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The Worst First Pick in Basketball History

There’s not much we can say with certainty as Thursday's NBA draft approaches. Some team will get a terrific bargain in this draft. Some team will burn its pick on a colossal disappointment whose name will be whispered in the same breath those of uber-busts Darko Mili?i? and Marcus Fizer. NBA general managers should take heart, though. No matter how boneheaded their draft picks are, no matter how colossally their selections flop, they won’t make the worst NBA draft selection of all time. That distinction goes to the very first pick of the league’s very first draft.

When the Basketball Association of America held its inaugural draft on July 1, 1947, the Pittsburgh Ironmen held the first overall pick. (The BAA would merge with the National Basketball League in 1949 to form the National Basketball Association.) The Ironmen used the league’s first-ever pick to select Clifton McNeely, a 28-year-old guard from Texas Wesleyan and veteran of the Army Air Corps. This decision proved to be one of the worst in league history, right up there with “Let’s lock up Jerome James for five years, $30 million!”

From a basketball standpoint, the selection of McNeely made sense. The Ironmen’s struggling offense had only managed to score 61.2 points per game the previous season. The team’s defense was on the wrong side of mediocre, too, so Pittsburgh had piled up a rotten 15-45 record and finished dead last in the standings. McNeely, meanwhile, had been an All-American at Texas Wesleyan while leading the nation in scoring. An anemic offense snapping up a scoring savant seemed perfectly logical.

Just one problem...

Or, rather, it would have been perfectly logical if McNeely had wanted to play pro basketball. He didn’t. McNeely turned down the Ironmen’s employment offer in favor of staying home and coaching high school hoops in Pampa, TX. (Apparently the pre-draft interview process for prospects was less rigorous in those days; nobody bothered to ask questions like, “You do want to play pro basketball, right?”) It wasn’t a bad decision for McNeely; he coached Pampa to four state titles in 13 years on the bench. He later became a principal and school administrator.

To put it mildly, the bungled pick didn’t turn out quite as well for the Ironmen. Owner John Harris actually folded the team before the 1947-48 BAA season even started. The best evidence that the Ironmen ever existed comes from their terrible showing in the team’s one and only draft.

The Ironmen weren’t the only BAA squad who left the 1947 draft with nothing to show for their first-round pick, though. The Providence Steamrollers selected University of Connecticut standout Walt Dropo with the fourth overall pick of the draft. Dropo spurned the Steamrollers to join the Boston Red Sox. He was both an All-Star and the American League Rookie of the Year in 1950 at the beginning of a 13-year MLB career.

Of course, the only thing more frustrating than wasting picks is seeing the players you pass over go on to great things. While McNeely, Dropo, and two of the other 10 first-round picks never suited up for their respective squads, three players taken much later in the draft would later earn induction into the Hall of Fame: Harry “the Horse” Gallatin, 6’4” forward-center Jim Pollard, and swingman Andy Phillip.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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iStock

Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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