Born: October 9, 1924
Died: August 4, 2012
Indianapolis Kautskys (1945-’48)
Rochester Royals (1948-’55)
Boston Celtics (1955-’58)
Arnie Risen’s pro basketball career spanned 13 years that saw dramatic change in the sport. The NBA didn’t exist. Towns like Sheboygan were in the major leagues. Regulation games were 40 minutes long just like in college. And, of course, there was no shot clock. The game may have been different, but legends arise in any era and Arnie Risen is certainly a legend of the game.
He began his pro career with the Indianapolis Kautskys of the NBL. The Kautskys snagged Risen midway through the 1945-46 campaign. Acquiring Risen, who had led the Ohio State Buckeyes to two Final Four appearances, was quite the coup for Indianapolis.
“Stilts,” as the tall Risen was called, didn’t last too long in Indy, however. The Rochester Royals bought Risen midway through the 1947-48 season from the Kautskys, who were suffering financial difficulties. Loud cries of protest rose from other NBL clubs since the transaction occurred a week after the league’s trade deadline. The transaction was nonetheless upheld and the upstate New York team, known for its fantastic guard play, now had a center to combat the mighty George Mikan of Minneapolis.
From 1948 to 1955, the Royals jumped from the NBL to the BAA to the NBA and boasted a spectacular 339 – 197 record along the way. Risen was instrumental in the success. His tough rebounding and stout defense, helped slow down opposing centers like Mikan. On offense, Risen was no less important.
In the 1951 playoffs, Risen and Mikan went toe-to-toe in the Western Division Finals. Big George scored 32 points and Stilts 26 in Game 4 of the series which the Royals won to finally dethrone the Lakers. In the next round, the Royals took on the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals. Risen was amazing the entire series leading all players in points (21.7) and rebounds (14.2) per game. If the Finals MVP award existed at that point, Risen would have took home the honors as he led the Royals to their only NBA title.
Rochester slowly declined thereafter, but Risen continued his success appearing in the first four NBA all-star games. In 1955, the Royals endured their first losing season and finally dismantled their squad selling Risen to the Boston Celtics after that season. Nearing basketball retirement, Risen was a sage influence for the NBA’s next dominating center, Bill Russell.
The NBA’s greatest winner credited Arnie Risen with helping him adjust from college to the more physical play of the NBA. Risen wasn’t entirely washed up just yet, though. In Game 7 of the 1957 Finals, Stilts summoned up one final moment of glory tossing in 16 points. Every single one of those points was needed as the Celtics barely survived 125 – 123 to defeat the St. Louis Hawks in double overtime to win their first title.
50 years later in 2007, that Celtics team reunited. Russell and Risen were just as chummy then as they were back in the 1950s. The affable Arnie had that kind of influence on people. One of the great players and great people in basketball history.
2x NBA Champion (1951, 1957)
All-NBL 2nd Team (1947)
All-BAA 2nd Team (1949)
4x NBA All-Star (1952-’55)