NO. 3

Yardley was first in NBA to have 2,000-point season

By BLAKE SEBRING of The News-Sentinel

When the Fort Wayne Pistons selected George Yardley with the third pick in the 1950 National Basketball Association draft, Pistons General Manager Carl Bennett sent Yardley a telegram at Stanford University.

"Fort Wayne of the National Basketball Association drafted you," Bennett's telegram said, according to Todd Gould's book "Pioneers of the Hardwood." "Please call me collect late Tuesday or Wednesday at Harrison 9426 or Anthony 3264. Also advise coach Dean of our choice."

When Yardley received the notice, the Newport, Calif., native had to laugh because he had never heard of Fort Wayne.

After playing on an AAU national championship team and missing the 1952 Olympics because of a broken hand, Yardley finally signed with the Pistons in 1953. Because he hated training camp, Yardley ignored the Pistons' offer of $6,000, playing beach volleyball in California and becoming the first rookie to hold out, until it reached $9,500. Yardley also had an engineering degree and figured he could make more money in that field.

"My wife and I didn't know what to expect when we got to Fort Wayne," Yardley told Gould. "We had a hard time adjusting to the weather in Indiana. We had never seen snow before so that first winter was pretty rough."

Though Yardley had broken all of Hank Luisetti's scoring records at Stanford, his professional career started slowly. As a rookie he averaged nine points and 6.5 rebounds per game, but he became a starter the next season and averaged 16 points and nine rebounds per game in 1954-55.

A 6-foot-5 forward, Yardley specialized in out-jumping opponents, and was one of only a handful of players who dunked regularly in games. His legs had been built up playing sand volleyball and tennis, in which he won five national titles in his age bracket. He could also shoot with tremendous accuracy. The Boston Celtics once tried using Bill Russell to slow Yardley, but the Pistons' forward scored 42 points.

Yardley played four years in Fort Wayne, scoring 4,380 points. Other than his rookie season, Yardley averaged more than 17 points in his final six seasons. He made All-NBA first team once in 1958 and the second team in 1957.

"He was a scoring machine," former teammate and Notre Dame Athletic Director Dick Rosenthal said.

During an era when teams regularly scored between 70 and 80 points, Yardley's NBA career averages are 19.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, while playing in six NBA All-Star games. Twice he scored more than 50 points in a game. He also played for a short time in the American Basketball League with Los Angeles in 1962, averaging 19 points per game.

"In that era of basketball he was one of the exciting players," former Pistons official Carl Bennett said. "He was one of the first men that could jump with the ball like they do today. He couldn't get up as high, but he was a great scorer. Along with being an all-around great player, he was such a gentleman."

After helping Fort Wayne make the NBA Finals in 1955 and 1956, Yardley went with the team when it moved to Detroit in 1957.

"It was unbelievably sad because we had the best of everything in Fort Wayne," he said. "There wasn't anybody on the team who wasn't depressed."

But Yardley had his best season in Detroit. At age 29, he played 39.5 minutes per game, and late in the season he was closing in on George Mikan's league record of 1,932 points in a season set in 1950-51. He broke that with a few games left in the season, and then tried to become the first NBA player to score 2,000 points in a season.

In the last regular-season game against Syracuse, Yardley was two points away but the Nationals were double- and triple-teaming him. He finally broke away for a dunk with about three minutes left to give him 2,001 points for the season. He finished the season with 27.8 points per game.

The record didn't last long as Bob Pettit broke it the next season by 104 points, and then Wilt Chamberlin obliterated it during the 1959-60 season when he scored 2,707.

Yardley played two more seasons in Detroit, averaging 19.8 points in 1958-59 and 20.2 in 1959-60, before abruptly retiring. When his oldest daughter had been born, Yardley had promised to end his pro career when she was ready to enter school.

The Yardley family moved to Orange County, Calif., where he owns and operates George Yardley Companies, an engineering firm. In 1992, he was named a Red Coat winner as Hoosier Celebrity of the Year by the Mad Anthonys, and in 1996, 36 years after he retired and on his eighth nomination, Yardley was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He became the second Fort Wayne Piston to be inducted following Bobby McDermott in 1988.

"Now that I'm in it, I feel that I've reached the pinnacle, and I've reached the top of my profession," Yardley said in 1996. "If I never got into it, it wasn't going to be the worst thing that happened. But now that I'm in it, I'm thrilled to death."

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