1923-1924

While organized leagues in the East continued to fail, the overall popularity of the professional game grew substantially, boosted by an explosion of interest in the Midwest.  Cleveland, Detroit, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, all boasted first-rate teams and an avid following.

Max Rosenblum, a Cleveland clothier, spent money freely to promote the game in the Ohio city and was rewarded with crowds of up to 10,000 fans for some contests.  Venerable pro star Marty Freidman served as player-coach of the Rosenblums, whose roster also featured standouts Stretch Meehan, Honey Russell, and Ray Kennedy.  The Fort Wayne Knights of Columbus team was another powerhouse, loaded with well-known eastern stars such as Barney Sedran, Horse Haggerty, Elmer Ripley, and Dave Kerr.  In Detroit, three strong clubs, the Red Arrows, McCarthys, and the Pulaski Post all vied for supremacy, Homer Stonebraker, a 6’3” forward who had starred at Wabash (Indiana) College, led the McCarthys to the city title.

The Original Celtics still reigned supreme.  The New Yorkers started the new season by winning sixty-nine of their first seventy games, and suffered only six defeats in the course of their six-month season.  The Celtics lineup remained largely intact, combining the exquisite offensive feints and thrusts of Nat Holman and Johnny Beckman with an impenetrable defensive wall provided by Dutch Dehnert and Chris Leonard.  The only change was at center where Horse Haggerty had been released in favor of Joe Lapchick.  At the time it seemed like a strange move in many ways.  Haggerty was a first-rate center, popular with both the fans and his teammates, but the Celtics saw in Lapchick the center of the future — height combined with excellent speed.  The twenty-three year old Lapchick had played professionally since 1915, but his education began all over again with the Celtics.  The veterans had to indoctrinate the gangling youngster to the ways of the Celtics.  Lapchick, like other centers at the time, had played on teams where he jumped for the center tap and did some rebounding, but essentially stayed out of the offensive and defensive flow of the game.  In the Celtics’ scheme, the center was an integral part of their switching man-to-man defense.  Lapchick was thoroughly frustrated in his early attempts to meld with the rest of the team, but his hard work and his teammates patience brought the Celtics ample rewards over the next decade.

With the Eastern Basketball League out of the picture, the Metropolitan Basketball League reigned as the most powerful of the remaining major basketball leagues, but not without considerable shuffling of teams and players.  Gone from the league were the Arcadians, Dodgers, Elizabeth, and Mac Dowell teams.  The Brooklyn Visitation, Greenpoint, Paterson, and Yonkers teams were holdovers.  Kingston, winner of the New York State League, and Trenton, the former Eastern Basketball League power, were added to bring the membership to six teams.

Brooklyn won all the MBL honors.  The Visitation started fast and were never seriously challenged during the first half of the split season.  The Paterson Legionnaires made a strong second half showing, but a late season 43-40 homecourt loss to the Visitation proved fatal to their first-place aspirations. The Legionnaires had to settle for the second spot behind the champion Brooklyn team. The Visitation were a young, fast, talented squad that operated under he astute guidance of owner-coach John Donlin.  Joe Brennan and Davey Banks finished two-three in the individual scoring race, giving Brooklyn unmatched firepower under the basket.  Brennan was a strong inside player who muscled his way to many points and was frequently fouled in the process.  Banks was a set-shooting star who would occasionally swing into the basket for a layup.  The supporting cast was equally young.  Newcomers Red Conaty and Bob Griebe both showed talent on defense, while twenty-two-year old Rody Cooney showed skills as a playmaker.  The only veteran on the squad was Swede Grimstead, active since the days of Ed Wachter’s Troy Trojans, but still a capable center.

The Cinderella Paterson-Kingston combine from last season was split into two separate teams.  Benny Borgmann chose to sign with his hometown Paterson team.  Artie Powers, Nick Harvey, and Harry Knoblauch remained from last year’s championship squad and veterans Joe Dreyfus and Elmer Ripley were added.  The Legionnaires played well throughout the season, but last year’s special chemistry was gone. Too often the entire squad shut down offensively and allowed Borgmann to shoulder the entire scoring load.  One of the missing ingredients, Charlie Powers, was playing one hundred miles to the north in Kingston.  Powers and Babe Artus gave the New Yorkers strength under the basket while Soup Campbell and Carl Husta gave them long-range firepower.  Kingston provided first place Brooklyn with its stiffest first half opposition, but faded during the second session.

The season’s biggest surprise was the mediocre showing of former EBL power Trenton.  Tom Barlow, Eddie Donlin, Maurice Tome, Stretch Meehan, Teddy Kearns, George Glasco, and Lou Sugarman were all tough, seasoned professionals who in past seasons crushed most opponents and had on more than one occasion battled the mighty Celtics to a standstill.   Against Metropolitan League competition, two third-place finishes were  the best the Bengals could manage.  The remaining two clubs, Greenpoint and Yonkers, were never a factor in either race.  The Greenpoint squad, which had been a solid contender last year, missed Frank Boyle, who had retired, and Tom Barlow, who had returned to his hometown Trenton club.  They signed Harry Riconda, who led the team in scoring, but the rest of the team provided little support.  Yonkers began the season well with strong play from young stars Honey Russell and Leo Malone. A month into the season, Russell   accepted a lucrative offer to join the Cleveland Rosenblums and with his departure went any hopes for a successful season.

The Philadelphia Basketball League title was won by the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, better known as the Sphas.  Chick Passon, Doc Newman, and Davey Banks were the stars of the club.  Sitting on the bench was a seldom-used substitute by the name of Eddie Gottlieb. His presence  as a player was of minor importance at the time, but he would become a major figure in professional basketball for the next five decades.

The New York State Basketball League lost its three best teams from the prior season and the the remaining teams’ rosters were all starting to look a bit threadbare. Cohoes, behind league-leading scorer, Benny Borgman, finished first in the standings, but Glens Falls led by player-coach Garry Schmeelk, won the post-season tournament.

METROPOLITAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE

NEW YORK STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

NORTHERN NEW YORK STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

PHILADELPHIA BASKETBALL LEAGUE

© Pro Basketball Encyclopedia 2017