Fort Wayne got something else in Eckman besides a man who knows his basketball and the league personnel. An unabashed "holler guy," Eckman has ignited the Z's into a hustling team with as much spirit as any college squad. Coach Eckman whoops encouragement and shouts instructions constantly from the bench: "C'mon Whizz!" (to Andy Phillip, former Illinois star). "Defense! Git back there, let'm shoot from out there!" "Atta boy, Zazzy!" (Max Zaslofsky). "Let's crash those boards!"
Running behind Fort Wayne in the Western Division are the onetime perennial champions of the NBA, the Minneapolis Lakers. The Lakers sadly miss George Mikan who retired to the front office. Jim Pollard, Slater Martin and Vern Mikkelsen sadly miss the big fellow in the post.
Both Rochester and Milwaukee are due for rebuilding; the latter has two of the hottest rookies in Bob Pettit and Frank Selvy whom the Hawks picked up when the Baltimore Bullets fizzled out early this season.
The Eastern Division has a far closer race. The Boston Celtics and the Syracuse Nationals are battling for top honors with the New York Knickerbockers not far behind. Philadelphia's Warriors bring up the rear.
The chief attraction of the Celtics is Bob Cousy, showiest player in the league, possibly the best all-round star and certainly the highest paid (around $18,000). The Celtics play fast-breaking basketball and it is Cousy who gets them off winging. Cousy on offense presents a guileless, candid face, eyes resolutely fixed straight ahead, his path of movement clearly indicated. Suddenly the ball whips around from behind his back to a teammate in the clear. Before the defense can recover the ball is through the basket. Or maybe Cousy innocently sets himself for a shot from outside; he springs, but instead of the ball going up to the basket he drops it behind him to a colleague who drives in behind the screen. Prettiest sight to watch is Cousy the dribbler. Changing hands, moving the ball behind his back, incredibly keeping control of the ball while dodging defenders at high speed, Cousy often drives past two or even three opponents to put the ball up.
On defense Cousy has the furtive look of a hold-up man on his first job, stalking his prey on the balls of his feet, eyes scanning right and left like a radarscope seeking potential threats, blocking shots, intercepting passes.
The other big guns on the Celtics are Bill Sharman, a sharp-shooting guard and very able foil for Cousy in working the ball up, and Don Barksdale and "Easy Ed" Macauley, both can play the pivot, hit the boards.
Syracuse depends on Dolph Schayes, third high scorer in the league, and playmaker Paul Seymour. The New York Knickerbockers continue to play spotty ball despite the presence of such veterans as Harry Gallatin, Nat Clifton, Dick McGuire and Carl Braun.
The Warriors from Philadelphia get plenty of scoring from Neil Johnston and Paul Arizin, but pro teams need five top players.
The future of the NBA is still a clouded one. The collapse of the Baltimore Bullets left a tangle of financial obligations, not the least of which is several weeks' salary owed the players. A players' council has organized and seeks a rise in the minimum salaries (now as low as $3,500); a guarantee that the Baltimore players will get the money owed them and a review of the fine situation. Several players, including Cousy, have contributed as much as $200 as a result of the "sign-of-the-T" rule, and the NBA has collected a total of $2,800 in fines. The contributors feel some curb was and is necessary on arguments with referees, but as one player grumbled, "This is ridiculous. You give a guy a little authority and he goes wild. The same thing could be accomplished by handing out two personals for arguing."