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The Most Dissapointing NBL Team - The Indianapolis Kautskys

Indianapolis Kautskys

The Indianapolis Kautskys were founded in 1931 by Frank Kautsky. I wonder how they got their name (*sarcasm*)! Before joining the National Basketball League (NBL), the Kautskys played in the National Professional Basketball League (NPBL) and the Midwest Basketball Conference (MWC).

This article will focus on the Indianapolis Kautsky's stint in the NBL, but to give some more interesting background, when the Kautskys were in the NPBL and MWC, they were led by none other than John Wooden. If you don't know who John Wooden is, Wooden is one of, if not the best coach in NCAA history.

From 1948-1975, Wooden was the head coach for the UCLA Bruins. Within those 27 years, Wooden and the Bruins won 10 NCAA Championships! Wooden and the Bruins won the NCAA Championship every season from 1966-1973. In addition, within this period, the team won 205 games and only lost five games!

If John Wooden's name sounds familiar, that's because the John R. Wooden Award is named after him! The award is similar to the MVP award, but for college players. Players like Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Durant have won the award

Unfortunately, although Wooden was the best player on the

Indianapolis Kautskys when they were in the NPBL and MWC, he would not be playing alongside them in the NBL. He did play for the Kautskys in the 1938-39 NBL season, but only for five games.

Fun Fact: John Wooden holds the record for the most consecutive free throws with 124. After making his 99th free-throw, Frank Kautsky stopped the game to give Wooden $100. This was in 1935. Accounting for inflation, that's $1,883 in 2021.

Now, let's dive in-depth into the Indianapolis Kautsky's seven seasons in the NBL (and one season in the BAA).


Table of Contents:


1937-40: Not a Good Start


In the Indianapolis Kautskys' first season in the NBL, they went 4-9 (30.8 W/L%). This was the Kautskys' worst season in the NBL. Surprisingly, even with a negative record, the Kautskys were fourth in the Western Conference. There were a lot of bad teams this season. Five other teams had worst records than the Kautskys:

  • Buffalo Bisons: 3-6

  • Cincinnati Comellos: 3-7

  • Warren Penns: 3-9

  • Kankakee Gallagher Trojans: 3-11

  • Dayton Metropolitans: 2-11

  • Columbus Athletic Supply: 1-12

The Indianapolis Kautskys were 7th in PPG (33.5) and 10th in OPPG (34.8). Since offensive and defensive ratings were not statistics yet, we'll be using PPG and OPPG as indicators for how well the Kautskys were on offense and defense. So far, it seems like they were pretty bad in both.

The Kautskys' best player in the 1937-38 NBL season was Robert Kessler. This season, he averaged 10.3 points. The team only averaged 33.5 points which means that Kessler scored 30.7% of the team's points! As a result of his impressive play - this sounds like sarcasm, but 10.3 points was a lot back then - Kessler was selected to the All-NBL Second Team and was the Rookie of the Year.

Unfortunately, Kessler would leave the Kautskys the following season to join the Hammond Ciesar All-Americans for one season. After two seasons in NBL, Kautsky retired.

It was typical for professional basketball players back then to retire early. Out of the nine players on the Indianapolis Kautskys this season, only four of them played the following season:

  • George Chestnut

  • Frank Baird

  • Everett Swank

  • Robert Kessler

In the season after, only one of them remained, Frank Baird.


Jewell Young

In the 1938-39 NBL season, the Indianapolis Kautskys went 13-13 (50.0 W/L%). This was a considerable improvement, putting them in second place in the Western Conference. However, for some reason, only the best team from each conference played in the playoffs. Last season, the top two teams from each conference played in the playoffs.

The Indianapolis Kautskys got robbed.

The Indianapolis Kautksys was 2nd in PPG (43.3) and 8th in OPPG (43.6). Tremendous improvement offensively, but at the same time, they broke down defensively.

This season, the Kautskys had themselves a Big 4:

  • Jewell Young: 10.2 Points

  • John Sines: 9.3 Points

  • Frank Baird: 7.9 Points

  • James Birr: 7.6 Points

Young, Sines, Baird, and Birr averaged 35 points in total. 80.8% of the team's points came from the Big 4.

