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On This Date in Sports November 22, 1950: The Game That Nearly Killed the NBA

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The Fort Wayne Pistons beat the Minneapolis Lakers 19-18 in the lowest-scoring game in NBA history. The loss ends the Lakers' 29-game home winning streak. Thanks to NBA’s first star George Mikan, the Lakers were the league’s dominant team. Knowing his team could not stop Mikan, Pistons Coach Murray Mendenhall orders his team to stall all game, leading to the low scoring outcome and the win.

As the 1950s began, professional basketball was taking its first baby steps. The National Basketball Association was in its fifth season. The league began as the Basketball Association of America in 1946, merging the National Basketball League in 1948, becoming the NBA. With the merger came the addition of the Minneapolis Lakers and their star Center George Mikan, who led the team to the NBL Championship in its first season. Mikan, a 6’10” Center out of DePaul, was by far the best player in the NBA’s early years. Led by Mikan, the Lakers, coached by John Kundla, won the NBA Championship in their first two seasons.

The Fort Wayne Pistons, a former NBL rival, went into a game at the Minneapolis Auditorium went into a game trying to find a way to stop George Mikan. However, he knew he did not have the players to do it and devised a scheme to slow down the game and prevent Mikan and the Lakers from getting the ball. The strategy worked early, as the Pistons held an 8-7 lead at the end of the first quarter but trailed 13-11 at the half. As the crowd of 7,021 booed, the Pistons continued their game of keep away in the third quarter as Minneapolis held a 17-16 lead going into the final quarter. Fort Wayne’s slow-down plan was frustrating the Lakers, who managed just one point in the last 12 minutes. The slow-down game plan only stopped George Mikan from taking over fully, as he still dominated, scoring 15 points, while the rest of his team was 0-for-6 from the field. Despite this, they still held an 18-17 lead in the final minute. Larry Foust cut to the basket with six seconds left and scored the game-winner over Mikan to give Pistons a 19-18 win, making their freeze ball strategy effective.

After the game Lakers, Coach John Kundla was livid, saying, “Play like this will kill professional basketball.” The Lakers would finish the season with a record of 44-24. Still, they would fall short of another championship as they lost to the eventual champion Rochester Royals in the Western Division Finals. The Lakers would rebound and win the NBA Championship the next three seasons. The Pistons slow-down strategy was used xseveral times, leading Commissioner Maurice Podoloff to commission a study to speed up the game. Syracuse Nationals Owner Danny Biasone and General Manager Leo Farris began experimenting with a shot clock during scrimmages. The two would convince the NBA to adopt their 24-second shot clock in 1954, coming up with a formula that would allow at least 60 shots per game.