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Old Fort Lewis Warriors team battled Harlem Globetrotters

Courtesy of Washington State University Gale Bishop came to Fort Lewis in the 1940s after playing college basketball at Washington State University. Bishop was a big part of the 1945 Fort Lewis Warriors basketball team.

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Former Major League Baseball pitcher Danny Litwhiler’s time on Fort Lewis in the mid-1940s included being part of the undefeated Fort Lewis Warriors baseball team that went 45-0 that year. Litwhiler was also part of a championship basketball team on the installation.

In his autobiography “Danny Litwhiler: Living the Baseball Dream,” Litwhiler wrote about the Fort Lewis Warriors basketball team he put together to win the Ninth Service Command Championship in 1945.

“In my job as director of recreation and entertainment, I assumed the position as head basketball coach,” Litwhiler wrote. “I put together one fine basketball team. We won the Ninth Service Command championship in basketball.”

Litwhiler wrote his assistant coach and on-the-floor captain was Matt Guokas, who played one season for the 1946-47 Philadelphia Warriors of the Basketball Association of America.

The team included Walt Kirk, a former star at the University of Illinois, who played two seasons in the National Basketball Association. The Warriors also had an All-American in Lou Posner, DePaul University, and several talented high school basketball players.

“A number of college players (participated), but no one exceptional who went on too far,” said Duane Denfeld, Joint Base Lewis-McChord historian.

Gail Bishop was easily the top player for the Warriors. Born in Bellingham, Wash., Bishop played at Washington State University before coming to Fort Lewis. He had actually come to Fort Lewis in 1943 during World War II, but he was part of the Warriors’ team for three consecutive trips to the annual Amateur Athletic Union Basketball Tournament.

“(There were) a lot of corporate teams,” Denfeld said. “They give (basketball players) a job title and then they go play basketball all day.”

In the second round of the 1945 AAU Tournament in 1945, Bishop set the record for the most points scored by an individual with 62 points. The record was set during a second round game against a Chamber of Commerce team from Hoxie, Ark. — a game where Fort Lewis won 87-21.

“That was a little overdone,” Denfeld said. “It was like running up the scoreboard and padding stats.”

Bishop scored 32 points against the Peoria Caterpillars the very next night. He was reportedly a big focus by opposing teams, according to Adolph Grundman in “The Golden Age of Amateur Basketball: The AAU Tournament, 1921-1968,” until Fort Lewis was eliminated by the Cessna Bobcats. The tournament was won by the Phillips 66ers over the Ambrose Jellymakers of Denver, 47-46.

Although the team didn’t win the AAU Tournament, it did have a special highlight when playing the Harlem Globetrotters Feb. 21 at the Tacoma Armory. The two teams also played each other in 1943 as the first game presented by the Tacoma Athletic Commission, which was won by Fort Lewis, 36-28.

The Harlem Globetrotters earned revenge with three wins that year, including Feb. 21, 1945, 46-45. Bishop led the team with 20 points, according to a Tacoma News Tribune article by Ed Honeywell that ran days later.

Outside of Guokas’ professional career, Bishop was the only Warrior to play professionally after leaving Fort Lewis. Bishop spent one season with the Philadelphia Warriors for the 1948-49 season after signing a $10,000 signing bonus.

“At that time, it was a big signing bonus,” Denfeld said. “Today, who would play for that?”

Bishop averaged eight points per game with the Warriors before a knee injury ended his basketball career.

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