Before the Atlanta Hawks: The Tri-Cities Blackhawks

Tri-Cities Blackhawks

Credit: Sports Team History

Before they were known as the Atlanta Hawks, from 1946-51, the Atlanta Hawks were known as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. The Blackhawks were located in an area known as the 'Tri-Cities' where Moline, Rock Island, and Davenport meet, hence why they're known as the "Tri-Cities." As for 'Blackhawks,' that's about the Blackhawk War that happened in Moline.

The Atlanta Hawks actually had a lot of names besides The Tri-Cities Blackhawks. Before being known as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, they were the Buffalo Bisons. The Hawks were also previously located in Milwaukee and St. Louis. However, we're not here to talk about them. We're here to talk about the Tri-Cities Blackhawks.

Heads Up: Some of the photos are going to look like crap. This was during the 50s!


Table of Contents:


The Beginning: 1946-67

The Tri-Cities Blackhawks did not have a good start in the NBL. In their first season, the Blackhawks went 19-25 (43.2 W/L%). This placed the Blackhawks as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. If they had won three more games, they would have beaten the Syracuse Nationals (21-23) for the fourth-seed and been in the playoffs.

At least they weren't the Detroit Gems. The Detroit Gems were last in the Western Conference and went 4-40 (9.1 W/L%). This W/L% is worse than the worst W/L% in NBA History. The Charlotte Bobcats have the worst W/L% with 10.6%.

Okay, back to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. The Blackhawks weren't the best scoring team. They were 11th in PPG (49.1 Points). On the other hand, they were the best defending team as they had the best OPPG (51.8 Points).

The team had nineteen players, but only one player had more than ten points per game, Don Otten. In the 1946-47 season, he averaged:

12.9 Points

4.5 Field Goals

3.8 Free Throws, 5.9 Free Throw Attempts

The next four players to score the most points per game all had near 7.5 Points.

  • Billy Hassett: 7.9 Points

  • William Gates: 7.6 Points

  • Edmund Lewinski: 7.5 Points

  • Stanley Waxman: 7.1 Points

It's kind of interesting that the Tri-Cities Blackhawks did as bad as they did. If you add up Don Otten and everybody above's points, you get 43.0 points. The next person with the most points per game was Albert Grenert, with 6.6 points. If you add that to the 43.0 points, that's already more than how much the Blackhawks averaged per game (49.6).

This is probably because the Top 6 Scorers outside of Don Otten and Williams Gates played less than 40 Games:

  • Albert Grenert: 30 Games

  • Billy Hassett: 27 Games

  • Edmund Lewinski: 18 Games

  • Stanley Waxman: 18 Games

Improvement: 1947-48

The Tri-Cities Blackhawks made a huge improvement this season. In their second season in the NBL, the Blackhawks went 30-30 (50 W/L%). This placed the Blackhawks as the second seed in the Western Conference (for some reason, they changed conference) and the fourth seed overall.

Unlike last year, the Blackhawks were a good scoring team this season. They were fourth in PPG (60.9 Points). Again, unlike last year, the Blackhawks were a pretty bad defending team. They were eighth in OPPG (61.1 Points).

A big reason for their success this year was because they actually had more than one player scoring more than ten points. 4/22 of Tri-Cities Blackhawks players scored more than ten points:

  • Don Otten: 13.7 Points

  • Whittey Von Nieda: 12.1 Points

  • Robert McDermott: 12.1 Points

  • Billy Hassett: 10.7 Points

After Billy Hassett, there's a huge drop in points per game. The player with the fifth-most points (Joe Camic) only had 5.6 points per game.

Otten, Nieda, McDermott, and Hassett combined made up 80% of the team's points (48/60)! Otten and McDermott were also selected for the All-NBL Second Team!

Unfortunately, I can't get the box score for playoff games, but in the first round against the Indianapolis Kautskys, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks beat them 3-1. It's not surprising the Blackhawks 'gentleman-sweeped' the Kautskys as the Kautskys had a 24-35 W/L record.

