NBA forgot it honored Hoffman

October 30, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

Paul "Bear" Hoffman recalls receiving the NBA's first Rookie of the Year award 46 years ago down to the most minute detail.

"The presentation took place the night of March 1, 1948, at the old Coliseum on Monroe Street," said the former forward from Purdue, who played a key role in the Baltimore Bullets' 1947-48 championship season.

"The league commissioner, Maurice Podoloff, was supposed to do the honors. But Bill Dyer, who broadcast our games on WITH, had close ties with bandleader Sammy Kaye. The team used Kaye's appearance to sell a few extra tickets, and he gave me the award, a silver loving cup."

The trouble was, until recently, hardly anyone else remembered Hoffman's achievement. There was no record of his award in official NBA publications.

Until this year, when Hoffman, 69 and a resident of Parkville, again became the top rookie of the 1947-48 season.

In the current edition of the NBA Guide, Hoffman and the five rookie winners who followed him are accorded official recognition.

NBA executives have been somewhat embarrassed by this oversight.

"It has a lot to do with records being lost from those pioneer days when we moved from the old Madison Square Garden on 50th Street," said Alex Sachare, the NBA's editorial vice president who also oversees the annual NBA Basketball Encyclopedia. "It took a letter from Bill Tosheff and significant research to set the record straight."

Tosheff, a guard from Indiana who played with the Indianapolis Olympians, shared the 1952 award with Mel Hutchins, a defensive forward with the Milwaukee Hawks.

"Tosheff said he liked reading our encyclopedia, except for the fact that we had deleted all the rookie award winners prior to Don Meineke [Fort Wayne Pistons] in 1953. He sent us the proof of his award in newspaper clippings, and then one of our #F historians also documented that Hoffman, Howie Shannon [1949], Alex Groza [1950] and Paul Arizin [1951] had previously won the award."

Hoffman did not need anyone to remind him. He remembers everything about his rookie season, beginning with the trip to Baltimore from his home in Jasper, Ind., in the car of player-coach Buddy Jeannette.

"I got a $4,000 contract, plus a new Mercury worth $750," he said. "And I earned an extra $2,000 when we won the NBA title.

"There wasn't a lot of luxury in pro basketball back then. We slept on bunk beds at the old Congress Hotel and practiced at the Young Men's Hebrew Association, if the court was available."

Hoffman, a four-time all-conference choice at Purdue, was the NTC No. 1 pick of the Toronto Huskies. They folded before the season began, and Hoffman was claimed by Baltimore, which had made the switch from the American Basketball League to the Basketball Association of America, forerunner of the NBA.

In training camp, Hoffman became an instant starter and established himself as the team enforcer.

"I got hurt early in the season," he said. "I missed about 10 games, but when I came back, the team started to roll, and we kept on rolling until we beat Philadelphia in the finals.

"In the second game of the series, I knocked Howie Dallmar, one of their big scorers, into the stands, and after that, they lost heart."

But Hoffman, who averaged 10.5 points as a rookie, would not return to Baltimore the next season.

"I asked the owners to raise my salary to $7,500," he said. "When they said they couldn't afford it, I went back to Indiana and made more money as a salesman for Montgomery Ward."

Hoffman would return to the Bullets in 1949, and played five more seasons before retiring in 1956.

"I waited until 1989 before the NBA finally approved a pension plan for players from my era," he said. "That's worth about $600 a month.

"And then, last year, I found out I was voted to the 1943 Indiana high school all-state team. It seemed the Indianapolis Star had somehow missed that year."

But Hoffman was an almost automatic pick for the Star's Patrick Aikman, who conducted the research.

Hoffman's strongest endorsement came from his former Jasper coach, Cabby O'Neil, who died in the summer of 1993, just missing Hoffman's official "All-Indiana" induction.

Said O'Neil: "Until Oscar Robertson came along, I always thought that Hoffman was the best high school player I saw. He was a modern-type player, a good shooter and great driver. And he had as much desire as it was humanly possible to have."

"I guess you could say good things happen to those who wait," said Hoffman, holding his almost-forgotten NBA Rookie of the Year award.

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