By: Scott RossPublished: November 3, 2022

George Yardley

George Mikan was pro basketball's first dominant big man and the centerpiece of the game's first true dynasty, winning five titles in six years. He set the single-season points record in each of his fist three seasons, peaking at 1,932 in the 1950-51 season. The great Bob Petit made a couple of runs at Mikan's record, but never scored more than 1,849. Two thousand points was starting to seem unattainable.

George Yardley's car-door ears and gangly 6-foot-5 frame belied an uncommon athleticism that allowed him to be one of the few guys in the league at that time who dunked with regularity. Yardley had scored 1,625 through the Detroit Pistons first 61 games of the 1957-58 season, an average of 26.6, but with just eleven games left on the schedule, 2,000 seemed beyond reach, he would need to average 34 a game the rest of the way. But then Yardley turned on the jets, scoring 48, 43, 32, 16, 44, 19, 41, 36 and 49--36.4 points per game over nine games. He went into the final two games of the season with 1,953 points. He poured in 22 against the Boston Celtics in Game 71 and in the season finale, dropped 26 in a 21-point loss to Syracuse, finishing the season with 2,001 and making him the first man in league history to break 2K. And he did it with a bit of help from the refs who sent him to the charity stripe a then-record 808 times en route to a then-record 655 free throws made (Petit would break all three of Yardley's records the following season, making 667 of 879 free throw attempts en route to 2,105 points).

Yardley would play just seven seasons in the NBA, averaging 19 and 9 while making six All Star teams, two All NBA teams, and twice led the Pistons to the Finals. Following the 1959-60 season, when he was just 31, he became the first player in league history to hang up his Chucks after a season in which he average 20+ a game, having scored 20.2 for the Syracuse Nationals.

Both the beginning and the end of Yardley's NBA career are a testament to the league's lack of prestige at the time. Yardley was 25 when he joined the league, having held off joining the Pistons (then in Fort Wayne) despite being a first-round draft pick, so that he might make the 1952 Olympic team, only to break his hand. And he quit at 31 so that he might might put to use the engineering degree he earned at Stanford. What a world. Despite his shirt career, Yardley was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996.

George Yardley, one-time NBA scoring champion, was born November 3, 1928, in Hollywood, California.

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