The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. developed an extensive intramural athletic program for its employees. Other Akron companies — including Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. and General Tire and Rubber Co. — were doing the same.
The earliest known photograph of a Goodyear Wingfoots basketball team, an intramural squad, is dated 1914, according to Goodyear's director of national media relations, Keith Price. By about 1917, Goodyear, Firestone General Tire and other Akron companies competed against one another in multiple sports in the Akron Industrial Athletic Association.
The industrial leagues were a part of a movement within the burgeoning factory-based industries across the country to engage employees in team-building exercises, said historian Jeffrey Smith. Smith, who is on the faculty of Lindenwood University in St. Louis, wrote his University of Akron doctoral dissertation on the Akron industrial leagues.
Other businesses were forming the same kinds of competitive teams across the nation, said Smith, including the steel mills of Pittsburgh and Youngstown, automobile manufacturers in Detroit and many more in virtually every region of the country.
In the case of the Goodyear Wingfoots and the Firestone Non-Skids (the Non-Skid being the first treaded car tire), basketball also was a chance to show the use of rubber as an athletic shoe sole.
In a very short time, though, teams started recruiting and paying outside players. In the case of Goodyear, players were offered jobs in the factories and offices in return for playing for the company team for two years. About 20% of those players stuck with the companies, said Price, and the teams included several future top executives of Goodyear.
The 1920-21 Firestone team featured a skinny future shoe salesman by the name of Charles Hollis "Chuck" Taylor. The cover of his biography features a photo of Taylor, whose name graces the famed Converse shoes, in his Firestone uniform.
Victor Holt, Jr. was an college basketball standout at Oklahoma (1st national player of the year) in the late 1920s. He was an All-American and the Helms National Player of the Year in 1928. After college he played basketball in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) for Cook's Painter Boys, located in Kansas City, Missouri. With them he won two national championships in 1928 and 1929.
After basketball he worked at Goodyear , making his way gradually up the ranks through a series of sales and management jobs, and was the 10th president of Goodyear Tire Company in 1964. During his tenure, the company enjoyed a period of record profits.
Akron industrial teams helped form the core of the Amateur Athletic Union, winning several national AAU championships from the 1930s through the 1960s.
In the late 1930s, the national industrial basketball leagues began to morph. In 1936, the Wingfoots joined the semi-professional Midwest Basketball Conference. The next year, 13 industrial basketball teams, organized by Goodyear, Firestone and General Electric, formed the National Basketball League.
Akron became title town: Goodyear won the league's first championship, and Firestone won the next two. The Goodyear Wingfoots dropped out of competitive basketball during World War II, coming back into it after the war was over.
The NBL continued, however, and, in 1949, merged with the failing Basketball Association of America to form the National Basketball Association. Of the 17 original NBA teams, five that still play have direct roots to the NBL and the local industrial leagues: the Lakers, Pistons, Hawks, 76ers and Kings. The three BAA teams are now the NBA's Knicks, Warriors and Celtics.
"If (the Wingfoots) had stayed playing in the NBL, one of the original NBA teams would have come from Akron," said Price.
But the Goodyear Wingfoots went a different route.
"When we came back into competitive basketball, we went to the National Industrial Basketball League," said Price.
Goodyear and four other industrial teams formed the NIBL in 1947. Goodyear stayed in that league until it became a part of the National Alliance of Basketball Leagues in 1961.
Basketball players who needed to retain their eligibility or weren't interested in the NBA played in the amateur leagues. At the time, said Price, working for Goodyear actually paid more than professional basketball. Plus, NBA jobs were hard to get.
Holt became president of Goodyear in 1964, and the Wingfoots won the NABL title, with a team featuring three members of the gold medal-winning 1964 U.S. Olympic basketball team: Larry Brown (who was head coach of the Detroit Pistons from 2003 to 2005 and led the team to the NBA championship in 2004, the only coach in NBA history to lead eight different teams to the playoffs), Dick Davies and Pete McCaffrey, along with the Wingfoot's coach, Henry V. "Hank" Vaughn.
The Wingfoots also won the league championship in 1968, featuring Olympians Cal Fowler and Jim King, along with Vaughn.
Former NBA All-Star Adrian Smith had also played for the team in 1961.
Goodyear ended its team sponsorship in 1970, Holt retired in 1972
Holt also became an auto racing enthusiast co-owner. He also is notable for having suggested the name of the famous auto-racing empire Dan Gurney's All American Racers, in which he was a partner/co-owner.
Goodyear was looking for an appropriate player with whom to partner, and found him in Hamilton.
According to Ed Markey, Goodyear's vice president of North American Tire public relations, Hamilton fit the bill in many ways.