Each player also played 20+ games this season, so the team was consistently good throughout the season! This is a surprise since many players back then played a few games and then just decided to leave or not play. 9/16 of the Kautskys' players played less than ten games, and 3/16 played less than twenty games. The only player to play all 26 games was Jewell Young.

Speaking of Jewell Young, like Robert Kessler, Young would be selected to the All-NBL Second Team and was named the Rookie of the Year. In addition, John Sines was selected to the All-NBL First Team! Young played better than Sines, yet Sines was on the First-Team.

I think All-Team voters back then were either blind, stupid, or there are a lot of missing stats. To be nice, I'll assume it's the latter. There were always players on the First-Team that were not better than players on the Second-Team.

For example, in the same season, Gerard Bush was selected to the All-NBL First Team, and he only averaged 5.3 points. That's worst than Frank Baird and James Birr, and they weren't even on the First or Second team!

If the number of teams allowed to be in the playoffs didn't change, the Indianapolis Kautskys would have had a good chance to win a Championship this season.


In the 1939-40 NBL season, the Indianapolis Kautskys would go 9-19 (32.1 W/L%). This season, the NBL would revert to its old playoff format, and the top two teams from each conference would play in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Kautskys were nowhere near as good as their last season.

Conspiracy Theory: The NBL didn't want to see the Indianapolis Kautskys win. Haters.

The Kautskys' PPG and OPPG stayed about the same. They were 3rd in PPG (41.5) and 8th in OPPG (45.6). Decent at offensive, garbage at defense.

The reason for their downfall is probably due to the Big 4 breaking up. Jewell Young was still around, but John Sines and Frank Baird only played sixteen games while James Birr only played three! The only reason the Indianapolis Kautskys weren't notoriously awful was due to Ernest Andres.

Like Young last season and Kessler the season before, Andres was a rookie and the best player on the Indianapolis Kautskys. Andres averaged 10.8 points. Like Young and Kessler, Andres was also on the All-NBL Second Team. However, he broke the Kautskys' Rookie of the Year streak.

The award ended up going to Ben Stephens instead, who averaged 10.5 points. Stephens and Andres were basically on par, so I won't blame Andres for breaking the ROTY streak.

In addition, Young would be selected to the All-NBL First Team. Once again, the better player (Andres) is on the Second-Team while the worst player (Young) is on the First-Team.

Although this was a pretty bad season, the Kautskys exceeded expectations. They were expected to go 6-22 this season. This was the only upside to this season. Pain.

In the 1940-41 season, the Indianapolis Kautskys left the NBL and changed their names to the Indianapolis Pure Oil. I don't know why they left and why they changed their name, but they would return to the NBL in the 1941-42 season.

1941-42: First Playoff Apperance

In the 1941-42 NBL season, the Indianapolis Kautskys went 12-11 (52.2 W/L%). There are no longer conferences in the NBL which means that the Kautskys were just fourth overall. This time, the NBL let the top four teams make the playoffs. Finally, after three seasons in the NBL, the Kautsksy were making their playoff debut.

As for their PPG and OPPG, although they were 4th in PPG (41.5), the Indianapolis Kautskys were finally no longer last in OPPG and were also 4th (41.2).

Surprisingly, this team has the best W/L record thus far. There wasn't a Big 4. Not even a Big 3. It was just Jewell Young (once again) and John Townsend. Also, Townsend wasn't even that good. Townsend, skill-wise, was at the same level as James Birr (the fourth-best player on the 1938-39 Kautskys). Townsend averaged 7.7 points. At least he had a cool nickname (Houdini of the Hardwood).

This season, Young averaged 11.4 points, a career-high! As a result, he was, once again, selected to the All-NBL Second Team!

On December 7th, 1941, in a game against the Jim White Chevrolets (yes, the car company), the loudspeaker came on and had announced that Pearl Harbour was just bombed. I don't know if the game continued, but imagine playing the rest of the game pondering whether the world was about to go into nuclear war.

Thankfully, the United States wouldn't respond with their own bomb killing 100,000+ civilians and then proceed to drop another bomb for no real reason killing another 50,000+ civilians... right?

But I digress. Let's talk about the playoffs. In the first round of the playoffs, the Indianapolis Kautskys went against the Oshkosh All-Stars. The All-Stars were the best team in the league, going 20-4, so I don't think anyone expected the Kautskys to beat the All-Stars.

