The OTHER March Madness

It’s nearly the end of March Madness for 2018, and you’ve been steeped in college hoops for a month.  So let’s see if you know the answer to THIS basketball question:

What team was national champion six years in a row, and 11 times altogether?

Nope, we’re not thinking of the Celtics, or the Lakers, or the Bulls.  The answer – is the Sixers.  But not the Seventy-Sixers – the Sixty-Sixers!  The Phillips 66ers.

And yes, that’s “Phillips”, as in Phillips 66, the global energy company.  This story begins back before the NBA, when the next stop after college ball was the AAU, the Amateur Athletic Union.

Phillips wasn’t the only business to field a basketball team.  The 66ers matched up with teams like the Peoria Caterpillars, Denver-Chicago Trucking and the Buchan Bakers.  But at their best, there was nobody like the 66ers.  During those six years they were national champions (1943-48), the team record was 241-24.  Not even the Golden State Warriors can match that.

The game was a little different in the ‘40s and ‘50s than it is today.  No three balls, for instance.  But watch a little 66er video, and you’ll see some slick ball movement and sweet mid-range jumpers.

And it wasn’t all old school.  Bob Kurland, the first player to dunk, back in 1944 when he played for Oklahoma State; Kurland went on to play for – the Phillips 66ers.  And Hank Luisetti, who the San Francisco Chronicle described this way, “Imagine a basketball player from 80 years ago who compares to … Stephen Curry. … He dribbled behind his back, fired no-look passes and drove the lane with either hand” – Luisetti also logged a year as a 66er, in the ’41-42 season.

Of course, the 66ers weren’t just basketball players.  They were working for the Phillips Petroleum Company (as it was known back then).  As Bill Martin told the Oklahoma City News, “I got $125 a month, worked all day and played basketball at night.”  Burdie Haldorson (who also played on the U.S. Olympic team that won gold in 1956) explained, “Phillips offered me the chance to continue playing basketball, as well as a good job. … we reported to work every day and practiced after work.”

The first 66ers hit the court in 1921, and with a couple of stops and starts, Phillips fielded a team through to 1968.  And as it turned out, the 66ers were a pretty successful bunch off the court too.  Over the years, the 66ers roster included four company presidents: Boot Adams (President, 1934-39), Paul Endacott (President, 1951-67 and Naismith National Hall of Fame Inductee in 1972), Bill Martin (President, 1971-74) and Pete Silas (President, 1982-94).

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