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Before the Atlanta Hawks: The Tri-Cities Blackhawks

Tri-Cities Blackhawks

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).

As for the players, although there are familiar names (Don Otten, Dee Gibson, Whitty Von Nieda, etc.), most of the players were not on the Tri-Cities Blackhawks when they were in the NBL.

Also, although Don Otten was still an excellent player, averaging 12.1 points and 1.6 assists on 36.6% shooting from the field, he was no longer the Blackhawks' best player. He wasn't even a part of the Blackhawks' Big 3.

The Big 3 consisted of Mike Todorovich, Jack Nichols, and Dike Eddleman.

Mike Todorovich:

13.6 Points, 3.7 Assists

32.0 FG%, 73.6 FT%

3.6 Personal Fouls

Jack Nichols:

13.1 Points, 3.4 Assists

37.4 FG%, 80.0 FT%

3.4 Personal Fouls

Dike Eddleman:

12.9 Points, 2.2 Assists

36.6 FG%, 62.3 FT%

4.0 Personal Fouls

Fun Fact: Don Otten's brother, Mac Otten, was also on the Tri-Cities Blackhawks... He wasn't that good.

Not a single player made an All-Star appearance or All-NBA Team.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks would lose to the Anderson Packers, 1-2.

In the first game of the series, Jack Nichols scored 27 POINTS! However, the Packers would still win that game, 89-77. The Blackhawks shot miserably from the free-throw line (59.5%), while the Packers shot decently (75.9%). Also, the bench for the Packers was much better.

However, the Blackhawks would take their revenge in the second game as they won only by one point (76-75). Once again, Jack Nichols led the team in points. He scored 23 POINTS on 11/14, shooting from the free-throw line.

Unfortunately, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks would lose the third game. It was their worst loss yet. They lost by 23 POINTS (71-94)! This time, Nichols was disappointing, only scoring nine points. The leading scorer for the Blackhawks and in the game was Dike Eddleman. He, like Nichols, did last game, scored 23 POINTS on 7/9 shooting from the free-throw line.

Although the Tri-Cities Blackhawks had the leading scorer, the Packers had FIVE players score more than ten points:

  • John Hargis: 21 Points

  • Red Owens: 14 Points

  • Bill Closs: 13 Points

  • Ed Stanczak: 11 Points

  • Charlie Black: 10 Points

On the other hand, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks only had two players score more than ten points. Dike Eddleman (23) and Mike Todorovich (11).

Goodbye Blackhawks, Hello Milwaukee: 1950-51

In their last season as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, the Blackhawks probably had their worst season since their first season in the NBL.

They ended up with a 25-43 record (36.8 W/L%). The Blackhawks had the worst record in the Western Conference and the third-worst record overall. As a result, the Blackhawks were not in the playoffs for the first time since the 1947-48 NBL season.

This season was the first season to include a team's offensive and defensive rating, so now we don't have to use PPG or OPPG as an indicator for offense or defense.

As you'd expect from the worst team in the Western Conference, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks had the lowest offensive rating (80.8). At least their defensive rating wasn't that bad (84.4). They had the fourth-best defensive rating.

The most interesting part about this season for the Tri-Cities Blackhawks was their coaching situation. Dave McMillan coached the Blackhawks for 23 games, going 9-14. Then, John Logan coached the Blackhawks for 3 games, going 2-1. Finally, for some reason, Mike Todorovich, who was still an active player for the Blackhawks, coached them for the most games, 42, and went 14-28.

The Big 3 stayed the same; however, the top dog was no longer Jack Nichols. He was replaced by Frankie Brian.

Unlike last season, where the Big 3 all had around the same amount of points, this was more of a Big 2 type of situation.

Frank Brian:

16.8 Points, 3.6 Rebounds, 3.9 Assists

32.2 FG%, 82.4 FT%

3.2 Personal Fouls

Dike Eddleman:

15.3 Points, 6.0 Rebounds, 2.5 Assists

35.5 FG%, 69.9 FT%

3.4 Personal Fouls

Mike Todorovich:

9.9 Points, 6.9 Rebounds, 2.2 Assists

30.9 FG%, 70.1 FT%

3.0 Personal Fouls

Todorovich probably didn't play as well as he did last season since he also had to coach the team, so props to him.

Both Frankie Brian and Dike Eddleman would make the All-Star Game, but only Frankie Brian would make an All-NBA Team (Second Team).

Frank Brian did pretty well in the All-Star game. He had 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. He also shot 35.7% from the field and 80.0% from the free-throw line. On the other hand, Eddleman only scored 7 points and had 3 assists. In addition, he shot horribly from the field (22.2%) and was mediocre from the free-throw line (60.0%).

After this season, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks would relocate to Milwaukee; as a result, changing their name to the Milwaukee Hawks. Yes... that does sound very weird.

The only players (that were good) left were Eddleman and Otten (who left last season but came back).


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