The National Basketball League’s ranks were thinned out by the war. The Indianapolis Kautskys and the Akron Goodyears dropped out. George Halas, who entered the service, gave up his Chicago franchise, but a new team under different ownership was placed in the city.
The Fort Wayne Pistons moved to the forefront of the league, a position they would retain for the duration of the war. Fred Zollner, the wealthy owner of the Zollner Machine Company, could afford to provide his players with positions in his company that paid well and qualified as war-related work. Fort Wayne’s Bobby McDermott solidified his position as the best player in the game with his adroit play making, and league-leading 13.7 points per game. In addition to McDermott, the Pistons had some of the best young talent in the league, including Blackie Towery and Curly Armstrong. Towery, who had started at center the previous season, was moved to forward to make way for ex-Akron Goodyear star John Pelkington. The addition of the well-muscled 6’6”, 220-pounder brought strong rebounding and defense to the team and eliminated the Pistons’ last weakness. Fort Wayne easily finished first in the National League.
Sheboygan bounced back from last year’s off-season to land in second place ahead of Oshkosh and Chicago. Veteran pivot man Eddie Dancker had his most impressive season to date and rookie Ken Buehler proved to be a helpful addition. Two weeks prior to the conclusion of the season veteran star Buddy Jeannette was signed to increase the Redskins hopes of seriously challenging Fort Wayne in the playoffs.
Defending champion Oshkosh, winner of twenty of twenty-four games the previous season, was a major disappointment. Starters Lou Beale and Herm Witasek were in the service, but the nucleus of the team, Leroy Edwards, Gene Englund and Charlie Shipp remained in place, and talented guard Ralph Vaughn had been acquired from Chicago. Lon Darling’s club never could get going, however, and finished under .500 in third place. The new Chicago team experimented with the league’s first fully integrated squad. Unfortunately, the team, despite a talented roster, never found cohesiveness and posted a miserable 8-15 record. An undermanned Toledo club dropped out of the league after just four games.
The four surviving teams all moved into the playoffs. Chicago showed spurts of what the club might have accomplished in a tough series against Fort Wayne, but eventually fell to the Pistons in three games. Sheboygan, behind the sterling play of Buddy Jeannette, took two straight games from Oshkosh for the right to face Fort Wayne in the championship series. Jeannette continued his inspirational play in the championship series as he led the Redskins to opening game 55-50 upset of the Pistons in Fort Wayne. He sank a long set shot to force the second game in to overtime, before Fort Wayne rallied to take the win. Back in Fort Wayne for the deciding third game, Sheboygan pulled off the seemingly impossible, upsetting Fort Wayne for a second time on its homecourt. The bruising 30-29 win allowed Sheboygan to capture its first National League crown.
Fort Wayne quickly gained its revenge by ousting Sheboygan in the quarterfinals of the Chicago Pro Championship Tournament, but National League rival Oshkosh, then upset the Pistons themselves, 40-39. The other finalists were the all-black Washington Bears who had lost only once in over fifty games. The Bears roster was loaded with members of the fabled New York Rens. Washington’s precision passing attack kept the All-Stars off balance throughout the game. Johnny Issacs led the Bears to a relatively easy 43-31 win and the World Pro championship.