Golden Basketball Magazine
NBA Finals - Game 7
1955: Fort Wayne Pistons @ Syracuse Nationals

The National Basketball Association made an enormous change for the 1954-55 season.

  • Tired of teams in the lead stalling away the final minutes of games, forcing the opponent to start fouling, the owners installed a 24-second shot clock.
  • The idea was the brainchild of Danny Biasone, one of the owners of the Syracuse Nationals, who had lobbied for the change for years. He explained how he came up with 24 as the time limit. "I looked at the box scores from the games I enjoyed, games where they didn't screw around and stall. I noticed each time took about 60 shots. That meant 120 shots per games. So I took 48 minutes [the length of each game - 2,880 seconds] and divided that by 120 shots. The result was 24 seconds per shot."
  • The change had the desired effect. Scores skyrocketed. Since far fewer fouls were committed, games moved along at a faster pace. Coaching and tactics declined as a factor. Quickness and athletic ability became the desired traits for players. Even the naysayers had to admit that the shot clock improved the NBA product immensely.

The Baltimore Bullets shut down operations after 14 games, which were deleted from the NBA's record.

  • The Bullets' demise had the positive effect of equalizing the number of teams in the two divisions at four. The schedule was adjusted so that each team played 12 games against divisional opponents and nine against the four teams in the other division for a total of 72 games.
  • The DuMont Television Network, which had been televising some NBA games, folded. But the league was able to replace DuMont with NBC, which gave the league wider exposure. The first national telecast of the finals took place in 1954-55.

The 1954-55 NBA season ended with these results.

Eastern Division
Team W L % GB
Syracuse Nationals 43 29 .597 --
New York Knicks 38 34 .528 5
Boston Celtics 36 36 .500 7
Philadelphia Warriors 33 39 .458 10
Western Division
Team W L % GB
Fort Wayne Pistons 43 29 .597 --
Minneapolis Lakers 40 32 .556 3
Rochester Royals 29 43 .403 14
Milwaukee Hawks 26 46 .361 17

The Western Division race was changed radically by the retirement of the Lakers' star C George Mikan after the '53-54 season.

  • The surprise team of the league, Fort Wayne, replaced the Lakers atop the division under the leadership of a man with no coaching experience. Owner Fred Zollner had shocked the league in the offseason by hiring an active referee, Charlie Eckman, as his coach!
    Eckman's transformation from referee to coach started when he officiated a game in which the Lakers defeated the Pistons. At a restaurant afterward, Charlie boasted to George Mikan, "If I was coaching the Pistons, I'd beat you big clowns." Zollner overheard the comment and remembered it when the season ended. He interviewed Eckman and offered him the job.
  • With writers, fans, and opposing teams thinking Zollner was crazy, Eckman led the veteran Pistons to the West's regular season title. Charlie recalled, "Coaching strategy? I made a farce of it ... We only had two plays ... We had no blackboards ... or X's or O's or assistant coaches. ... I was a cheerleader, and I kept everybody happy." But he brought more to the job than he let on. "As a ref, ... I got to see the whole league. I knew who could play, who went to their right, who went to their left. The guys in the league thought that we'd be a joke, that we'd be cute. Hell, we out-cuted them."
  • Eckman made one major coaching move that made his team much better. "I took George Yardley and made him a starter. He and Paul Birch (the previous Fort Wayne coach) didn't get along. But I had watched Yardley play in an exhibition game, and he could jump out of the building. And he could shoot." Thankful for the chance to start, George responded by averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game - a great start to a Hall of Fame career.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the 24-second clock was Biasone's team. Syracuse had finished second two years in a row but moved to the top with the faster pace of play.

