Yup. Before becoming the illustrious NBA team that they are today, the Los Angeles Lakers' history starts with an NBL team known as the Detroit Gems. The Detroit Gems played in the NBL for only one season (1946-67) before disbanding and becoming the Minneapolis Lakers. Were the Detroit Gems any good? Well, you're going to have to scroll down to know!
Table of Content:
The Start of the Detroit Gems
The Detroit Gems were founded by C.King Boring and Maury Winston.
C. King Boring
C. King Boring is one of the funniest names I've ever heard. Having 'King' as a name is a pretty huge flex, but when you follow that up with 'Boring,' it just defeats the purpose of being named 'King.' Now it just sounds like C. King Boring was the King of being boring.
But I digress; Boring's birth name was Cleo Siple Boring (still a pretty cool name). You would expect the owner of a professional basketball team to be extremely affluent, but Boring was just your typical, middle-class, American accountant. I guess the name did fit after all... or did it?
Although the Detroit Gems would only be in the NBL for a season, Boring's legacy was cemented by naming a park in Dearborn, Michigan, known as King Boring Park and Field. In addition, although we are talking about basketball, Boring was also quite known for his involvement in baseball.
Boring was a scout for the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) and the Detroit Tigers! In addition, Boring would coach a Class-A Baseball Team and reached the National Finals on four occasions. In his coaching career, Boring had coached 15 future MLB players!
As a result of his sports contribution to Michigan, specifically, Dearnbron, Boring was elected to the Dearborn Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.
Also, apparently, Boring got his middle name, 'King,' because he took on and beat the school bully.
Okay... C. King Boring was not boring at all.
On the other hand, his business partner and co-owner of the Detroit Gems, Maury Winston, was not as interesting. Winston owned a jewelry store known as Winston Jewelers. If you can see where this is heading, Winston was the one who gave the Detroit Gems' their name.
Gems = Jewels, but you knew that already.
The Detroit Gems were initially going to play in a newly built stadium, the Dearborn Forum, but construction never started, so they played in Ferndale High School, which had a 6,000 person capacity.
However, since the Gems were having trouble attracting fans to watch their games, they moved to another High School, Holy Redeemer High School.
On a good night, the Detroit Gems would sell at most 600 tickets. At that time (1946), tickets were only selling for $1.50. Accounting for inflation, a ticket in 1946 would cost $14.85 in 2021. This is extremely cheap relative to the average NBA ticket price ($51.02).
The Detroit Gems were the first team in the NBL to be based in Detroit.
The Coaches: Joel Mason and Fred Campbell
For the first half of the season, the Detroit Gems were coached by Joel Mason. I won't be going into the Gems' record just yet, as I want to leave that for the ending section, 'The First and Only Season.'
Before becoming the head coach for the Detroit Gems, Joel Mason was an NFL player! He started his NFL career in 1939 with the Chicago Cardinals but would take a break from football for the next two seasons.
Within these two seasons (i.e., years), Mason would play in the NBL for the Sheboygan Redskins for ONE GAME. In that one game, Mason didn't record a single stat. This would be his only professional basketball experience as a player.
After those two years, he played four seasons with the Green Bay Packers (1942-45). In 1944, Mason would even win a Championship with the Packers! I don't know much about football, but here are his career stats. I don't know if they're good or not:
390 Receiving Yards
After his four seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Mason would become the head coach for the Detroit Gems. As said earlier, I don't want to spoil his W/L record, but he was only the head coach for the first half of the season.
Mason seemed to be a very disciplined coach. He would get the Gems players to be on the court every day at 8:00 AM to have a pre-breakfast scrimmage. After lunch, players would have another practice session.
After his half-a-season with the Detroit Gems, Mason would continue his basketball coaching career with Wayne State University for EIGHTEEN YEARS! Within those eighteen years, Wayne State made the NCAA Tournament once in 1955. However, on Sports Reference, Wayne State wasn't considered a 'major school,' so I have no idea how well they did in the NCAA Tournament.
After Joel Mason left, Fred Campbell would step in as the new head coach for the second half of the season.
Campbell was actually a Guard for the Detroit Gems. With the Gems, he averaged:
2.7 Field Goals
1.5 Free Throws, 2.1 Free Throw Attempts
This doesn't seem like a lot, but this was honestly pretty good for someone who also had to coach the team.
After one season with the Detroit Gems, Campbell would join the other Detroit team, the Detroit Vagabond Kings, where he was also a player-coach for the first season. Campbell would play for the Vagabond Kings from 1947-54 before calling it quits.
Campbell also played Minor League Baseball, but I'm not sure with which team. However, they were based in New York and Texas.
Detroit Gems Players
In the 1946-47 NBL season, the Detroit Gems had NINETEEN PLAYERS! Obviously, I'm not going to go over every single player. Instead, I'll go over the Gems' Top 5 Players:
Also, to quote Joel Mason, the Detroit Gems didn't "have a so-called 'name player' on the squad," which is true. Not a single Gems player made an All-NBL Team, and the only player to play more than forty games for the Gems was Dave Latter (41 Games).
Credit: Delbert Loranger
Delbert Loranger, also known as Del, was a Forward-Guard. During his time with the Detroit Gems, he averaged:
3.5 Field Goals
1.7 Free Throws, 2.6 Free Throw Attempts
Loranger was the leading scorer for the Gems, so I assume that makes him the best player on the team. No other stats were recorded back then, so we'll never know.
After his one season with the Gems, Loranger would play for the Indianapolis Kautskys for ONE GAME and didn't record a single stat. I don't know why he decided only to play one game, but he did.
