They were Chicago’s first basketball champs — until the trophy was taken away

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Chicagoans  know all about the basketball dynasty of the Bulls in the 1990s, but have probably never heard of a franchise that could have been just as dominant decades earlier: The Chicago American Gears.

Maurice White owned the Chicago American Gear company in Chicago, where they made machine parts to help the war effort during WWII. But his dream was to own a pro basketball team and bring a championship to Chicago. So he started the Gears in 1945, signing players who also worked in the company’s office or factory, and joined the National Basketball League (NBL). Future NBA legend George Mikan even played for the team.

The Gears won the NBL tournament in 1947, 50 years before the Bulls won their sixth banner. They were Chicago’s first professional basketball champions — until their trophy was taken away.

Before he passed away in 2014, Gears point guard Dick Triptow and his wife Helen published a book about his memories of the team, and how they won it all before it was taken away. Triptow said the other team owners didn’t like Maurice White, so they gave the championship to the team with the best regular season record instead.

Larry Potash has the backstory on the Chicago American Gears’ rise — and fall — from glory.

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