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Relocated NBA Teams: The Tri-Cities Blackhawks

The Tri-Cities Blackhawks were a basketball franchise that was part of the NBL from 1946 to 1949 and the NBA from 1949 to 1951. The Blackhawks franchise is the same one that some years down the line became today’s Atlanta Hawks. The Blackhawks were based in the City of Moline, Illinois in the Tri-Cities region which also encompasses Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa all located along the banks of the Mississippi River. The area had been the setting of the 19th century Blackhawk War hence the team’s nickname. The team’s home stadium was the Wharton Fieldhouse.

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The Blackhawks were hardly a force to reckon with during their years in competition. They only made the playoffs three times but never got to foray that deep. Their first season ended with a 19-25 record which was only good enough for fifth place in the NBL’s Eastern Division. They moved to the Western Division for the 1947/48 season, improving to second place with a 30-30 record and making the playoffs. They beat the Indianapolis Kautskys in four games but they lost in two straight games to the Minneapolis Lakers in the Western Finals. The next season, led by their seven foot guard Don Otten, they were back to the playoffs after managing a 36-28 record. They blasted past the Sheboygan Red Skins in two straight games only to be defeated in four games by the Oshkosh All-Stars in the Western Semifinals. In 1949/50 season, playing in the newly formed NBA and coached by the great Red Auerbach, the Blackhawks they finished third in the Western Division with a 29-35 record to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season. `They exited the playoffs after losing in three games to the Anderson Packers. They then came last in the 1950/51 season with a 25-43 record in what would prove to be their last season in Moline.

The Blackhawks changed coaches five times during their time in Moline. Although he served only one year, Red Auerbach was certainly the most memorable of the six coaches. A loud mouth and abrasive personality just like team owner Ben Kerner, Auerbach’s redeeming quality was his coaching ability, which had been cemented during an impressive prior stint with the Washington Capitols. Kerner had promised Red total control over the player transactions, but soon reneged on his promise and a fallout between the two followed after John Mahnken, Red’s favorite player was traded in 1950. Auerbach left acrimoniously and joined the Boston Celtics with prior events fuelling one of the most bitter rivalries in pro basketball. Red reunited with another Blackhawks’ reject Bob Cousy at Boston, forming the foundation of the most successful NBA dynasty. In the 1957 NBA Finals, the Celtics met Kerner’s franchise which had now moved to St. Louis. Red and Kerner antagonized each other throughout the series, exchanging bitter words on the sideline and nearly coming to blows. Auerbach and Cousy however came out on top as the Celtics won game 7 to lift the NBA title.

Why the Blackhawks were Relocated

The Blackhawks endured unimpressive results during their five year stint in the Tri-Cities area. This meant that the team was unable to build a big fan base. The small population in the area also made it incapable of supporting a competitive sports franchise, with teams in larger metropolises growing exponentially in financial might. The Blackhawks descended into financial losses and team owner Ben Kerner decided to move the team in order to curtail further losses. The folding or relocation of former NBL teams and teams from small cities had become a running theme around this time as teams with greater financial muscle reigned supreme due to souring player wages. Kerner moved the team to the city of Milwaukee, a much larger market which he hoped would turn the team’s fortunes. The team’s nickname was shortened from Blackhawks to just Hawks. His hopes were however dashed as the Milwaukee Hawks suffered the same fate in Milwaukee and had to move to St. Louis barely a few years after leaving Moline. It is highly unlikely that the Tri-Cities area, now known as the Quad-Cities, will get an NBA franchise any time soon despite successfully hosting a minor league baseball team.

The Tri-Cities Blackhawks’ most Notable Players

Bobby McDermott G 1947/48-1948/49
Mick Todorovich 1949-1951
Jack Nichols 1949-1951
Dike Eddleman SF 1949–1951
Frankie Bryan G 1950/51
Warren Perkins F 1949-1951
Cal Christensen C 1949-1951
Dee Gibson F 1949-1950
Kleggie Hermsen C/F 1950-1951
Murray Wier G 1949-1950

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