This doesn't sound that impressive because he's not Top 3 in any of these stats, but remember, Otten only played three seasons in the NBL. The NBL lasted twelve seasons!