History: AAU Basketball in the 1950s

The Buchan Bakers An Amatuer Basketball Powerhouse
The Buchan Bakers were one of a handful of amateur basketball powers during the 1950s that included the Phillips 66ers, the Peoria Caterpillars, the Akron Goodyears, the Denver D-C Truckers and the Wichita Vickers. These teams played a full schedule each season, topping 30 games a year and traveling throughout the country. Some of these teams also helped introduce the American style of basketball to foreign players. In 1956, the Buchan Bakers played games in Japan, the Philippines, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Spain.

During the 1950s, the rosters of the top amateur teams were filled with former college stars, many of whom had been drafted by the NBA, which was still in its formative years. The amateur teams sometimes offered more money than the pro teams as well as the security of full-time employment. AAU basketball was particularly strong in the Midwest, Southwest and West Coast, where the NBA had not yet established a presence. The top teams played in the National Industrial Basketball League, which began play in the 1947-48 season, two years before the establishment of the NBA. The NIBL had as many as eleven teams for the 1951-52 season and had nine teams during its next to last season in 1959-60. The Phillips 66ers won the NIBL title 11 of the league’s 14 years of existence. But the goal for all these teams was winning the National AAU Tournament, held each year in Denver. The tournament field was determined by play in regional AAU tournaments, and included the top industrial teams, armed services teams, and often teams just put together for the tournament.

Between 1943 and 1963, the Phillips 66ers won the tournament 10 times and the Peoria Caterpillars won five times. But there was always a chance for a surprise team to slip past the favorites. The Buchan Bakers, long shots at the outset of the tournament, won the national championship in 1956. Other one-time winners included the Oakland Bittners, led by Don Barksdale, in 1949 and Stewart Chevrolet, led by George Yardley, in 1951. The appeal of AAU basketball began to decline in the early 1960s as the NBA gained prominence with such players as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. The NIBL folded in 1961, and with expansion of the NBA and the formation of the American Basketball Association in the late 1960s, the annual National AAU Tournament faded from prominence.

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Longshot: The Story of the Buchan Bakers

This is the story of the Buchan Bakers, a team of homegrown heroes from the Pacific Northwest who dared to compete with the biggest programs in amateur basketball. Against all odds, the Bakers from Seattle defeated the legendary Phillips Oilers for the National AAU Championship in 1956, earning its place among the elite of amateur basketball. This book follows the Buchan Bakers from the team’s beginnings, the championship season, goodwill tours through Asia and behind the Iron Curtain, and entry into the National Industrial Basketball League.

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