And they didn't. The Kautskys would lose 2-0 against the All-Stars. Although they got swept, Jewell Young and John Townsend played this game amazingly:

  • Jewell Young: 17.5 Points

  • John Townsend: 11.5 Points

Unfortunately, neither team would return as Indianapolis Kautskys players the following season. Frank Kautsky announced that the Indianapolis Kautskys would be suspending operations in 1942 due to World War 2. However, it wasn't a permanent suspension. Once the war was over, the Kautskys were back in action for the 1945-46 NBL season.

1945-46: Back to Being Bad

After their five-year hiatus, the Indianapolis Kautskys were back, better than ever... not. In the 1945-46 NBL season, the Kautskys went 10-22 (31.3 W/L%) and were dead last in the Western Conference. At least they weren't as bad as the Cleveland Allmen Transfers (4-29)?

For the four seasons that the Kautskys have been in the NBL, they've always ranked high in PPG and low in OPPG. This season, the tables have turned. The Kautskys were ranked 6th in PPG (46.4) and 3rd in OPPG (49.8).

Although the Kautskys had elite players like Ernest Andres and Arnie Risen, they didn't play for long. Andres would average 16 points... in three games. Risen would average 12.2 points... in eighteen games.

The only 'good' player the Kautskys had this season that actually played was Jerome Steiner. Steiner only averaged 9 points, the lowest average PPG by the leading scorer of an Indianapolis Kautskys' team. However, Steiner would still make an appearance on the All-NBL Second Team, so good for him!

Besides that, nothing eventful happens for the Indianapolis Kautskys this season. Jewell Young was back on the team, but he only played eight games. Within those games, he only averaged 1.1 points...

1946-47: The Best Season (By Far)

Arnie Risen

Credit: Mark Montieth

After an extremely disappointing season in the 1945-46 NBL season, the Indianapolis Kautskys took the league by storm. In the 1946-47 NBL season, the Kautskys went 27-17 (61.4 W/L%). This put them as the second-best team in the Western Conference behind the Oshkosh All-Stars. Throughout their seven seasons in the NBL, this was, without a doubt, the Kautskys' best season.

Surprisingly, the Kautskys' best record was during THIS season because there have never been this many teams in the NBL in a while. Last season, there were eight teams. This season, there were ten teams: the more teams, the more competition.

Also, what's crazy is that the Kautskys actually underperformed. They were expected to go 32-12!

Like last season, the Kautskys were horrible on offense and amazing on defense. They were ranked 7th in PPG (56.9) and 2nd in OPPG (53.1). They're one rank lower than last season in terms of PPG and one rank higher than last season in OPPG.

The reason for the Indianapolis Kautskys' success this season is due to them having an entire team. Every player on the starting lineup played all 44 games. In addition, they were good!

  • Arnie Risen: 13.2 Points

  • Leo Klier: 9.5 Points

  • Herm Schaefer: 8.2 Points

  • Ernest Andres: 7.9 Points

  • Bill Closs: 6.2 Points

In addition, they also had four other players play 30+ games:

  • Wilfred Doerner: 43 Games

  • Robert Dietz: 39 Games

  • Eldwood Norris: 38 Games

  • Homer Thompson: 31 Games

The Indianapolis Kautskys had a reliable rotation and didn't have to worry about their players vanishing or quitting on them! Then again, 82.6% of the team's points came from the starting lineup.

Even with the talent they had, the only player to make an All-NBL team this season was Arnie Risen. Risen would make the All-NBL Second Team!

As for the playoffs, in the first round, the Indianapolis Kautskys would end up against the Chicago American Gears. Out of all the possible matchups, this was probably the worst for the Kautskys since the American Gears had none other than George Mikan (aka, the first GOAT).

If you didn't already expect it, the Kautskys would lose to the American Gears, 3-2. The American Gears would end up winning the Championship this season. On the bright side, out of all the teams the American Gears faced, the Kautskys were the only ones that brought them to Game 5.

