From 1972 until 1975 the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, a member of the National Basketball Association (NBA), played a handful of home games in Omaha’s Civic Auditorium. That three-year span was a rare moment in Nebraska history, a brief time when the Cornhusker State could claim a big league team of its own.
The Kings' stay in Omaha is well known to many Nebraska sports fans, particularly those with an interest in history. Less well known is the story of Omaha's first major professional basketball team. That team, nicknamed the Omahawks, predated the Kings by twenty-five years, playing in the ill-fated Professional Basketball Leagues of American (PBLA) for three weeks in the fall of 1947. Although the existence of that team and its league was incredibly brief, its story is worth remembering as one of the unique episodes in Nebraska sports history, a history in which basketball is often overlooked. A roster that featured five home-grown players--four of whom spent time in the nation's service during World War II-- the story of the Omahawks is the story of the limits and possibilities for Nebraskans chasing pro dreams in the postwar years. Omaha's PBLA franchise belonged to the league's Northen Division, along with St. Joseph, Kansas City, St. Paul, Chicago, and Waterloo, Iowa. The PBLA office tabbed Frank Hagan, Creighton University athletic director, as the business manager for Omaha's team. Len Shepherd, who had played semi-professional basketball in regional leagues around the Midwest in the 1920s, came on as coach. As for the name on the team--The "Omahawks"-- it was chosen during a naming contest conducted with the aid of the Omaha World-Herald. The newspaper reported that Mrs. A. B. Richie Jr., of Auburn, Nebraska, supplied the winning entry. The full article by Paul Emory Putz is published in the 2016 winter edition of Nebraska History. To order a back issue, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe, click here.