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The Pittsburgh Ironmen - Ended Before it Even Started

Coubly Gunther

Credit: Wikipedia

Although they have one of the coolest names in NBA history, the Pittsburgh Ironmen would only play one season in the NBA.

What's even worse is that, unlike the previously discussed Sheboygan Redskins and Anderson Packers, the Ironmen's NBA journey ended before it even started... kind of.

Before joining the NBA, the Redskins had an eleven-year history with the NBL. The Packers had a three-year history with the NBL. Both teams were able to win an NBL Championship during their time in the league. However, the Ironmen were different...

The Pittsburgh Ironmen had no previous experience in any other basketball leagues before joining the NBA, then known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). They just came out of the blue, joined the BAA during the 1946-47 season, and just disappeared one season later.

Since the teams' history only spans one year, there won't be as much information on them here compared to my two recent posts about the Redskins and Packers. Don't worry! I'll still try to make this as interesting as possible!

Damn... even the Wikipedia entry for the Pittsburgh Ironmen is only 122 words. Yikes.

Heads Up: some of the photos are extremely grainy as many of these pictures are from the 40s-50s!

We Failed... Alright, Goodbye!

In the 1946-47 BAA Season, the league had eleven teams. Six of the teams were on the Eastern Conference, while five were on the Western Conference. The Top 3 teams from each conference would make it into the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Ironmen were on the Western Conference. That means that the competition for them was easier as there was one less team to deal with to make it to the playoffs. However, they did not capitalize on that advantage... We'll come back to this later.

The person that led the Pittsburgh Ironmen was first-time head coach Paul Birch. Before becoming a head coach, Birch was actually a Forward-Guard in the NBL. He played in the NBL for six years and played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, and the Youngstown Bears.

The NBL had some pretty cool team names.

Birch's best season was in his first year with the Pirates (1938-39). He averaged:

10.0 Points

3.9 Field Goals

2.3 Free Throws

In the same year, he would be selected into the All-NBL First Team.

After his rookie season, Birch played pretty horribly for the next five seasons. He barely averaged more than three points a game. However, Birch still ended up as a 2x Champion with the Pistons during the 1943-44 and 1944-1945 NBL season.

After his playing career was over, Birch would become a head coach for four years. He coached the Ironmen for one year and his former team, the Fort Wayne Pistons, for three years.

Okay. Enough about Birch. Let's see how well the Pittsburgh Ironmen did in the 1946-47 BAA Season.

The Pittsburgh Ironmen were the 10th best team in points scored (61.2). However, considering that there were eleven BAA teams, being the 10th best team is not an impressive feat. How about defense? Well... they were better, but still not that good. The team was the 7th best team in points allowed (67.6).

So... the Ironmen were a pretty bad team. They were expected to have a W/L record of 12-48 and be the worst team in the league. Well, they exceeded expectations! They were three games better (15-45) than their expected record!

They were still the worst team in the league.

As said earlier, going to the playoffs as a Western Conference team was easier because there were fewer teams. An Eastern Conference team had a 50% chance of getting into the playoffs, while a Western Conference team had a 60% chance. Yet, the Ironmen weren't able to capitalize on this.

During the regular season, the team lost nine games in a row from February 20th, 1947, to March 11th, 1947. Even though they were the worst team in the league, the team didn't have that many blowout losses. The worst game for the Pittsburgh Ironmen was on February 21st, 1947. The team lost by 28 points against the New York Knicks.

Now, let's not just shit on the Pittsburgh Ironmen. They had some pretty good players! The teams' best player was Coulby Gunther. Gunther was a 6'4" Forward that averaged:

14.1 Points and 0.6 Assists

33.6 FG% and 64.4 FT%

52 Games

Gunther was tenth in the league in points (734) and had the third-best true shooting percentage (40.3%). In a game against the Providence Steamrollers, Gunther scored 32 POINTS on 83.3% efficiency from the free-throw line. The Ironmen had 72 points that game, so Gunther scored 44.4% of the teams' points!

The second-best player on the Pittsburgh Ironmen was John Abramovic. His nickname was Broom (I don't know why). Abramovic was a 6'3" Forward that averaged:

11 Points and 0.7 Assists

24.2 FG% and 69.1 FT%

47 Games

Abramovic didn't really lead the league in anything, but on November 16th, 1946, against the New York Knicks, Abramovic scored 29 POINTS on 90.0% efficiency from the free-throw line. The Ironmen had 62 points that game, so Abramovic scored 43.5% of the teams' points!

Last but not least. Let's look at the teams' best regular-season game.

The teams' best regular-season game was on November 11th, 1946, against the Providence Steamrollers. The Ironmen beat the Steamrollers by thirteen points (84-71), their biggest margin of victory. In that game, Abramovic had 26 POINTS! 50% of the team had more than five points that game as well!

Fun Fact:

Press Maravich, Pete Maravich's dad, played for the Pittsburgh Ironmen. He averaged:

4.6 Points and 0.1 Assists

27.2 FG% and 51.7 FT%

51 Games

In the 1947 BAA Draft, the Ironmen had the first pick. They chose Clifton McNeely. However, McNeely denied playing with the team and instead went back home to coach basketball.

Imagine having the first pick in the draft, and he goes, "Nah, I'm out." This might actually be the worst first-pick in BAA/NBA history.

To add insult to injury, as said in the title, the team only played one season in the BAA/NBA. Before the next season even started, the team had disbanded.

And that's that. Besides Iron Man, the Pittsburgh Ironmen have ceased to exist ever since.

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