Hoops History

Former Nittany Lion "Whitey" Von Nieda is the oldest living former NBA player.

Photo by Daniel Collins

Stanley "Whitey" Von Nieda, like any other basketball player in the early 1940s, had to try out for the Penn State freshman team. One day the varsity coach, John Lawther, asked a few of the freshman hopefuls to scrimmage against his players. Von Nieda, a lanky 6-foot-1 forward from Ephrata, Pa., promptly set about destroying the upperclassmen in Lawther’s vaunted defense.

Lawther looked at the freshman coach, pointed to Von Nieda, and said, “He’s on the team.” 

That was the beginning of a basketball journey that took Von Nieda ’47 H&HD from Rec Hall to Germany and, eventually, to an NBA in its infancy. Von Nieda, who turned 100 last June, is the league’s oldest living former player and its first to reach the century mark.

After his season on the freshman team, Von Nieda did not play as a sophomore, then joined the varsity squad as a junior. The following year, he was called up for World War II duty as a paratrooper in the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps and wound up as the highest-scoring player in an occupation troop league in Berlin. There, he caught the eye of legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, who told him to see him about a scholarship when he returned home.

Instead, Von Nieda resumed classes at Penn State in 1946 but did not play for the Nittany Lions; he drove home on weekends to play for the Lancaster Red Roses of the Eastern Basketball League, which he led in scoring for two seasons. Von Nieda later played for the Tri-Cities Blackhawks of the National Basketball League for three seasons, the last after the NBL merged with the Basketball Association of America to form the NBA, then was traded to the Baltimore Bullets in 1949. He averaged 5.3 points in 59 NBA games.

“I played against the best that there were in that time,” says Von Nieda, who lives in Lancaster. “And I felt very proud to be able to do that.”