In 1964, the Grand Rapids Tackers of the Midwest Professional Basketball League had dominated the first half of their season with a 7-1 record, and would later post a 9-3 record to take their league’s championship. But at that time, the league did not offer a playoff game; so the Midwest League looked for a suitable champion basketball team to take on the best from the Midwest.
At the same time, the Allentown Jets had won or shared three straight Eastern League regular season pennants, and looked to be a suitable opponent for the Midwest squad. After much negotiation between Tackers General Manger Rodger Lemmen and EPBL president Harry Rudolph, discussions commenced that would lead to a one-time championship contest between the two circuits.
Eventually the Tackers won their division, while the Jets tied Camden for the top of the Eastern League loop. With both teams established as opponents, a one-game playoff would be held in Grand Rapids. How eager were the Allentown fans to see this contest? When a 90-seat charter plane was hired to deliver the players, coach, general manager, League President Harry Rudolph and Alelntown major John Gross to the event, fans snapped up the remaining 50 seats.
The visiting Jets arrived in Grand Rapids at 12:30 of the day of the game, and were treated to a motorcade parade through the Grand Rapids business district. The two league presidents discussed the possibility of future competitions, and maybe even regular season interleague games.
The Grand Rapids media played up the game as an opportunity to not only compete against the best independent basketball circuit in the country, but it would also allow the Midwest League to establish itself as a viable competitor in the minor league hoops world. “This is the first time that an interleague championship playoff has ever been held in Grand Rapids,” said Tackers general manager Rodger Lemmen. “We have great hopes for the future of this league. More standout basketball talent is avaialble to us every year than can be found in any other professional sport. The sky’s the limit.”
Interestingly, in the game program printed for the Tackers-Jets matchup, EPBL President Harry Rudolph receives enough hyperbole for his league, as it is said he “runs his league with an iron hand. He has barred one former team owner for life and has ruled out any players who were involved in the college scandals.”
On to the game. Allentown jumped out to a 33-30 edge at the end of the first period, but Grand Rapids kept the game close, staying only a point behind on several occasions. Then the Jets picked up the pace, taking a 77-59 lead into the half.
By the third quarter, Allentown had achieved a 22 point lead, but Grand Rapids began to fight back. As the gap closed, Grand Rapids’ George Knighton hit a 3-point play with 2:02 remaining, and the Tackers were down by a single point. The game stayed close. Allentown’s Bob Mantz hit a layup; Grand Rapids’ M.C. Burton fought back with a jumper with :57 remaining. Allentown’s Roman Turmon scored two more for Allentown; Knighton brought it back to a single point for the Tackers. George Lehmann drew a foul, and hit one of the two free-throws allotted. Grand Rapids’ Herschel Turner and Nick Mantis both tried desperation shots, but the buzzer blew and Allentown took the victory, 128-126.
The Allentown flight returned home at dawn Sunday morning, its fans giddy for a championship against a hard-fought and worthy opponent. Although there was talk of a future Eastern-Midwest championship tilt, the Midwest League folded after that season, with the Tackers joining the North American Basketball League. 45 years later, the Grand Rapids Hoops (1989-1994, 1996-2003) and Grand Rapids Mackers (1994-1996) were part of the CBA.
ALLENTOWN (128) Walt Simon 11 2-5 24; George Lehmann 8 3-5 19; John Nacincik 1 2-2 4; Gary Silo 0 1-2 1; Andy Johnson 5 1-6 11; Bob Mantz 5 2-2 12; Hank Whitney 12 4-5 28; Roman Turmon 12 5-7 29. GRAND RAPIDS (126) Larry Koehl 1 0-0 2; M.C. Burton 12 12-18 36; Horace Walker 5 4-11 14; Nick Mantis 11 2-3 24; Herschel Turner 8 6-8 25; Mike Graney 3 0-0 6; Joe Maddrey 1 0-0 2; Ralph Honderd 2 0-0 4; George Knighton 5 1-1 11; Bob Cantrell 1 0-0 2. ALLENTOWN 33 44 24 27 128 GRAND RAPIDS 30 29 32 35 126 Officials: Dave Dollack, Paul Ruddy.