October 1929, was a bad month for any business enterprise and the American Basketball League was no exception. Ten days after the stock market crashed, the American Basketball League started its fifth season. Eight teams lined up to compete for the championship, six holdovers, and two new teams. The Trenton Bengals and the New York Hakoahs had given up their franchises and were replaced by a new club in Syracuse and a famous old club, the Original Celtics, in New York.
The rebirth of the Celtics, after a one Year hiatus, was a major surprise. Owner Jim Furey, recently released after serving three years in prison, quickly set about rebuilding his old team, He signed Davey Banks, Nat Holman, and Johnny Beckman, but was forced to play without the services of Dutch Dehnert, Joe Lapchick and Pete Barry who were contractually tied to Cleveland, Without these stars the new Celtic squad was a far cry from the mighty teams of the past. Banks was still a formidable scorer, but Holman was handicapped by his coaching duties at C.C.N.Y., and Beckman, at age 34, was in the twilight of his great career.
Once the season got underway, Furey’s problems only multiplied. The Celtics new combination turned out to be mediocre at best, and a poor draw both at home and on the road. Without steady income from game receipts, Furey couldn’t afford to keep the club afloat for more than a few weeks. In desperation, he began to sell off his best players. In a five a day span, Furey sold Beckman to Cleveland, Banks to Fort Wayne and Holman to Syracuse. One week later, he folded the team.
Meanwhile, the infant Syracuse franchise was also in trouble, suffering big losses at the box office and on the court. The upstate New York squad had been conceived of as a collection of top collegians, who with the help of a sprinkling of established pros such as Tom Barlow and Teddy Kearns, would mature into a competitive pro club. The concept never panned out and a December infusion of more veteran players did little to stem the tide of defeats. By the first week in January, the owners decided they could no longer absorb the growing financial losses. The Syracuse club dropped out of the race just prior to the conclusion of the first half, forfeiting their final four games.
Brooklyn, embroiled in a tight race with Cleveland, was the happy beneficiary of two of the forfeit wins. Cleveland, which received no forfeits, did not let the inequity upset them and quickly tied the Visitation for first place with impressive victories over strong Fort Wayne and Rochester teams. The Rosenblums, led by old standbys, Lapchick and Dehnert, then defeated Brooklyn 17-15 in a crucial face to face confrontation to wrap up first-place.
The second half of the split season saw two unexpected new contenders in the thick of the race when perennial tail-enders, Chicago and Rochester, both mounted formidable challenges. Rochester, which had always been handicapped by a weakness at center and poor rebounding, solved its problems with the signing of 6’9” Tiny Hearn, a rookie from Georgia Tech, and veteran forward Gaza Chizmadia. Four-year-starter Lou Rabin was transferred to the backcourt and teamed with Manny Hirsch. The Centrals, under the astute guidance of Pop Morganweck, were the surprise second-half winners. Chicago got hot after the mid-January signing of Nat Holman, who joined the Bruins after tours of duty with the ill-fated New York and Syracuse franchises. With Holman mingling his talents with veterans Honey Russell, Nat Hickey, and Ray Kennedy, Chicago made a strong run for the top spot before settling for third place behind Cleveland.
Rochester squeezed out an upset 20-16 opening victory over the experienced Cleveland team in the first game of the best of seven game championship playoffs. After some defensive adjustments, including additional playing time for late-season acquisition Cookie Cunningham, the Rosenblums rolled to four straight victories over the Centrals to claim their third ABL title.
Despite the gloomy national financial outlook, some optimistic investors formed a new organization, the National Professional Basketball League, in Detroit with Carl Storck as president. The membership included teams in Detroit and Jackson, in Michigan, and Dayton, Toledo, Columbus, and Canton in Ohio. Toledo, featuring ABL veterans Cookie Cunningham, Rich Deighan, and Len Sheppard took first-place in the first-half of the split season schedule. Detroit, featuring the strong defensive play of future University of Michigan head basketball coach Ernie McCoy, finished second, two games back.
Dayton, which finished last in the first session, came alive to take first place in the second half after signing 6’6″ Charlie Gillium and veteran major-leaguer Jerry Sullivan from the ill-fated Syracuse ABL club. In the best of seven game playoffs, Toledo’s well-balanced attack wore down Dayton in six games to give the Red Men the first, and as it turned out, only NPBL championship.