  • Unlike the Pistons with their "cheerleader" coach, the Nats had an aggressive leader, Al Cervi, who didn't care whether his players liked him. Star F Dolph Schayes recalled: "We either loved him or hated him. We respected him, but he was difficult. He was one of those coaches who didn't use much psychology. If he had a grudge against you, you knew about it. ... We wanted to win. We were very aggressive. In that sense, the team reflected Al's personality. ... He was one of the great competitors in the history of the game. He'd get you angry with things he said." Cervi had a simple formula for winning. "You shoot fouls consistently, you play defense consistently, and you don't throw the ball away."
  • Schayes had developed into a scoring machine by working long hours on his shooting. He wore out defenders by moving constantly to get open for his set shot. The future Hall of Famer averaged 18.5 points in 1954-55 and 12.3 rebounds.
  • The other Syracuse F provided what Schayes did not - defense. Earl Lloyd always guarded the other team's toughest player, which made him one of Cervi's favorites.
  • Both members of the Nationals' backcourt, Paul Seymour and George King, finished in the top ten in the league in assists. King, who put on occasional dribbling shows at halftime, led the Syracuse fast break.
  • Center was manned by the club's first round draft choice, 6' 9" happy-go-lucky Johnny "Red" Kerr. His pivot play provided the missing piece that allowed the Nats to win the East for the first time in three years.
    Kerr played in 844 consecutive games to start his NBA career, a record that stood until 1983. He prolonged the streak with a unique remedy: he packed his sprained ankles in freshly shoveled snow from his driveway. He later became the witty commentator on broadcasts of Chicago Bulls games during the Michael Jordan era.

Playoff Results

The 2nd- and 3rd-place teams in each division met in a best-of-three series for the right to face the #1 teams in the division finals (best-of-five).

  • First Round
    Celtics over Knicks 2-1
    Lakers over Royals 2-1
  • Conference Finals
    Nationals over Celtics 3-1
    Pistons over Lakers 3-1

Both regular season winners dispatched their finals opponents in four games, although the Pistons had to go overtime in two of their victories over the stubborn Lakers.

  • A league struggling for recognition held a final involving two of its smaller cities (neither of which would last much longer in the NBA).
  • NBC would have preferred the Knicks or Celtics in the finals but had to settle for a series that went the distance with perhaps the most dramatic finish ever.
1955 Syracuse Nationals
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
3 George King G 6-0 175 Charleston 4
4 Dolph Schayes C 6-8 220 NYU 6
5 Paul Seymour G 6-1 180 Toledo 7
6 Connie Simmons C 6-8 220 None 9
7 Bill Gabor G 5-11 170 Syracuse 6
8 Wally Osterkorn F 6-5 215 Illinois 4
10 Red Kerr C 6-9 230 Illinois 1
11 Earl Lloyd F 6-5 200 West Virginia St. 4
12 Dick Farley G 6-4 190 Indiana 1
14 Jim Tucker F 6-7 185 Duquesne 1
15 Billy Kenville G 6-2 185 St. Bonaventure 2
16 Red Rocha C 6-9 185 Oregon State 7
Head Coach: Al Cervi
1955 Fort Wayne Pistons
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
5 Paul Walther G 6-2 160 Tennessee 6
7 Frank Brian G 6-1 180 LSU 6
8 Bob Houbregs C 6-7 210 Washington 2
9 Mel Hutchins F 6-6 200 Brigham Young 4
10 Max Zaslofsky G 6-2 170 St. John's 9
12 George Yardley F 6-5 190 Stanford 2
14 Andy Phillip G 6-2 195 Illinois 8
15 Dick Rosenthal F 6-5 205 Notre Dame 1
16 Larry Foust C 6-9 215 La Salle 1
17 Monk Meineke F 6-7 210 Dayton 3
18 Al Roges G 6-4 195 Long Island 1
Head Coach: Charles Eckman

# Date Place Winner Loser Winning Team
High Scorer
Losing Team
High Scorer
1 Mar.31 Syracuse Nationals 86 Pistons 82 Rocha 19 Foust 11
2 Apr. 2 Syracuse Nationals 87 Pistons 84 Schayes 24 Yardley 21
3 Apr. 3 Indianapolis Pistons 96 Nationals 89 Mikan 30 Hutchins 23
4 Apr. 5 Indianapolis Pistons 109 Nationals 102 Brian 18 Schayes 28
5 Apr. 7 Indianapolis Pistons 74 Nationals 71 Yardley 16 Kenville 15
6 Apr. 9 Syracuse Nationals 109 Pistons 104 Schayes 28 Yardley 21

The home team won each of the first six games.

