Warren Perkins played role in NBA's birth

Mikan, Pettit, Celtics dynasty, Wilt, and early expansion

Warren Perkins played role in NBA's birth

Postby rlee » Wed Jun 20, 2007 3:37 am

Perkins played role in NBA's birth
By Bill Bumgarner
Monroe News Star

At the birth of the National Basketball Association 58 years ago, Warren Perkins assisted in its delivery.
Created through a marriage between the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America, the NBA's inaugural matchup qualified as no showcase, but one pitting the Tri-Cities Blackhawks against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 30, 1949 at Wharton Field House, a high school gym tucked away in Moline, Ill.

Starting that night, before a turnout of 3,450 fans, would be Perkins, a 6-foot-3 forward, a former All-City selection from Warren Easton High School, a former All-Southeastern Conference choice from Tulane and the team's No. 1 draft choice.

The remainder of the NBA, which consisted of 17 teams, began play two days later but the league's landscape bore little resemblance to the modern product.

"There were about two or three black players," recalled Perkins of a league that depended on gate attractions such as Minnesota Lakers center George Mikan and Boston Celtics guard Bob Cousy, a pair of future NBA Hall of Famers.

The players relied on layups, free throws and two-hand set shots for the bulk of their offense instead of outside jump shots and dunks that are in vogue today. Perkins received a salary of $7,000 per season, which was $2,000 less than the amount awarded to LSU's Bob Pettit several years later.

Perkins, a Tulane and a Louisiana Basketball Hall of Famer who lettered in three sports for the Green Wave and in four sports for Warren Easton, is thrilled to join seven others in the 2007 induction class for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches.

"It feels wonderful," said Perkins, still robust and active at 85, of his Hall of Fame selection. "I don't have a lot of contemporaries around."

Perkins' professional shelf life was a short one because the new NBA was marred by instability. "In two seasons, I think we had 28 trades and four coaches," said Perkins. One of those coaching shifts brought Red Auerbach aboard. But the franchise would move to Milwaukee two years later and would ultimately become the St. Louis Hawks and then the Atlanta Hawks.

Discouraged, Perkins sought to duplicate a path blazed by his father William and his brother Bennie. With the aid of the GI Bill, Perkins enrolled at the Chicago School of Podiatry, launching a medical career that would last 52 years. During that span of five decades, Dr. Perkins also served as an assistant coach at Tulane and as Chairman of the New Orleans Open golf tournament.

But he established his Hall of Fame credentials at Tulane during a stint marked by a notable interruption.

"I started Tulane in 1941 and finished in 1949," said Perkins.

Adolph Hitler, not poor academics, had a hand in that.

Perkins served four years in the air corps during World War II, but never saw duty overseas. "I was the hero of Portland, Oregon," he quipped.

In his three seasons at Tulane, the Greenies compiled a mark of 69-16 with five of those losses to Kentucky and its legendary coach Adolph Rupp. The Wildcats won four meetings in Kentucky and once at the Sugar Bowl at Municipal Auditorium. Perkins would later play for Rupp during an East-West All-Star game following his graduation.

"He had so much material," said Perkins. "If he needed a burly forward, he got one. He could get anyone he wanted. After the war, he was cutting All-Americans.

"Back then in the SEC, you did not have the home-and-home rule. Kentucky never came here. We played him every (SEC) game on the road. As a coach, he never changed his game."

Which, Perkins insisted, provided a direct contrast to Tulane head coach Cliff Wells.

"I never appreciated what a great coach he was until later," said Perkins. "He believed in conditioning. We ran people into the floor with our fast break. We were just in better shape than our opponents.

"Cliff adjusted his coaching every year to his talent. We ran a double-post offense with a lot of movement, something you don?226-130?t see today."

Perkins performed for Tulane teams that compiled marks of 22-9, 23-3 and 24-4, the last coming in 1948-49. Inducted into Tulane's first Hall of Fame class of 1977, Perkins lettered in track & field, baseball and basketball, twice earning All-SEC honors on the court.

He was drafted in the first round by the Blackhawks and by Providence, Rhode Island, whose coach was Auerbach. Perkins opted for the Blackhawks, whose trio of bases included Moline, Rock Island, Ill., and Davenport, Iowa. "I knew more friends on that team," he said.

Still a student of the NBA game, Perkins holds former Boston Celtics center Bill Russell in the highest esteem. "I would not say that Russell was the best player ever, but he was the most valuable ever," said Perkins. "Had he played for any other team, they would have still been champions."

Perkins said he never would have landed a grant-in-aid from Tulane had he not been coaxed into remaining at Easton an extra year.

"I did not go out for basketball until my senior year," Perkins said. "And I could have graduated a year early. I was 6-foot-1 1/2 and 135 pounds in 1940 but I was 150 pounds in 1941. Had I not come back, there would have been no scholarship."

At Easton, Perkins participated in baseball, basketball, track & field and swimming. In addition to capturing a Junior AAU diving championship, Perkins also claimed a state title in the breaststroke during a unique trek to LSU.

"We had a two-man swimming team at Easton," he recalled. "Our principal gave us $1.50 each for the trip to Baton Rouge. We hitchhiked up Airline Highway and stayed in the (Tiger) Stadium dorm."
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