In the 1948-49 NBL season, Loranger would play for the Detroit Vagabond Kings alongside Fred Campbell, but instead of Campbell being the head coach, this time, it was Loranger!
The Vagabond Kings sucked. They went 2-17.
No... Willie King and C. King Boring have no familial affiliation. Willie King was a Guard. During his time with the Detroit Gems, he averaged:
3.0 Field Goals
2.2 Free Throws, 3.5 Free Throw Attempts
King would only play 14 games with the Detroit Gems. This is because King was both a professional basketball player AND a baseball player! He started his career as a basketball player for multiple teams:
1935-36: Central Athletic Association
1941-43: Harlem Globetrotters
1941-42: Detroit Trojans
1943-44: Detroit Brewster Recreation
King was never on a basketball team for too long, and that applied to baseball teams as well. In 1944, King was on the New York Yankees and Cleveland Buckeyes. In 1945-46, he was with the Chicago American Giants, and in 1947, I don't even know how, but King was on two basketball teams and one baseball team:
Kansas City Stars
Dave Latter was a Center-Forward. During his time with the Detroit Gems, he averaged:
3.0 Field Goals
1.8 Free Throws, 3.2 Free Throw Attempts
Besides the fact that Latter played the second-most games for the Gems (behind Herbert Scheffler, who played 42 games), there isn't much about Latter. Like Campbell and Loranger, Latter would also play for the Detroit Vagabond Kings. With the Vagabond Kings, Latter averaged 6.9 points on 57% shooting from the free-throw line.
Latter, also played Minor League Baseball for the New York Yankees.
Tom Meyer was a Forward-Center. During his time with the Detroit Gems, he averaged:
3.2 Field Goals
1.4 Free Throws, 2.2 Free Throw Attempts
After his one season with the Gems, Meyer would join St. Joseph in the Professional Basketball League of American (PBLA). The PBLA would only last for three weeks, but during those three weeks, Meyers averaged:
33 Field Goals Made
Meyer had a HUGE improvement from his last season with the Gems. However, I have no idea whether Meyer's would continue playing this good. He ALSO played for the Detroit Vagabond Kings when they were an Independent team, so I don't know his stats.
Last but not least, we have Forward-Guard, Howie McCarty. During his time with the Detroit Gems, McCarty would average:
2.9 Field Goals
1.8 Free Throws, 4.7 Free Throw Attempts
Among the players here, McCarty is the only player with previous playing experience in the NBL. Before joining the Detroit Gems, McCarty played for the Cleveland Allmen Transfers. With the Transfers, he averaged:
3.1 Field Goals
1.0 Free Throws
Their First and Only Season
Finally, time to talk about the Detroit Gems' only season in the NBL (1946-47). In the 1946-47 NBL season, wait for it... the Detroit Gems went 4-40 (9.1 W/L%)! Within its twelve-year lifespan, the only NBL team with a W/L under 10% who have also played 20+ games is the Detroit Gems.
As a result of this horrendous record, the Gems were obviously last in the Western Division and last overall. The next worst team, the Youngstown Bears, still had eight more wins than the Gems.
To put into perspective how bad the Gems were, the team with the worst W/L% in the NBA was the Charlotte Bobcats, who STILL had a higher W/L% (10.6%).
I'm not done yet. To add insult to injury, the Detroit Gems were dead-last in both PPG (48.6) and OPPG (63.0). What's even crazier is that the Gems were expected ONLY to WIN ONE GAME this season! They EXCEEDED expectations!
To add the cherry on top, in the 1961-62 NBA season, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points. Chamberlain alone outscored the entire Detroit Gems team. However, to be fair, Chamberlain was not human.
Under Joel Mason, the Detroit Gems went 3-13. Honestly, not that bad considering their overall record. It was once Frank Campbell took over when the Detroit Gems started to tank. Under Campbell, the Gems went 1-27... They had a 3.6 W/L%...
Here is the ending game-score for the four wins the Detroit Gems got:
Detroit Gems vs. Chicago American Gears (Third in Western Conference): 60-56
Detroit Gems vs. Youngstown Bears (Last in Eastern Conference): 74-73
Detroit Gems vs. Indianapolis Kautskys (Second in Western Conference): 56-55
I Don't Know About the Fourth Win
Goodbye Detroit Gems
After the season was over, reports claimed that Maury Winston ended up losing $50,000 due to a lack of sales and a shitty performance in the regular season.
On June 4th, 1947, Winston announced that he sold the Detroit Gems to Benny Berger and Morris Chalfen for $15,000. Accounting for inflation, $15,000 in 1947 would be worth $181,000 in 2021.
Yes.. that's a lot, but as said initially, the Gems would later become the Minneapolis Lakers and then the Los Angeles Lakers. As of 2021, the Los Angeles Lakers are currently valued at $4,600,000,000 (yeah, that's nine zeroes). The Lakers are the third-most valuable NBA franchise.
Not only did the Detroit Gems lose money, but they also lost the GOAT of the 1950-60s, George Mikan. Mikan was considered the 'first superstar' of the NBA.
With the Minneapolis Lakers, George Mikan would become a 4x All-Star, 3x Scoring Champion, 5x Champion, 6x All-NBA, All-Star MVP, Rebound Champion, and eventually, a Hall of Famer. Throughout his career, Mikan averaged:
23.1 Points, 13.4 Rebounds, 2.8 Assists
40.4 FG%, 78.2 FT%
Imagine if the Detroit Gems would have just stayed for one more season. If they had Mikan instead of the Lakers, would the Gems have won four championships? Would the Detroit Gems still be a team today?
I guess we'll never know.