The Mad Ants are going to the D-League finals for the first time in franchise history. While the history of professional basketball in Fort Wayne is rich – dating to 1925 – the Mad Ants are chasing only the city’s third championship over 41 seasons.
It’s taken a long time for the Mad Ants to get here. This is their seventh season and, prior to these playoffs, they had been in only one series, getting swept by Santa Cruz last year.
We’re all very excited to go into this, Mad Ants coach Conner Henry said. We’re also very happy for those who have been following the Mad Ants for many years that are enjoying this. From the moms and dads to the little kids who kind of live and breathe with our success, it’s a special time.
The Mad Ants swept Reno in two games in the first round, and they completed a two-game sweep of Sioux Falls with a 126-118 victory Saturday at Memorial Coliseum. The Mad Ants have won 16 straight home games.
The Mad Ants, who won the regular-season title, will face sixth-seeded Santa Cruz, which defeated Rio Grande Valley 147-128 in a decisive Game 3 on Monday night.
The best-of-three series starts Thursday in Santa Cruz.
While fans of the Mad Ants have had to be patient for this success, the championship drought predates the team.
The first pro team here was the Caseys, who began play in the American Basketball League in 1925 and remained there until 1931, though they changed their name to the Hoosiers. They went to three finals but never won.
The General Electrics had a short stint – 1937 to 1938 – in the National Basketball League, which was home to the Zollner Pistons beginning in 1941.
The Pistons were successful in multiple leagues and won two championships before moving to Detroit as an NBA team. In the NBL, and playing their home games at North Side’s gymnasium, they went to the playoff finals four straight years from 1942 to 1945. Led by player-coach Bobby McDermott, they won championships in 1944 and 1945.
After moving to the Basketball Association of America in 1948, and dropping Zollner from their name, the Pistons were part of the 1949 merger that produced the NBA. With the Coliseum as their home, and longtime pro referee Charley Eckman as their coach, the Pistons went to the finals in 1955 and 1956. They had stars George Yardley and Larry Foust and lost to Syracuse in seven games in 1955 – Syracuse’s George King made one of two free throws with 12 seconds left and stole the ball to seal a 92-91 victory – and the Pistons fell to Philadelphia in five in 1956.
Pro basketball returned for one season in 1974-75 with the Fort Wayne Hoosiers in the International Basketball Association.
And it returned again with the Fury’s successful run in the Continental Basketball Association from 1991 to 2001. The Fury produced plenty of NBA talent, such as Stephen Jackson, Moochie Norris and Bruce Bowen, and coaches Keith Smart and Terry Stotts went on to coach in the NBA. The Fury’s most successful postseason run came in 1995-96, when it lost to Sioux Falls in five games in the best-of-seven finals.
We should all embrace this, enjoy it, get the most out of it, Henry said. And I think everybody’s going to do that.