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Relocated NBA Teams: The Chicago Zephyrs

During the 1962/63, the NBA’s Washington Wizards were then based in Chicago and were then known as the Chicago Zephyrs. The franchise had been formed the season before as the Chicago Packers, an expansion team for the NBA. The team’s first coach was Jim Pollard. The packers were the first NBA team in Chicago since the folding of the Stags in 1950. The packers nickname was borrowed from the meatpacking district on the Southside of Chicago. In 1962, they were renamed Zephyrs, an allusion to the city of Chicago’s nickname, “The Windy City” (Zephyr means westerly winds). During their first season the franchise was based at the Chicago Amphitheater and then relocated to the Coliseum for the next season.

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The lean success they enjoyed in competition perhaps fit the Packers nickname perfectly. The Zephyrs were not any good on the court as both their seasons in Chicago were losing seasons. During the first season, the team had a dismal 18-62 record. The only shining light for the outfit was the play of Rookie Walt Bellamy who came second in the league in scoring with an impressive 31.6 points per game, only behind Wilt Chamberlain. He was third in rebounding with 19 rebounds per game, only bettered by Chamberlain and Bill Russell. Following the conclusion of the season, Jim Pollard was fired and replaced by Jack McMahon. The latter was himself replaced midway through the season by Slick Leonard in player-coach capacity. During the 1962/63 season, the Zephyrs finished in last place again with a 25-55 record. Another Rookie, Terry Dischinger helped carry the team through the season as he averaged 25.5 points per game, bringing the Rookie of the Year Award to Chicago for the second season in a row. Walt Bellamy also continued his impressive form contributing 27.9 points per game.

Not many people knew much about the Chicago Zephyrs. It was a very obscure franchise and headlines were mostly dictated by who the Zephyrs were playing. Former Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson who was drafted as a rookie by the Zephys in his playing days once quipped “No one knew there was a team in Chicago…it didn’t matter who we were playing, we never got any headlines, only a box score and a very small write-up.” Flyers done by Walter Mullin-then a respected sports artist-for a preseason friendly game the Zephyrs were to play against Cincinnati Royals on October 7, 1962 further emphasized the little-known status of the club. Walter misspelled the team’s moniker as “Zephers”, something that is unforgivable today. The team’s reputation in Chicago was also not that admirable, but this was largely due to their poor performance. Slick Leonard, who scored 16.1 points per game in 1961/62 once said in an interview that players would “walk down the street with your Chicago Packers player’s bag and you would turn the Chicago Packers to the inside so nobody would see it. It was that bad.”

Why the Chicago Zephyrs were Relocated

The Franchise was a big hit in Chicago when it started, but as the season progressed and results remained dismal, fan apathy began to kick in and attendance fell drastically. Many of the team’s home games were played in from of crowds of less than 3000 people. The name change to the more hip sounding Zephyrs nickname was reportedly meant to raise the team’s profile but it seemed to flounder. The following season, the results picked up a bit and so did fan turnout at home games. However, the team still operated at a deficit and owner Dave Trager accumulated huge debts from supporting the franchise. To cut his losses, Trager moved the team in March 1963 to Baltimore, Maryland. The franchise was renamed Baltimore Bullets due to the area’s history of hosting ammunition production factories. It was then moved to Washington in 1973 to become the present day Washington Wizards, though it was known for some time as the Capital Bullets. Meanwhile Chicago got an expansion franchise in 1966 as the Chicago bulls set up shop in the city. The rest is history as the team, later led by the unplayable Michael Jordan would bring six titles in eight years to Chicago during the late 80s and early 90s.

Chicago Zephyrs Notable Players

Woody Sauldsberry PF 1961-1963

Bob “Slick” Leonard PG 1961-1963

Terry Dischinger SF 1962/63

Charles Hardnett PF 1962/63

Barney Cable SF 1961-1963

Ralph Davis SG 1961/62

Andy Johnson SF 1961/62

Si Green PF 1962/63

Charlie Tyra PF 1961/62

Johny Cox SG 1962/63

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