1919-1920

Professional basketball made a strong comeback in the post-war glow of prosperity. Four pre-war leagues resumed play and a new circuit began its initial season. With five organizations (comprising over thirty teams) competing for talent, there were continual disputes over player contracts. If a team wanted a player, they did not hesitate to sign him, even if he was performing for a club in another circuit. This resulted in the better players playing in two or three leagues. If there happened to be a scheduling conflict, the highest bidder, got the services of the man for that night. The practice hurt the credibility of the game, because key players were often absent from crucial games.

The Eastern Basketball League maintained its status as the premier circuit as it began its tenth season of competition. The Camden Skeeters took the championship of both halves of the split season with a team that combined the Skeeters’ traditionally powerful offense with a new dedication to defense. Youngsters Dave Kerr and Neil Deighen were both strong, mobile defenders. Veteran center Eddie Donlin had few equals at directing plays off the tip-off. Fourteen-year veteran Roy Steele remained the league’s best all-around player. Always a strong defender, he turned his ball-handling and passing skills to running Camden’s highly disciplined passing attack. During the war years Steele had returned to his home in Pittsburgh to play with a team in Wilmerding, just outside the city. During this time, he discovered a young player by the name of James “Soup” Campbell, who possessed astonishing natural instincts for the game. In his rookie season in the EBL, Campbell became an instant star with his strong shooting and pinpoint passing.

The five-team Pennsylvania State Basketball League opened play with strong teams in Nanticoke, Pittston, and Scranton, and non-contenders in Plymouth and Wilkes-Barre. The Scranton Miners won the first half of the split season by winning nine straight games at the outset of the season and then holding off Nanticoke. Veterans Frank Bruggy and Elmer Ripley were the primary scorers for Scranton, while 6’7″ rookie Stretch Meehan provided rebounding. Pittston jumped off to a big lead in the second half of the season, but could not hold off the powerful Nanticoke club. Player-coach Dick Leary relied on league scoring champion Johnny Beckman to run Nanticoke’s offense and young Dutch Dehnert for his bone-jarring defensive play. Fearing Nanticoke’s strength in the playoffs, Scranton beefed up its squad by signing Eastern League ace Nat Holman. The move quickly paid dividends when the underdog Miners upset Nanticoke 30-23 in the first game of the best-of-five series, but Nanticoke quickly adjusted and came back to claim the PSL title with three straight wins.

The New York Basketball State League returned to major league status after a series of shaky pre-war campaigns. Ten teams answered the bell in late October, for the beginning of a two-session season. With veteran stars Barney Sedran and Marty Friedman performing spryly, and powerful young guard Harry Riconda making a large contribution, Albany streaked to the first-half title with an amazing 17-1 mark. Troy, strengthened by the additions of Chris Leonard and Chief Muller, took the second half crown, edging Albany by three games. The championship series was not played because the teams could not come to an agreement over money or location.

Two Interstate leagues operated during the season. Both were handicapped, however, by their dependency on moonlighting EBL, PSL, or NYSL players. Uncertainty about player appearances affected the game on the court and the receipts at the box office. The pre-war circuit, in southern Connecticut and metropolitan New York City area, gradually unraveled as the season progressed and disbanded in mid-January. A new league active in Massachusetts and northern Connecticut survived because of strong local newspaper support. Big-name performers such as Chief Muller, Swede Grimstead, and Johnny Beckman appeared on the roster of the champion Bigelow-Hartford club.

EASTERN BASKETBALL LEAGUE

INTERSTATE (MASSACHUSETTS) BASKETBALL LEAGUE

INTERSTATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

NEW YORK STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

NORTHERN NEW YORK STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

PENNSYLVANIA STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

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