Carl Bennett is a fine gentleman. He recently has been in the news with the recognition by the Basketball Hall of Fame of his role in Fort Wayne being the birthplace of the National Basketball Association.
Roscoe Nance interviewed Mr. Bennett for a story published in today's edition of USA Today. He asked Mr. Bennett about the birth of the NBA, the Pistons departing Fort Wayne for Detroit, and the return of the NBA to Fort Wayne with the arrival of the D-League Mad Ants.
Mr. Nance writes in the feature titled "Former executive sees NBA come full circle in Fort Wayne:"
Carl Bennett was a front executive for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Zollner Pistons 50 years ago when the franchise moved to Detroit. Bennett, 91, stayed behind and plans to be in attendance when the NBA returns to Fort Wayne on Nov. 23 in the form of a D-League expansion team — the Mad Ants — which will play host to Tulsa. Bennett, who played a role in the Pistons coming into the NBA in 1948 after playing in the National Basketball League and coaching the team, spoke with USA TODAY about the Mad Ants.
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Q. What kind of basketball town is Fort Wayne?
A. "At the time Isiah Thomas bought out the league (Continental Basketball Association in 1999) that was playing here then, they (the Fort Wayne Fury) were doing fair. It will take the Mad Ants a little time. We're a good basketball city. It's going to take some hard work, promotion and a good ball club. They can do it because they have the support of the NBA."
Q. What type of promotions would you like to see?
A. "One of our successes for the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons was the Knothole Gang. It was through the school system, and 30,000 people had Knothole Gang cards. Kids would come to games free a lot of times. But it means youngsters who are interested need someone to bring them to the game. It's a good promotional program of having youngsters who want to go to the game, and Mom or Dad or both of them have to take them."
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Q. Why did owner Fred Zollner move the Pistons?
A. "It was a natural move. We played in a gymnasium for 3,800. We pretty much sold that out over the years. Then we built the Memorial Coliseum with 10,000 seating for basketball. We had a few good crowds, but it gradually dwindled away mostly because we played an 82-game schedule. That means 41 home games, and we were little Fort Wayne, Ind., trying to get people out there that many times a season. We were pretty small-town back then. We're up to 270,000 people now. But then we were dealing with 100,000-125,000 people in our market area. Mr. Zollner got a chance to go to Detroit — he manufactured aluminum pistons for automobiles — and his customers were all in Detroit."
Q. How did fans react?
A. "When the team left, they were disappointed. There wasn't any big ruckus about it. Newspapers here felt a little that Fort Wayne could have supported it … But they didn't have enough things here that would outweigh being in Detroit."