In the shadowy rafters of the Onondaga War Memorial hangs a fading banner commemorating one of the Salt City's lesser-known achievements: An NBA title.
Back in the NBA's ninth season in 1955, which was the first season NBA games were televised by NBC, The Syracuse Nationals beat the Boston Celtics to earn a shot at the NBA's championship. Behind future Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes and All-NBA forward Paul Seymour, the Nationals took the Fort Wayne Pistons to seven games and eked out a 92-91 win for their first and only NBA title.
Even in NBA history, that's still considered only the second-best thing the team did all season. At the time the NBA was a plodding and perilously slow-scoring affair. Just two years earlier, the Nationals and the Celtics took a playoff matchup to quadruple-overtime in what is still considered the longest playoff game in NBA history. The final score was 111 to 105 in favor of the Celtics, which seems like a fairly normal NBA score until you consider it happened in the equivalent of nearly two games.
During the 1954-55 season, Nationals owner Danny Biasone suggested that the NBA was turning into a giant game of keep-away featuring players on winning teams just holding the ball until the game ended. He recommended that the NBA add a shot clock to force players to put the ball in the air and calculated that a 24-second clock would result in at least 30 shots per quarter. The shot clock was a success and became an NBA fixture.
The same couldn't be said for the Nationals, who would last only eight more seasons in Syracuse. Investors bought the team from Biasone and, in 1963, moved it to Philadelphia to become the 76ers. A year later, the team acquired future Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain and began assembling the team that would earn the franchise its second NBA title in 1967.
Back in Syracuse, meanwhile, the pros never came calling again. While Jim Boehiem and his Syracuse University team started making NCAA Final Four appearances in the 1980s and 1990s before freshman Carmelo Anthony finally helped them to a title in 2003, the town was considered too small for the pros.
Syracuse University sends athletes to the NFL and NBA. The Triple A Syracuse Chiefs send their best down to the Washington Nationals. The Syracuse Crunch now play hockey beneath the Syracuse Nationals championship banner and move their best talent along to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The only remnants of Syracuse's big-league glory are the banner and a monument to the original shot clock, which was dedicated in Downtown Syracuse in 2005.