On October 1, 1999, Zollner was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor.
Fred Zollner (January 22, 1901 – June 21, 1982) was called “Mr. Pro Basketball” as the founder and longtime owner along with his sister Janet of the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons) and a key figure in the merger of National Basketball League and Basketball Association of America into the National Basketball Association in 1949.
The Zollner Pistons began playing in 1941 in an industrial league. In 1974, he recalled that, “Instead of making friends, we made enemies, because no one could beat us.” He personally recruited his players, including later Hall of Famers Andy Phillip, Bob McDermott, Bob Houbregs, Buddy Jeannette and George Yardley. The Zollner Pistons were a very popular franchise, winning the world championship in 1944 and 1945, and reaching the NBA Finals in 1954 and 1955, losing both times. He was the first pro basketball team owner to hire a bench coach.
In 1957, Zollner moved the team to Detroit, a much larger city that had previously had an NBA franchise, the Detroit Falcons, which failed after the 1946–47 season, the NBA’s (BAA’s) first. Since Detroit was the nation’s largest automotive assembly center, the team name, based on its previous locality, still fit: The Detroit Pistons.
In 1974, he sold the Pistons to William Davidson for $7 million (equal to $33 million in 2012). Zollner and Davidson remained the only two majority owners in the history of the longest-running franchise in the history of professional basketball until the death of Davidson in March, 2009. On June 1, 2011, Platinum Equity billionaire Tom Gores bought the Detroit Pistons, along with Palace Sports and Entertainment, from Davidson’s widow.
At the 1975 Silver Anniversary NBA All-Star Game, Zollner was named “Mr. Pro Basketball” for his status as a founder and longtime supporter of the NBA. He died in North Miami, Florida.
On October 1, 1999, Zollner was inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor. Today, the NBA Western Conference Championship trophy is named in his honor.
The Zolner Piston Story, Rodger R. Nelson, Published 1995 by Allen County Public Library Foundation in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 267pp.