by Michael Bradley
Stanley “Whitey” Von Nieda remembers the guy in Fort Wayne with the crutch.
“He sat in the front row, and he would trip you when you went by,” Von Nieda says. Such was life in the late 1940s, when professional basketball was in its infancy, and Von Nieda was a high-scoring 6-1 guard.
Born in Ephrata, PA, Von Nieda spent three years at Penn State before entering the military in 1943. While playing for an army team out of Fort Benning, GA, he led the nation—college, pro or otherwise—in scoring with 25 ppg. After WWII, he played in the old Eastern League for Lancaster and continued his hot scoring. “I shot one hand from the outside, but my game was driving,” says Von Nieda, who turned 90 on June 19. “I threw a running hook, which was particularly effective, because I could use it over anybody. I shot it over (6-11 Hall of Fame center) George Mikan.”
In 1947, Von Nieda joined the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in the NBL, where he averaged 12.1 ppg. The following season, Von Nieda scored 10 a game for the Blackhawks, who were absorbed into the NBA before the ’49-50 campaign. That season, during which he was traded to the Baltimore Bullets, Von Nieda managed 5.3 ppg. “It was a hectic time,” he says of the early NBA. “You had teams coming from two directions. The [NBL] played more defense, and the NBA had more scoring.”
During his final season, Von Nieda played for a young Red Auerbach. Perhaps inspired by the Redhead, Von Nieda left the NBA in 1950 to become player/coach for Lancaster of the Eastern League. He later coached at Elizabethtown College before becoming a salesman. Basketball still hasn’t left his blood, though. “I was just shooting the other day,” Von Nieda says.
“When I started, the ball felt like a shot put, but I warmed up.” He enjoys watching the NBA, particularly players “who make it happen.”
Just like he used to.