Expeditious Discourse: 1947 BAA Finals

Under normal circumstances, I would christen this article under the Game Film title I use to analyze individual championship series. Unfortunately, this is far from the standard, as there appear to be only 36 seconds of footage1 available from the entire series. However, I have the internet. With that in mind, the information available mainly consists of the same information copy-pasted from multiple wiki-type2 websites. Nothing I searched for under 1947 BAA Finals on Google is presented differently from page one to page eight. Since we all know how much vaguely related garbage finds its way to the bottom of search engines, that should provide context for how little information there is across the 13 pages for the 1947 BAA Finals.

Instead of the raw search engine approach3, I instead searched for newspaper clippings4 that could provide any detail for the individual games. I was surprised to find this a more rewarding experience but struggled to envision a way to recount the series without making it cumbersome. In short, the Warriors effectively controlled the series and only briefly lost their leads in every game, which did cost them a game. It’s not an exciting summation, but that’s the series synoptic. No, the more intriguing aspect of this series is how it even arose.

This section of the writing is where I showcase my consistent ramblings of a conspiratorial nature, as I find it strange the BAA set up their playoff structure in a way that guarantees the two best theoretical teams could not meet in the Finals. In an earlier article of mine5, I stated George Mikan was the first true star of the BAA, and while that’s still true, it was also unfair of me not to mention Joe Fulks. I was attempting to display the basketball paradigm of the olden days on a macro level, and it best served me to better detail Fulks and his Warriors in a later article. Mikan and his Lakers joined the BAA in the 1948-49 season, symbiotically bringing along a level of popularity to the game; Fulks had set the stage for Mikan’s Lakers to establish themselves as the dominant champs of their era, however. “Jumpin’ Joe” Fulks was a dominant high-scoring wing who was a pioneer that helped popularize the modern jump shot in front of the initial fledgling BAA crowds.

Fulks was the leading scorer6 of the league’s debut season, averaging 23.2 points per game, which is astounding when you consider there was no shot clock and the highest-scoring team averaged 77.0 points per game scored. Fulks’ Warriors were the fifth-highest scoring team with 68.6 points averaged, meaning he averaged nearly 34% of their overall scoring output; over a third. He was undoubtedly the best player in the BAA, but the Washington Capitols, coached by Red Auerbach7, were by far the best team in the BAA that season. Considering the Capitols were a well-coached solid collective who ran away with the league’s best record, does it makes sense to immediately throw them in a seven-game series with the Chicago Stags, the second-best team in the regular season? On the other hand, the Philadelphia Warriors had two three-game series against what was essentially two wild card teams on their route to the Finals. This playoff structure practically manufactured wild card wins for the Finals, as the easier path provided also allowed the winning team to play fewer games and stay fresh during the compact scheduling of the postseason.

The BAA repeated this playoff tournament set-up the following season, which resulted in the Baltimore Bullets advancing from the wild card pool to beat the Warriors in six games. It’s incredibly telling they abandoned this format the following season upon the arrival of the Lakers. It’s why I position Mikan as the first true star of the BAA, as he was advertised as the “new kid on the scene,” even though he had graduated from DePaul University and joined the NBL the same year Fulks left the Marines to join the newly-formed BAA. Mikan’s scoring ability and other abundance of talents were well-known by basketball fans, naturally leading to the BAA immediately declaring him and his team the top dogs looking to take on all challengers and prove themselves. Fulks’ position as the primary star opposition to Mikan dramatically added intrigue to the young association; they did not disappoint, as Mikan’s 28.3 points per game led the NBA in scoring in 1948-49 while Fulks’ 26.0 made him second.

Do this structure and context prove my conspiracy the BAA wanted a more star-driven team like Philadelphia in the Finals against another good team in Chicago with great players like Max Zaflosky on it? Not necessarily, but it does make one wonder why the BAA would schedule their playoffs like this when it guarantees the best two regular-season teams facing each other in the semifinals. Considering the low attendance numbers of the first two seasons of the BAA, it would befit them to arrange the playoffs in a way that guarantees star players in the Finals. Upon the Bullets win over the Warriors the following year, it would then make marketing the Lakers as the fresh faces looking to dominate the league of parity much easier. You can always count on me to question the script that history gives us.