It sucks that the Indianapolis Kautskys lost because everybody played pretty well in the playoffs, especially Arnie Risen and Wilfred Doerner:

  • Arnie Risen: 19.0 Points

  • Wilfred Doerner: 11.8 Points

  • Herm Schaefer: 11.6 Points

Unfortunately, the George Mikan and Robert Calihan duo was just way too good:

  • George Mikan: 19.7 Points

  • Robert Calihan: 12.3 Points

1947-48: Back to Norlmacy

In their final season in the NBL, the Indianapolis Kautskys would go 24-35 (40.7 W/L%). Somehow, they still ranked fourth in the Western Conference and even made it to the playoffs. The Kautskys were pretty lucky because the fifth-ranked team in the Western Conference, the Sheboygan Redskins, were only one win away from being tied with the Kautskys.

The Kautskys' PPG and OPPG rankings were similar to when they first started in the NBL. Good PPG, horrible OPPG. Their PPG was ranked 5th (60.3), while their OPPG was second to last (63.2).

Surprisingly, this team did as bad as they did since they had four players average 10+ points:

  • Arnie Risen: 12.1 Points

  • Bruce Hale: 11.4 Points

  • Leo Klier: 10.8 Points

  • George Glammack: 10.4 Points

However, unlike last season, players were not playing the whole season. Risen only played 33 games and didn't even play in the playoffs. Freddie Lewis, the fifth-leading scorer (9.8 Points), only played 17 games. If both of these players stuck it out throughout the regular season, they would have had a positive record.

Also, this is the first season that the Indianapolis Kautskys didn't have a player on an All-NBL Team. Risen would have been on one, but he didn't play enough games.

In the playoffs, the Indianapolis Kautskys were against the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in the first round. The Blackhawks were pretty bad, too, going 30-30, but still better than the Kautskys. Like in their past playoff appearances, the Kautskys lost in the first round, 1-3.

I don't blame the Kautskys for losing since the Blackhawks had future MVP, Don Otten, who averaged 16.3 points, alongside Whitey Von Nieda, who averaged 16.2 points.

It does suck that the Indianapolis Kautskys couldn't make it past the first round in their final NBL playoff appearance since everybody played exceptionally well. Outside of Bill Closs, the starting five averaged more than ten points in the playoffs:

  • George Glammack: 17.0 Points

  • Bruce Hale: 15.5 Points

  • Leo Klier: 12.3 Points

  • Freddie Lewis: 10.3 Points

1948-49: The Indianapolis Jets?

After the 1947-48 NBL season, the Indianapolis Kautskys would leave the NBL a second time, but this time, for good. They would join a new league, the Basketball Association of America (BAA), alongside the Minneapolis Lakers, Rochester Royals, and Fort Wayne Pistons. The Kautskys also had to change their name since the BAA didn't allow commercial sponsors, so the Kautskys were now the Jets!

In the 1948-49 BAA season, the Indianapolis Jets went 18-42 (30.0 W/L%). This is the worst record they've ever had. Their last awful season was in their first season in the NBL. As a result, the Jets were dead last in the Western Conference.

The Jets' PPG and OPPG were both bad. They ranked 11th in PPG (74.7) and 7th in OPPG (79.4). For the first 17 games, the Jets were coached by Bruce Hale, who was still actively playing for the Jets. Within those 17 games, Hale led the Jets to a 4-13 record.

I won't blame Hale for the Jets' loss because he had to coach and play as well. Although he may not have been the best coach, he was a pretty good player. For the 18 games that he played with the Jets, he averaged 12.6 points!

When you look at the stat-sheet for the Indianapolis Jets' roster, it's confusing because EIGHT players averaged 10+ points, yet, they had such a bad record. This is because only 5/8 of the players played 30+ minutes.

Besides that, nothing interesting happens for the Indianapolis Jets. They were just bad.

The only exciting thing that's somewhat related to the Indianapolis Kautskys/Jets is Arnie Risen. After the 1947-48 NBL Season, Risen would leave the Kautskys to join the Rochester Royals. He would be selected to the 1x All-BAA Second Team, 4x All-Star, and 1x Champion with the Royals. He would later join the Boston Celtics, where he would win another Championship.

Although the Indianapolis Kautskys/Jets ended badly, at least one of their former players did well.

After the 1948-49 Season, the BAA and NBL merged to make the NBA! Unfortunately, since there were two teams based in Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Kautskys and Olympians, one would not be selected to be a part of the NBA. In favor of the Olympians, the Indianapolis Kautskys ceased operations, and their story ended.



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