Born: June 4, 1921
Died: January 23, 2016
Position: Point and Shooting Guard
Rochester Royals (NBL/BAA/NBA): 1947-’57
A wee fellow of only 5’11”, Bobby Wanzer was a big part of the Rochester Royals’ great teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
His first games with the Royals came during the 1947-48 NBL season when he was 26-years-old. The long wait was simply because Wanzer was fulfilling his duties as a United States Marine. Wanzer’s later fame and glory weren’t gleamed from this rookie year. The sage rookie averaged a pitiful four points a game as he played backup to Bob Davies and Al Cervi.
The Royals, however, bolted for the BAA after the 1948 NBL season. Cervi, for his part, bolted to the Syracuse Nationals, leaving a bigger role for Wanzer to fill in the new league with the same old team. Ostensibly the “off-guard”, Wanzer helped dribbling wizard Davies orchestrate the pass-heavy Royals offense that never depended on one super scorer in marked contrast to their George Mikan-driven rival, the Minneapolis Lakers. Those battles with the Lakers raged in the NBL, the BAA and, finally, as the BAA merged with the NBL in 1949, the NBA .
In 1951, the Royals finally knocked off their nemesis Minneapolis and then downed the New York Knicks for the NBA title. Wanzer, true to Royals form, never carried eye-popping scoring numbers, but he more often than not gave the Royals some extra zest in the postseason.
During that 1951 title-winning postseason, Wanzer delivered a pretty good 12.5 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists on some incredible shooting: 47% FG and 91% FT. For some perspective, the average FG% was .357 and the average FT% was .733 back in 1951.
This turned out to be a habit for “Hooks.” From 1950 to 1955, he averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 44% FG and 89% FT in the playoffs. Meanwhile in the regular season he was good for 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 40% FG, and 81% FT.
When he retired in 1957, Wanzer was third in career free throw percentage with a mark of 88%. His superb mark from the line was all the more beneficial because he went there a lot. His free throw rate – the ratio of FTAs per FGA – was a pretty robust .516 for his NBA career. In the regular season he averaged over five free throw attempts a game in six of his eight full NBA seasons. In the playoffs he averaged 6.3 FTAs, including a ridiculous 47-for-49 (96%) free throw shooting spree in the 1952 playoffs.
The man clearly had a sense of the moment and the pressure. Only once in eight postseasons did he fail to elevate his PPG above his regular season average. And his overall career playoff averages are higher than his regular season averages in large part thanks to his ability to draw fouls and sink free throws with the best of players:
“Little Bobby Wanzer, the Rochester Royals’ eagle-eyed guard, is proof that you don’t have to stand 6-foot 6-inches or better to make your way in professional basketball. Wanzer… yesterday equaled the all-time NBA foul shooting record for a single game by rolling in 15 of 15 chances.”
Given his five All-Star and three All-NBA selections, the Toledo Blade was right in their assessment of Wanzer back in 1951. A stellar shooter in every regard with the notable distinction of being the first NBA player to make over 90% of his free throws for a full season, Bobby Wanzer was a perennial regal presence for the Rochester Royals.
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1952-’54)
5x All-Star (1952-’56)
Regular Season Career Averages (608 games):
Playoff Career Averages (49 games):