Four major leagues gave professional basketball an apparent glow of prosperity, but it was deceiving. The Eastern Basketball League, the New York State Basketball League and the Interstate Basketball League were all ailing financially. Only the second-year Metropolitan Basketball League showed any signs of vitality.
Overshadowing everything was the intimidating presence of the Original Celtics who terrorized two different leagues for brief periods of time when not involved on long barnstorming junkets. Jim Furey’s club traveled to 114 cities in 13 states in the course of their 205-game season. The Nat Holman and Johnny Beckman-led squad won 193 games while losing only eleven times and playing one tie. The Celtics’ season was a truly magnificent accomplishment, yet ironically they were frustrated in their claim for the mythical national title because of an unheralded team that split its season between Kingston, New York, and Paterson, New Jersey.
Twenty-three year old Benny Borgmann was the spark plug that made the Kingston-Paterson team go. The 5’8″ Paterson native was a deadly set shot artist who could also drive to the basket for layup with great skill. He would soon displace Beckman as the game’s greatest offensive star. The rest of the team was made up of journeymen players. Charlie Powers was a strong rebounder who backed up Borgmann’s offensive heroics with occasional outbursts of double-digit scoring. His brother Artie was a good passer and strong defender. Harry Knoblauch and Nick Harvey filled out the squad. With the exception of Borgmann, none of the players were in the class of the Celtics, yet for this one season they were better than the best team in basketball.
The Celtics could only win twice in six meetings with Borgmann’s squad. Kingston-Paterson took the first two meetings by a one-point margin in both games. The Celtics finally broke through in their third meeting with a convincing 39-24 victory on their homecourt at Madison Square Garden. They gained further satisfaction with a five-point win over Borgmann’s squad the next night in Kingston to even the informal series at two games apiece. The two teams did not met again until four months later in early April with the Celtics determined to eradicate the blemish on their record. Once again the mighty Celtics could not control Borgmann, who scored 14 points to lead his team to a convincing 24-19 win. In a last attempt to salvage the series, the Celtics took on Borgmann’s team in Paterson in late April. Nat Holman led a furious Celtics’ first-half attack to take a seven-point halftime lead, while Chris Leonard kept Borgmann under wraps. But in the second-half, Borgmann broke loose with 15 points to give Paterson a 29-27 win.
In addition to their supremacy over the Celtics, the unheralded squad won both the Metropolitan and New York State League titles, while Borgmann led both circuits in scoring by wide margins. Overall it was one of the most memorable seasons by any professional team in the history of the game.
The Original Celtics won twelve straight games without a defeat in the first half of MBL action before they dropped out to tour, leaving runner-up Elizabeth to claim first place. Borgmann toiled futilely through the first half with an undermanned Paterson team to a seventh place finish. At the break, the Paterson management contracted with Kingston owner Pop Morgenweck for the Borgmann’s New York State League teammates to also represent the New Jersey city team in the second half of the Metropolitan League season. The new Paterson team finished tied for first place with the Brooklyn Pros, and then took two out of three playoff games from them to claim the second season title. Later they captured the league championship by the same margin from first-half champion Elizabeth.
Borgmann led the same squad to the NYSL championship. Strengthened by the talented brother duo of Carl and Mickey Husta, Borgmann and his teammates posted a 33-9 league record for Kingston while winning both halves of the split-season format.
The EBL began the season without the defending champion Original Celtics or the weak Wilkes-Barre club. New teams were added in Philadelphia and Atlantic City to bring the membership back up to six clubs. Last season’s problems of imbalance remained critical. Trenton and Camden could not be defeated by any of the other members of the league. The two New Jersey giants locked into entertaining, closely contested struggles against each other, but they toyed with the rest of the members of the league. In a typical game Trenton humiliated Philadelphia by a 32-8 score in an early December game, with the Jaspers managing to score their only points from the free throw line.
In late November, the Original Celtics signed to represent Atlantic City in the EBL and quickly reeled off five victories in six games. The Celtics did not draw large enough crowds to support their expensive guarantee, however, and within a few weeks pulled out of the league. The Celtics departure did nothing to solve the fundamental problem of the lesser teams’ inability to compete with the powerhouses in Camden and Trenton. The Atlantic City franchise staggered on a while longer, but along with Reading, dropped out at the end of the first half, reducing the league to just four teams. In hopes of saving the league, pleas were made to the New Jersey owners to release some of their players to the remaining teams to balance the competition, but they refused. In January of 1923, after twelve years as the premier professional league, the Eastern Basketball League disbanded.
Holyoke won an abbreviated Interstate League season, while Cathedral took the title of the Philadelphia League, hastily formed after the demise of the Eastern League.