As far as recounting the intricate details of every game, I won’t be doing that here. There’s a handful of articles8 detailing the events of the series already, and I would find it too cumbersome and derivative if I recited their discourse. However, I will quickly encapsulate the selling point of the series, which began in the second half of Game 3. After Fulks came out with 37 points in Game 1 and led a balanced attack in Game 2, the Stags had the score tied at halftime in Game 3. They battled hard throughout the third and were down just one point, 47-46, at the end of the third, but the Warriors came out strong and put them away in the final quarter. They were down 3-0 in the series and had done everything necessary to win Game 3, including getting to the free-throw line and limiting Philadelphia’s chances to get there themselves. Rather than throw in the towel and allow themselves to get swept, the Stags continued battling in the final two games and even managed to eke out a one-point 74-73 win on their home floor in Game 4.

They were the recipients of a gentleman’s sweep by losing in Game 5, but that game came down to the final minute and saw the margin of victory at just three points. Their defense was the deciding factor in Game 4, as they totaled the same amount of free throw attempts while keeping Philadelphia’s shooting percentage .077% lower than their own. They attempted more of the same in Game 5 and managed to build an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter until Joe Fulks and his team took over and tied the game up late. Howie Dallmar would eventually hit the shot that broke the 80-80 tie with less than a minute remaining and clinch the championship for the Warriors. If there had been a Finals MVP at this time, Fulks definitely would have won. He averaged 26.2 points, 15 points more than his next-closest teammate and about 12 points more than Stags leading scorer Chuck Halbert at 14.4 points per game. He got to the line 58 times in the series, or 11.6 times a game, made his free throws at a 74.1% clip, and was slowed down only once by the Chicago defense in Game 4, where he still scored 21 points.

Unfortunately, a majority of the teams mentioned today folded after the NBA contracted in 1949. The St. Louis Bombers were another team defeated by the Warriors in the playoffs both years of their BAA Finals appearances; they, along with the original Denver Nuggets and Chicago Stags, folded before the start of the 1949-50 season. Midway through the season, the Capitols folded as well, reducing the number of teams to 11 since the Anderson Packers, Sheboygan Red Skins, and Waterloo Hawks departed for the NPBL before the season as well. Thus with all this uncertainty over the league and the insolvent nature of pro basketball at the time, it’s easier to paint this early portion of the NBA as no different than the light they paint even-earlier basketball with; unimpressed regard. The three-point line was introduced to professional basketball by the short-lived second ABL in 1961, and it’s a shame the BAA governing body didn’t have the foresight to implement the three-point line this early into their league. Of course, the line was only first tested just two years prior in a collegiate game between Columbia and Fordham, but the sole highlight clip of the 1947 BAA Finals reveals a good amount of players taking shots from more than 20 feet away. Introducing the three-point line this early in the game’s development would have diminished the stigma of it being a gimmick that it possessed well into the 2010s.

Anyways, I believe that’s been enough rambling about the inaugural championship in NBA history. It wasn’t an all-time classic worthy of being richly etched into the record books, but somebody could’ve at least taken more extensive notes. Despite owning the distinction of being the first NBA Finals ever played, there’s an alarming lack of details surrounding these early championship tournaments. Here’s to hoping the NBA digs in their vault and somehow comes out with a tattered film reel containing more lost footage from the early days.

Editor’s Notes

  1. YouTube/NBA – 5/29/2017 – 1947 BAA Finals Look Back: Philadelphia Warriors vs Chicago Stags
  2. Blog/Encyclopedia – 1947 BAA Finals
  3. IMDb – 1947 BAA Finals
  4. Newspapers.com – Clipped From The Philadelphia Inquirer
  5. Havarti – 6/13/2021 – Professional Basketball’s Salad Days
  6. NBA – 8/24/2017 – Season Review: 1946-47
  7. Sports Team History – Coach Red Auerbach
  8. WarriorsWire – 4/22/2020 – Warriors Rewind: Joe Fulks leads Philadelphia Warriors to 1947 championship over Chicago

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