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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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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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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