FORT WAYNE, IND.
Fort wayne, Indiana (pop. 135,000) is a hustling town. It is the site of the second night baseball game played under lights (1883), the longtime residence of Gene Stratton Porter, author of A Girl of the Limberlost and 16 other books, the world center of the gasoline-pump industry, and the home of the Zollner Machine Works, a company devoted, in the words of its head, Fred Zollner, to the "design, development, and manufacture of pistons." On the payroll of the Zollner Machine Works are 10 long, loose-limbed fellows who, on the surface of the matter, have little to do with the design, development and manufacture of pistons. These men do operate, however—and mighty effectively—as the Zollner Machine Works' basketball division. Currently they are the top team in U.S. pro basketball.
At the end of last week the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons held a six-game lead over their nearest rivals in the National Basketball Association's Western Division, the Minneapolis Lakers. Playing against the prideful pro teams of New York, Boston and Philadelphia, the Pistons have more than held their own. Their defense has been the tightest in the league and in offensive statistics the Pistons have been third.
The Pistons, or the Z's as the natives know them, finished a poor third in their division last year. The playing personnel today is roughly the same as last year's. But the Pistons have one new asset and it has made the difference between a poor third and a front runner. The addition: a refereeturned-coach named Charley Eckman who professes to know less about basketball than his players (a patch of modesty which is entirely unjustified).
Profits in the NBA have been almost nonexistent, even for the big-city teams, but the Pistons this year stand to make money. One reason is the winning team. The Pistons have caught the fancy of the local citizens, who root for the Z's in Fort Wayne's imposing 9,500-seat Coliseum with the passionate intensity of undergraduates. Another spur towards the black ink has been the playing of "home" games in cities other than Fort Wayne. The Pistons drew 6,000 at Elkhart, Ind., have performed in Kokomo, Ind., and are scheduled to play two games in Miami with New York. Other clubs are using the same gimmick.
A third factor in the good gate drawn by Fort Wayne is the improvement of the professional game through some new rules.
Stalling, fouling and arguing slowed the tempo of the game last year—as millions who watched it in person and on television well remember—spectators were mistreated to the dreary sight of the leading team freezing the ball while the trailing team resorted to deliberate fouls to get a chance at ball-control. Frequent hassles over who fouled whom dragged out the game.
Ned Irish, bwana sahib of basketball at Madison Square Garden and head of the NBA's New York Knickerbockers, says now: "We had to do something. The league couldn't have survived another season like that."
The old stalling tactics are eliminated by a new pro rule which requires a team to shoot within 24 seconds of gaining possession of the ball. Thus, a 10-point lead with two minutes to play is not safe, cannot be played safe.
Moreover, deliberate fouling has lost most of its attraction because of a new proviso that limits each team to six personal fouls per 12-minute period. Each foul after six carries with it the expensive penalty of a bonus shot.