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DBB Countdown: Fred Zollner in ‘49

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There are 49 days left until the Pistons kick off the 2008-09 season.

Ft. Wayne Zollner PistonsSpeaking of 49, did you know the NBA was officially formed in 1949? Not only that, but Fred Zollner, the founder and original owner of the team we now know as the Detroit Pistons, played a pivotal role in the creation of the league. From Hoopedia:

The Zollner Pistons began playing in 1941 in the NBL, an industrial league. In 1974, he recalled that, "Instead of making friends, we made enemies, because no one could beat us." Zollner personally recruited his players, including later Hall of Famers Andy Phillip, Bob McDermott, Bob Houbregs and George Yardley. The Zollner Pistons were a very popular franchise, winning the NBL championship in 1944 and 1945, and reaching the NBA Finals in 1954 and 1955, though losing both times. He was the first pro basketball team owner to hire a bench coach.

Zollner brought together leaders of the NBL and the BAA to meet at his house in 1949. Sitting around his kitchen table, they agreed to merge, forming the NBA.

From 1941 through 1947, the Ft. Wayne Zollner Pistons played in the NBL (and had quite possibly the most awesome logo of all time, picture above). In 1948, Zollner officially dropped his surname from the team's nickname and joined the BAA, and in 1957, eight years after helping bring the two leagues together, Zollner moved his franchise from Indiana to Detroit.

Zollner and Bill Davidson are the only majority owners the Pistons have ever had. Like Davidson, Zollner is in the Hall of Fame -- and for good reason. Were it not for him, the league may not have ever survived. From a 1967 Sports Illustrated article:

Indeed, to the NBA , Zollner has been square old Pop who always comes through when you write home for money. During the league's years of growing pains Zollner helped keep it afloat by lending it large sums, while many clubs failed to pay their dues. He asked no concessions for his vote when the league gerrymandered its territorial draft to allow Philadelphia to select Wilt Chamberlain of Kansas University and to swing Ohio State 's Jerry Lucas to the new Cincinnati Royals . "I try to vote on what I think are the ethics of a situation," he says.

In return for all his efforts his fellow owners have spit in his eye. With the excuse that the Pistons had a private plane in which to get about, the NBA awarded them the worst schedule, the tight, grueling trips that grind a team down. When the territorial draft was about to expire two years ago, Zollner pleaded for its extension in one form or another, so that he might satisfy local pressures and draft Michigan 's Cazzie Russell . He was voted down. "I asked for a special favor and didn't get it, so I wasn't wronged," reasons Zollner.

So the NBA has had it in for the Pistons since the very beginning -- who knew?

For more on Zollner and the early days of the NBA, be sure to check out Sports Illustrated's Vault, especially this piece from 1955.