1930-1931

The deepening national Depression served as a foreboding backdrop as the American Basketball League prepared for its sixth season.  The National Professional Basketball League champion Toledo Red Men joined six holdover teams.  Despite the appearance of stability, the ABL owners were running scared.  Just about every team had suffered declining attendance for the third straight season.  Looking for a solution to the league’s growing financial problems, President John O’Brien instituted a rule that made each team carry at least two rookie players on its roster.  O’Brien’s theory was that the league was stagnating (which was true), and that by cutting operational and payroll costs the league could survive the downturn in the economy.  What O’Brien (and just everybody else) failed to realize in 1930 was the seriousness of the Depression, and the fact that no matter how deeply teams cut expenses, the losses due to shrinking attendance would far outstrip any gains. O’Brien’s rule forced each team to jettison veteran players to make way for some popular young college stars.  While the concept sounded good, in practice the league suffered more by losing such luminaries as Nat Holman, Johnny Beckman, and Tom Barlow then it gained by the introduction of former college players.

In another attempt to introduce new life into the league by speeding up the game, the owners, over Max Rosenblum’s strong objection, voted in a “three second rule forbidding a player from remaining in the foul lane for more than three seconds.  This was a crushing blow to Rosenblum’s Cleveland team, which had keyed its attack around Dutch Dehnert’s pivot plays.  Handicapped by the new rule, Cleveland barely managed to maintain a .500 pace before owner Max Rosenbloom announced that he was giving up the franchise in early December. The players were turned loose to sign with other teams.  Dehnert, Joe Lapchick and Pete Barry joined the new Toledo team, while Carl Husta hooked on with Fort Wayne.  Rosenblum’s decision sent shock waves through the ABL. He was the wealthiest owner and consistently most fervent supporter of the league.  The Rosenblums had long been considered the flagship franchise with a strong home attendance and a classy road attraction.  His decision to give up his team was ominous for the less prosperous franchises. Three weeks later the Paterson franchise followed suit, dropping league membership to five teams.  Ironically, the Crescents had their best team in three ABL seasons with stars Benny Borgmann and Honey Russell in top form, but the poorly financed club could no longer absorb mounting deficits.

Of the surviving five surviving teams, Brooklyn and Fort Wayne proved the strongest during the first half of the season.  The Visitation, with a fine blend of veterans and young stars, finished in first place, a game and half in front of the Hoosiers.  Brooklyn performed well despite the part-time status of veteran star Joe Brennan. Willie Scrill and Rody Cooney were in their fourth season as a backcourt tandem, while rookie Frank Conaty added spark to the frontline.  The Visitation also strengthened themselves with an unexpectedly lopsided trade.  Brooklyn sent three-year starter Pat Herlihy to Chicago for veteran center Al Kellett. The irrepressible Herlihy, who was unhappy with the deal, made life so miserable for his new teammates and coach Pop Morganweck with his constant bickering and fighting, that the Bruins shipped him back to Brooklyn within the month. The Visitation ended up with both hefty rebounders on their roster.  Second-place Fort Wayne had its own collection of frontcourt bruisers in Rusty Saunders, Shang Chadwick, and Indiana University rookie Branch McCracken.

Brooklyn slipped to third-place in the second half after the mid-season retirement of Brennan.  Chicago, buoyed by the acquisition of Benny Borgmann from the defunct Paterson club, finished in a dead heat with Fort Wayne for second-half honors.  Finishing last was Toledo, despite the presence of the old Celtics crowd.  Fort Wayne disposed of Chicago in two convincing wins in a best-of-three game playoff for the right to meet first-half winner Brooklyn for the league title.

The championship series featured two solid pro clubs, but it lacked the glamour of past years.  The Visitations won two low-scoring victories at smoky Arcadia Hall in Brooklyn before traveling to Fort Wayne for the next three games of the best-of-seven game series.  Game three, at North Side Arena, went to the hometown Hoosiers by a 24-20 margin.  In game four, Fort Wayne blew a six-point lead, allowing Brooklyn to knot the score at 21-all at the end of regulation play. The Hoosiers bounced back to grasp a wild 30-26 victory in double overtime to square the series at two games apiece. Visitation guard Willie Scrill, enraged by some crucial last minute calls had to be forcibly restrained from attacking referee Chuck Solidare after the game.  An angry Brooklyn team was determined to break through the homecourt advantage that had held through the first four games of the series.  After gaining a slim lead at the beginning of the second half of the deciding fifth game, the Visitation froze the ball the remainder of the game.  In one ten-minute stretch, two Kellett free throws were the only scoring, as Brooklyn prevailed 18-13.  The Visitation then returned to Brooklyn and wrapped up the championship with a final win at home three nights later. The victory was a hollow one, however, because everyone involved know that the Visitation would never be able to defend their title — the ABL had finally come to the end of the road.

AMERICAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE

EASTERN BASKETBALL LEAGUE

PENNSYLVANIA STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

TRI-STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

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