However, in the second round against the Minneapolis Lakers, they lost 2-0.

The best Tri-Cities Blackhawks players during the playoffs were Don Otten and Whittey Von Nieda.

Don Otten:

16.3 Points

5.7 Field Goals

5.0 Free Throws, 6.3 Free Throw Attempts

Whittey Von Nieda:

16.2 Points

6.8 Field Goals

2.5 Free Throws, 4.7 Free Throw Attempts

The Tri-Cities Blackhawks' Best Season: 1948-49

Don Otten

Credit: Alchetron

The best Tri-Cities Blackhawks players during the playoffs were Don Otten and Whittey Von Nieda. They went 36-28 (56.3 W/L%). Like last season, the Blackhawks were the second seed in the Western Conference and were fourth overall. If they had won one more game, they would be tied for the first/second seed with the Oshkosh All-Star (37-27 W/L).

Like last season, the Blackhawks were a pretty good scoring team. They were third in PPG (65.1). Their defense was also decent. They were fifth in OPPG (62.4). The Blackhawks were expected to go 41-23, so they didn't meet what was expected of them. Nevertheless, still an excellent improvement.

The Blackhawks had fewer players score more than ten points, but there isn't a big dropoff in points between each player. More than 50% of the team scored more than five points.

  • Don Otten: 14.0 Points

  • Hoot Gibson: 10.1 Points

  • Whittey Von Nieda: 10.0 Points

If you haven't already noticed, Don Otten was an excellent player. This season, not only was he selected to be in the All-NBL First Team, but he was also the 1948-49 MVP! Otten also led the league in points, free throws, and games. He was second in field goals!

Besides Otten, both Hoot Gibson and Whittey Von Nieda were selected to be in the All-NBL Second Team.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks swept the Sheboygan Redskins, 2-0. It's surprising they did because the Redskins' team was on par with the Blackhawks. The Redskins were third in the Western Conference and had the fourth-best PPG (62.0) and OPPG (61.7).

Unfortunately, like last season, the Blackhawks lost in the second round; this time, to the Oshkosh All-Stars, 3-1.

A reason for the Tri-Cities Blackhawks' unfortunate playoff run was because of Hoot Gibson and Whittey Von Nieda's performance. As usual, Don Otten played amazingly. He averaged:

15.2 Points

4.0 Field Goals

7.2 Free Throws, 9.2 Free Throw Attempts

However, Hoot Gibson played horribly. In the regular season, he scored 10 points per game. In the playoffs? FOUR POINTS! To be fair, this was his first playoff experience, so maybe he was nervous. Whittey Von Nieda didn't play as bad, scoring 8.8 points per game, but that's still worse than the regular season.

A player that did step up during the playoffs was Dee Gibson. In the regular season, Gibson only averaged 4.7 points. In the playoffs, he averaged 9.5 points per game!

Welcome to the NBA: 1949-50

After the 1948-49 NBL season, the NBL and BAA merged to create the NBA. Of the seventeen teams that were in the NBA, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks were one of them! The Blackhawks team expanded by a lot. Last season, they had fourteen players. This season, TWENTY-TWO!

Fun Fact: During the 1949-50 NBA season, there were three conferences:

  • Central Division

  • Eastern Divison

  • Western Division

The Central Division had five teams, while the Eastern and Western Division had six teams. The top four teams in each division would make it into the playoffs. This made it easier for teams in the Central Division to make the playoffs.

Now... let's get back to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks.

The Tri-Cities Blackhawks were not even close to how good they were in the 1948-49 NBL season, but they were good enough to make the playoffs. The Blackhawks went 29-35 (45.3 W/L%). This placed the Blackhawks as the third seed in the Western Conference. They were only one of three teams with a negative record to make the playoffs:

  • Tri-Cities Blackhawks: 29-35

  • Philadelphia Warriors: 26-42

  • Sheboygan Redskins: 22-40

Although the Blackhawks had the fifth-best PPG (83.0), they were pretty bad at defending as they had the fourth-worst OPPG (83.6).