Let’s take a break from Shoveitgate and politics, shall we?
The Celtics open their season tonight against the Miami Heat’s much-hyped trio of Wade, James and Bosh. (Sounds like a law firm.) But if history had taken a different turn, it’s possible the Heat could have made their debut right here in Providence.
I didn’t know this until recently, but it turns out the capital city had its own professional basketball team for three seasons right after World War II, from 1946 to 1949.
The team’s name was the Providence Steamrollers and, according to NBA.com, its brief run included an unhappy record: the fewest wins in a single season in the history of the NBA. The team went 6-42 in 1947-48.
Well, you can’t win them all – or in this case, they could hardly win any. (“Remember the Providence Steamrollers?” New York magazine asked in 1983. “Only masochists and trivia maniacs would.”) There was apparently some attempt made to bring back the team in the early 1980s, but nothing came of it.
The Steamrollers were part of the Basketball Association of America, which merged with the National Basketball League in 1949 to form the NBA, killing off the poor Steamrollers. The team’s roster during its ignominious 1947-48 season included 46-year-old Pat Hickey, who still holds the record as the oldest person ever to play in the NBA.
Steamrollers games took place at the old Rhode Island Auditorium (also known as the Providence Arena) on North Main Street, which was demolished in 1989. The team’s owner, Lou Pieri, also owned the Arena. According to Charley Rosen’s history of the NBA, Pieri named the team after his construction company and they practiced at Hope High School. (I doubt anyone reading this saw the Steamrollers play, but maybe you caught the Reds, the longer-lived hockey team that played there.)
Providence has a lot of fascinating old sports history. I mentioned the Steamrollers to my friend Dan, who’s a smart sports aficionado, and he reminded me that basketball’s Providence Steamrollers should not be confused with football’s Providence Steam Roller, winners of a pre-Super Bowl NFL championship way back in the 1920s. Indeed, there’s a lot of great sports history in Providence. Another chum pointed out to me that the NFL’s decision to start teams in small cities early on is the reason a place like Green Bay still has the Packers.
All I know is, I want a Providence Streamrollers T-shirt. Anybody know where I can buy one?
(image credit: NBA.com)