Pre-dating the Seattle Supersonics by 20 years, the little-known Seattle Blue Devils (1946-47) and Seattle Athletics (1947-48) were the city’s first professional basketball teams. Both were members of the Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League, which featured franchises from the Pacific Northwest states and Canada.
The 1946-47 PCPBL lineup included seven franchises (listed here by final league standings) — the Portland Indians (33-10), Bellingham Fircrests (26-12), Vancouver Hornets (24-14), Seattle Blue Devils (18-19), Salem Trailblazers (8-21), Yakima Ramblers (8-25) and Spokane Orphans (1-17).
Salem, Yakima and Spokane failed to last the 1946-47 season, and were dropped from the league.
For 1947-48, the “Pro Coast League,” as the PCPBL was also called, featured the Seattle Athletics (nee Blue Devils), Bellingham Fircrests, Tacoma Mountaineers, Vancouver Hornets, Astoria Royal Chinooks and Portland Indians. Seattle won the season’s first half with a 22-10 record, while Bellingham won the second half with a 14-7 mark.
Ray Clark, a Portland hotel magnate, launched the Pacific Coast Professional Basketball Association and spent, according to the Association for Professional Basketball Research, “freely” trying to establish the league. He even had plans to create a Southern Division, identifying Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco, Stockton, Sacramento, Redding, CA., and Long Beach, CA., as potential franchise cities.
Clark’s vision went unrealized. According to the APBR, only Bellingham and Vancouver were moderately successful at the gate, and the Seattle and Tacoma franchises were disappointments. With most PCPBL teams averaging fewer than 1,500 fans per game, the league founder decided to close the operation after its two-year run.
While it lasted, the bulk of PCPBL rosters were made up of former Pacific Coast Conference (Northern Division) collegians, plus a few high-school standouts. Almost all of the coaches were player/coaches.
The PCPBA showcased several notable players, among them:
- Al Brightman: The future head basketball coach at Seattle University (he
coached the famous O’Brien twins) joined the Athletics as their player-coach for the 1947-48 season, one year after averaging 9.8 points per game for the Boston Celtics. He became Seattle’s leading scorer and the Athletics’ only member of the All-League team.
- Gale Bishop: A former star at Washington State University, Bishop averaged 19.8 points a game (tops in the league) for Bellingham in 1946-47, and was the league’s leading scorer in 1947-48 before a hand injury ended his season. Bishop set the single-game PCPBL scoring record with 41 points against Portland on Jan. 4, 1948 (later eclipsed). After the collapse of the PCPBL, he played the 1947-48 season with the Philadelphia Warriors, averaging 8.3 points per game.
- Marv Harshman: The future coach at Pacific Lutheran, Washington State and Washington, and a future Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, played for the Tacoma Mountaineers in 1947-48.
Wally Leask: A guard for the UW in (1941-43), Leask played for both the Blue Devils and Athletics.
- Slim Wintermute: Served as player/coach of the Portland Indians. Wintermute attended high school in Longview, WA., and joined the Oregon Ducks in 1938. In 1939, Oregon’s “Tall Firs” won the first NCAA Tournament, and Wintermute was an All-American.
Seattle Blue Devils (1946-47): Norm Dalthorp, Al Maul, Glavin, “Sig” Sigurdson, Parsons, Wally Leask (Washington), Frankie Watson (Gonzaga), Ernie Maskovich, Bill Fleming, John Katica (St. Martins)
Bellingham Fircrests 1946-47: Gale Bishop, Chuck Patterson, Bob Cotton, Bobby Dorr (Washington), Al Akins (Washington), Ray Wark.
Seattle Athletics (1947-48): Wally Leask (Washington), Hal Kottman, Al Brightman, Merlin “Boody” Gilbertson (Washington), Dean White, Frankie Watson (Gonzaga), Norm Dalthorp (Washington), Bill Glavin, Ken Suesens (Sheboygan of NBL), Elmer Gainer.
1947-48: Tacoma Mountaineers: John Katica, Bob Voelker (Washington), Bob Graf, Jack Voelker (Washington), Ernie Endress, Sig Sigurdson, Marv Harshman (Pacific Lutheran), Tom Wark, Tom Cross.
1947-48: Bellingham Fircrests: Al Maul (Bremerton, WA High), Gale Bishop (Washington State), Chuck Patterson, Ray Wark, Bobby Dorr, Cliff Gaffney, Al Akins, Elmer Gainer.
Many of the historic images published on Sportspress Northwest are provided by resident Northwest sports history aficionado, David Eskenazi, who writes The Wayback Machine every Tuesday. Check out Davids Wayback Machine Archive. David can be reached at (206) 441-1900, or at the following e-mailaddress: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Wayback Machine is published every Tuesday as part of Sportspress Northwests package of home-page features collectively titled, The Rotation.)