NBA Season Recaps: The 1952-53 Season

For the first time in NBA history, the league maintained the same number of teams and none of these teams moved to another city in the next season.  It also marked the continuation of the Minneapolis Lakers' dynasty, as the George Mikan-led team finished with the league's best record and won the NBA Championship in the postseason.  Yet the NBA remained far behind in popularity to the college game; the pro game was still slow, especially in fourth quarters where teams would stall to protect their leads and new rules on fouls and free throws did little to curb excessive fouling.  Indeed, it would be a couple more years before the NBA would "move into the 20th century", but for now, it was the Lakers and George Mikan's NBA, and it wasn't always exciting.

Eastern Division              
New York Knicks* 47 23 .671 85.5 80.3 4.39
Syracuse Nationals* 47 24 .662 0.5 85.6 81.3 3.62
Boston Celtics* 46 25 .648 1.5 88.1 85.8 1.93
Baltimore Bullets* 16 54 .229 31.0 84.4 90.9 -5.80
Philadelphia Warriors 12 57 .174 34.5 80.2 87.4 -7.75
Western Division              
Minneapolis Lakers* 48 22 .686 85.3 79.2 5.53
Rochester Royals* 44 26 .629 4.0 86.3 83.5 2.62
Fort Wayne Pistons* 36 33 .522 11.5 81.0 81.1 0.17
Indianapolis Olympians* 28 43 .394 20.5 74.6 77.4 -2.31
Milwaukee Hawks 27 44 .380 21.5 75.9 77.4 -2.49


NBA Champions – Minneapolis Lakers (def. New York Knicks 4-1 in NBA Finals)
MVP – None
Rookie of the Year – Don Meineke

LEAGUE LEADERS – Neil  Johnston (Philadelphia, 22.3ppg, 1,564 points), George Mikan (Minneapolis, 14.4 rpg, 1,003 rebounds),  Bob Cousy  (Boston, 7.7 apg, 547 assists), Don Meineke (334 fouls), Neil Johnston (Philadelphia, 45.2%), Ed Macauley (Boston, 45.2%), Bill Sharman (Boston, 85.0%)

THAT…IS THE FIRST ROOKIE OF THE YEAR EVER? – Don "Monk" Meineke of the Fort Wayne Pistons is fairly well-known for a couple of things despite having a journeyman NBA career.  First, he was the NBA's first-ever official Rookie of the Year winner.  Second, he led the league in fouls (334) and disqualifications (26, still a league record) as a rookie.  After averaging a solid but unspectacular 10.7 ppg and 6.9 rpg in 1952-53, the 6'7" Meineke never averaged more than 7.1 ppg or 20.6 mpg, further cementing him as one of the more forgettable Rookie of the Year winners stats-wise.

THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN THE NBA – We admit glossing over Chuck Cooper, Earl Lloyd and Nat Clifton in the 1950-51 season recap, which is why they take the spotlight in the 1952-53 recap.  Cooper was the first black player drafted, and in his third season with the Boston Celtics, he was a solid defender though not much of a scorer (6.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg).  Lloyd was the first black to see action in an NBA game, when he debuted for the defunct Washington Capitals in 1950; after playing just seven games for the Caps in 1950-51, he returned to the NBA in 1952-53 and was the Syracuse Nationals' starting small forward (7.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg).   Finally, Clifton was the first black player to get signed by an NBA team (New York), and the former Harlem Globetrotter nicknamed "Sweetwater" had one of his better seasons for the Knicks, averaging a double-double (10.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg) in 1952-53.

A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME – The 1952-53 Boston Celtics were trounced 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New York Knicks (led by Carl Braun and Harry Gallatin), but this was the first season where one could see how the team was destined for greatness.  The C's benefited most from the duo of 6'8" center Ed Macauley (20.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 4.1 apg) and Bob Cousy (19.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 7.7 apg), who was the NBA's runaway assists leader thanks to his playmaking brilliance and the Celtics' up-tempo style of play.  But a third player was, at that time, emerging as a future Hall of Famer and key player in the future NBA dynasty –Bill Sharman, a sharp-shooting Californian who made big strides in his second full season in Boston.

A LOOK AT THE TITLE WINNERS/LEAGUE LEADERS  –As you may have observed in previous season recaps, the league's leading team in the regular season would invariably fall short in the Playoffs.  Not this time, though, as the Minneapolis Lakers finished 48-22 and dominated the New York Knicks in the 1953 NBA Finals.  The Lakers played just ten men all season long, and the status quo was still intact – George Mikan (20.6 ppg, 14.4 rpg), Vern Mikkelsen (15.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg), Jim Pollard (13.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Slater Martin (10.6 ppg,3.6 apg).  Also, Bob Harrison, Pep Saul and Whitey Skoog continued splitting minutes at guard – none of them were of Hall of Fame caliber, but they all played key roles behind their high-profile teammates in the pecking order.

THE CELLAR DWELLERS – After a nice run as one of the NBA's finest teams, the Philadelphia Warriors went from the penthouse to the outhouse when they finished 12-57 in 1952-53.  Even with Neil Johnston, a reserve center in 1951-52, leading the league with 22.3 ppg and adding 13.9 rpg, Joe Fulks (11.9 ppg) was past his prime, Paul Arizin was away from the team doing military service, and the rest of the lineup was mostly undistinguished.  Also, highly-touted rookie and former NCAA scoring leader Bill Mlkvy ("The Owl without a Vowel") averaged just 5.8 ppg in his only NBA season, making him one of the NBA's first high-profile draft busts.

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