  • Game One: A Fort Wayne resident, Dick Farley, sparked Syracuse's 86-82 victory. The rookie scored a putback and sank two foul shots, then fed the ball to Red Rocha for a basket to put the home team ahead for good with a little over seven minutes to play. The visitors had fought back from a 12-point deficit in the early going to lead 75-71. That's when Farley got hot. A hook shot by another first-year man, Dick Rosenthal, pulled the Pistons within two with 18 seconds left. But Seymour sank two FTs with 0:03 left to clinch the victory.
  • Game Two: 6-9 pivot man Rocha sank a long set shot to thwart a Fort Wayne rally and give the Nationals an 87-84 triumph. Frank Brian's basket cut the gap to 83-81 with two minutes to go. After Schayes dropped in two freebies, Brian added another FT, then sank a FG with 30 seconds left. The Nats used up almost all the 24 seconds before Roche let fly from 30' to clinch the victory.
    The Pistons were scheduled to host the next three games in baseball World Series style. But a scheduling problem illustrated why owner Zollner was dissatisfied with his hometown's support of his team. The arena that he had persuaded the city to build had scheduled a bowling tournament for the dates when the Pistons needed the building for the finals. So the Pistons' home games were played in Indianapolis on the floor shipped from Fort Wayne. Biasone recalled how disappointed Zollner was. "He said, 'I'm moving the team to Detroit.' And that's what he eventually did (1957)."
  • Game Three: Desperate for a victory, the Pistons broke a halftime tie with a 26-14 third quarter advantage to prevail 96-89 before 3,500 fans, many of whom had drive the 120 miles from Fort Wayne for the Sunday afternoon game. The Pistons ran their lead to 74-59 early in the final period. But a Syracuse rally led by Billy Kenville, Schayes, and Roche cut the deficit to 87-84 with five minutes remaining. Clutch baskets by Foust and Andy Phillip gave the home team enough of a cushion to hang on.
  • Game Four: For the first time, one team pulled ahead and stayed in front as the Pistons evened the series. Syracuse led briefly 4-3 and tied the score three times in the first half before trailing 53-48 at the break. Fort Wayne broke the game open in the third quarter, moving in front 64-52 after four minutes. The home team's biggest margin was 80-62 before the Nats closed to 82-70 at the end of the period. The Pistons protected their lead in the last 12 minutes to win 109-102. Syracuse shot the ball 103 times but hit only 32. The rough play continued as the two teams shot 91 FTs.
  • Game Five: With so much on the line, defense prevailed. Both teams tallied their lowest scores of the series - Fort Wayne by 8 and Syracuse by 15. Once again, the Pistons, not wanting to have to win two games at Syracuse to claim the title, led 57-42 shortly before the Q3 buzzer. But their sloppy play helped the Nationals get back in the game and set up a nail-biting ending for 4,110 nervous fans. With Kenville again sparking the rally, with the help of Earl Lloyd, Syracuse outscored the Pistons 26-10. Red Rocha's three-point play chopped FW's margin to 72-71 with 1:15 left. After a Pistons' miss, Rocha shot a long one that missed. Fort Wayne grabbed the rebound and used up most of the remaining time before Yardley missed a FG. As the players scrambled for the ball, Lloyd fouled Brian as the final gun sounded. With dozens of fans milling about the court, the cool G from LSU sank both shots to push the final score to 74-71.
    A dangerous incident occurred in Q3. Someone sitting behind the Syracuse bench threw a folding chair which fortunately cleared the heads of the players and landed on the playing floor. The police led the perpetrator out of the building. But the accused, an off-duty policeman, obtained a warrant against George King charging him with making threatening statements against him. Authorities decided to settle the matter by asking King to apologize for his language. George reluctantly agreed and was allowed to return to Syracuse with his team.
  • Game Six: Staring at elimination on their home court, the Nationals trailed 74-68 heading into the final period. Fort Wayne maintained the lead until Lloyd canned a set shot to put the home team in front. The teams furiously traded points until they were tied at 103 with a minute and a half left. Red Kerr sank a jump shot. Then, after the Pistons failed to score, Farley tapped in a rebound to complete the 109-104 victory. King and Seymour, who had been handcuffed in the series, came through with 15 points apiece.
    The intense competition erupted into a fight between Wally Osterkorn of Syracuse and Fort Wayne's Don Mieneke in the second quarter. Fans went onto the court, and police had to quell the disturbance.
1955 Finals Action

Larry Foust (16) goes up for a shot over Dolph Schayes (4).

