Caterpillar leaders and former Caterpillar basketball players recently unveiled a new exhibit at the Caterpillar Visitors Center. The Caterpillar Diesels/Peoria Cats Basketball Exhibit gives a rare glimpse into one of the most dominant teams in the National Industrial Basketball League and, at one time, the world.
The exhibit showcases the history of the team, which played in the National Industrial Basketball League from 1947-1960. At the time, the National Industrial Basketball League rivaled the National Basketball Association’s level of talent. Team members were all Caterpillar employees, who by day, worked in offices and factories. At night, they were some of the world’s greatest basketball players. Caterpillar believed its basketball program was important to the company, as it helped develop employees and their careers.
“Caterpillar has always been committed to its employees and community,” said Kathryn Spitznagle, Caterpillar Visitors Center manager. “This exhibit shows that our company is not only the machines and engines we make. It’s about the people – in this case, basketball players – who honored Caterpillar with their great skills on the court and their long careers with the company after their playing days were over. They made both the company and the community proud.”
The Peoria area rallied around the team during its games at the Field House on the Bradley University campus, while the nation rallied around the team during its gold medal victory in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. Five Caterpillar players were on the team, which was led by Caterpillar’s head coach. Two Caterpillar players also represented the United States during the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. That team also won the gold medal. Over the course of a decade, the Caterpillar Diesels/Peoria Cats won numerous other national and international titles.
A 1952 Olympic gold medal is on display at the Caterpillar Visitors Center, along with game-worn jerseys, players’ personal memorabilia, photographs, game footage and other artifacts. The exhibit will be open until June 30.
-Olympic basketball team members Frank McCabe of the Peoria Cats and Bob Kurland of the Phillips “66” Oilers pose with the Russian Olympic team captain.
-Dan Pippin, captain of the team, receiving his gold medal first in the gold medal ceremony
U.S. playing in an Olympic game:
Bert Born of the Peoria Cats scoring:
The U.S. team with their Olympic gold medals: