Saturday, March 9, 2013

March 9, 1958: George Yardley becomes the first player in NBA history to score 2,000 points in a season

On March 9, 1958, on the last day of the regular season, Detroit Pistons forward George Yardley became the first player in the history of the NBA to score 2,000 points in one season. Unfortunately for Yardley the milestone came in a 111-90 loss against to Syracuse Nationals. His 26 point effort put him at 2,001 points on the year. Yardley was recognized for his contributions to the game in 1996 when he was enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

The 6 time all star played just 7 years in the NBA. He was known for his offensive mind. The 1958 season was by far the pinnacle for Yardley as he averaged 27.8 points per game on the way to the scoring 2,001 points. He also set records for free throw attempts with 808 and free throws made with 655 in that 1958 season. Yardley came very close to not playing professional basketball after he graduating from Stanford with a degree in engineering. It was a different world; million dollar contracts did not exist and he could make more money using his education rather than play a sport he loved.

Born in Hollywood, California in 1928, Yardley had athletic ability in his blood. His father was a star at the University of Chicago in baseball, football, and basketball. When he was a kid, Yardley was on a tennis court much more than the basketball court. It wasn't until his high school years that he took up organized ball. After he graduated he didn't have colleges knocking on his door to recruit him, but he had the brains to get into Stanford with his academic ability. He made the Stanford basketball squad during his sophomore season, and became a force to be reckoned with. During his senior year George led the team with 237 of their 423 points scored on the season. Following his graduation from college he spent two years in the United States Navy, and continued to play basketball in the Amateur Athletic Union. In 1950, Yardley was drafted with the 7th overall pick by the Fort Wayne Pistons. He had been dominate as an amateur and the Pistons believed he could carry his success over to the pros. Now he would have to deal with the issues of being a professional ballplayer.

A big issue for Yardley was the Pistons were a part of the the newly formed National Basketball League, which would transform into the NBA.The team could not pay him enough to move east. He continued to play in the Ameteur Athletinc Union where he led his team to the AAU title in 1951. Yardley took  home MVP award during that tournament. Meanwhile, Pistons owner Fred Zollner kept trying to sign Yardley only to be rejected. The man with a degree in civil engineering could simply make more money in his field and continue to play the sport closer to home. Finally, in 1953 Zollner made an offer that Yardey couldn't refuse. He signed a contract that had a base salary of $9,500 per season with a $1,500 signing bonus. The salary was more than double the average NBA salary. Zollner finally got his man.

His first year in the NBA wasn't his most memorable, as he averaged just 9 points per game. He had a hard time cracking the starting lineup of a team that had a variety of stars around him. His playing time picked up significantly when his teammate Jack Molinas was suspended for placing a bet on a Pistons game. Yardley made his mark that season and the best was yet to come. The NBA was brutal during his first year in the league, the players were fouled violently. Yardley would later say "They didn't just push you around they hit you with a clenched fist in the face" he went onto say "The weak didn't make it". His second year in the league the shot clock was introduced and it changed the game forever. It went from a game that was dominated by the big man that could run you over, to a game that was dominated by those who possessed the greatest athletic abilities. This led to great things for Yardley. The emergence of the shot clock not only helped Yardley's game, it changed the league altogether. It enhanced the value of players who create their own shot and the value of the guys who could get open looks for their teammates. Yardley was one of those guys who could get open,  and when he did  he could score at will. He was quick on his feet and could put points on the board in a number of ways. He had mastered the turnaround jumper in his years before he joining the NBA and that shot alone might have made him famous.

Yardley and the Pistons went the NBA Finals twice before the team moved to Detroit in 1957. It was the inaugural season in Detroit that he made history. He played in The Motor City until he was traded to the Syracuse Nationals in February of 1959. He played just 15 games with the Nationals that season then one full season with them before retiring. In his career, Yardley averaged 19.2 points per game and was one of the most consistent scorers in the league. His record stood for only one season before Bob Pettit surpassed it with a 2,105 point campaign. While it is a milestone that was quickly surpassed only one man can be the first to reach the mark and that man is named George Yardley.

Check out George Yardley's career stats here:

Here's a look at some Single Season point milestones:

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