Since Syracuse had beaten Fort Wayne 22 straight times in Onondaga War Memorial Arena dating back six years, the Pistons faced a daunting challenge.

  • Any overconfidence the Nationals may have felt was dispersed early as the visitors jumped out to a 31-21 first quarter lead. C Larry Foust, who would end the night with 24 points, and G Frank Brian (19) led the onslaught.
  • Midway through the period, Syracuse trailed by 17 (41-24). Displeased with the play of his backcourt, Cervi pulled Seymour and King and inserted Kenville and Farley. "They picked us up and got us right back in," Al said afterwards. Behind Kenville's 11 points, the Nats rallied to trim the margin to 53-47 by halftime
  • Aided by a huge advantage at the FT line - 40-25 by game's end - the home team pulled into a 74-all tie by the end of the period.
  • Fort Wayne appeared to be in the driver's seat to victory when it had possession of the ball in the last minute with the score tied at 91. Schayes had hit two FTs at the 1:20 mark for a 91-90 Nats lead, but Yardley quickly tied it with a FT. The Pistons got the ball back with a chance to take the lead only to turn it over when Yardley was called for traveling with 18 seconds on the clock. The Nationals held for the last shot until King was fouled by Brian with 12 ticks left. Only a 61% FT shooter, George missed the first but made the second for the lead. Then he stole the ball from Andy Phillip to salt away the championship.
    King's steal was set up by his backcourt mate, Seymour, who recalled. "I bumped the hell out of Andy. For years after that, whenever he'd see me, he'd tell me, 'You got away with the big foul.' I bumped him a little, King was there, and that was it." Some thought it ironic that a team coached by a former referee lost because of a controversial non-call in the last seconds.
  • A jubilant Biasone pointed out how much of a difference his 24-second clock made in the game. "If it wasn't for the shot clock, it would have been the dullest game in history. Fort Wayne was up by 17. Under the old rules, they'd have gone into a stall. Then there'd have been a flurry of fouls."

Danny Biasone

Fred Zollner

Charlie Eckman

George Yardley

Al Cervi

Dolph Schayes

Earl Lloyd

Paul Seymour

George King

Red Kerr

Dick Farley

Red Rocha

Dick Rosenthal

Frank Brian demonstrating his two-handed over-his-head set shot

Billy "The Kid" Kenville

Andy Phillip

Larry Foust

Schayes drives for a shot in Game 7

  FG FT Fouls Points
Larry Foust 8 8-11 4 24
Frank Brian 8 3-3 4 19
Mel Hutchins 6 1-3 3 13
Andy Phillip 3 4-5 3 10
George Yardley 3 3-5 3 9
Monk Meineke 2 2-2 2 6
Bob Houbregs 2 1-2 3 5
Paul Walther 0 3-3 3 3
Dick Rosenthal 1 0-0 3 2
Max Zaslofsky 0 0-0 2 0
Total 33 25-34 30 91
  FG FT Fouls Points
George King 6 3-3 3 15
Billy Kenville 3 9-13 5 15
Dolph Schayes 4 5-6 3 13
Red Kerr 4 5-6 5 13
Earl Lloyd 4 4-5 4 12
Paul Seymour 4 3-4 2 11
Red Rocha 1 9-10 3 11
Wally Osterkorn 0 2-2 1 2
Dick Farley 0 0-0 1 0
Total 26 40-49 27 92

Jubilant Nats after Game 7

Syracuse Nationals
1955 NBA Champions
Participants in the 1955 NBA Finals who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame:
Pistons: George Yardley (1956)
Nationals: Coach Al Cervi (inducted as player 1985), Earl Lloyd (2003), Dolph Schayes (1973)