By December of 1932 America was staggering under the full impact of the growing national Depression. Pro basketball players were not immune to the hard times. The best performers tried to scrape out a living by juggling a schedule of games with as many as three or four teams. Playing every night of the week when possible, a player still had difficulty bringing his income up to anywhere near the level of prosperity of the twenties. Stars such as Matty Begovich, Howie Bollerman, Honey Russell, and Gaza Chizmadia played simultaneously in the Eastern, Metropolitan and Pennsylvania State Basketball Leagues. Chizmadia, in particular, managed to be a man for all leagues, landing among the top ten individual scorers of all three circuits.
The MetropolitanBasketball League, which had been a patchwork affair last season, returned for the 1932-33 season stronger and better organized under John O’Brien’s guidance. The defending champion Brooklyn Visitation were dogged by illness, injuries and defections in the new season, and were never a serious factor in either half of the split season format. Meanwhile, most of the interest in the league switched to the Brooklyn Jewels, who had performed with distinction in their pro debut the past season.
As the St.John’s “Wonder Five” Mac Kinsbrunner, Allie Schuckman, Matty Begovich, Rip Gerson, and Mac Posnack, had compiled an 86-8 mark over four years, largely because of their defensive abilities. In their final college season (1930-31), the “Wonder Five” limited opponents to an average of just 21 points a game. As pros, the Jewels’ tight man-to-man defense remained their trademark as they captured first place in the first-half of the split-season format.
In the second-half the Jersey Reds finally got their powerful offense untracked. Gaza Chizmadia, Howie Bollerman, and Rip Collins were all capable scorers who performed well under the leadership of veteran playmaker George Glasco. The Reds finished strongly to tie the Jewels and force a single-game playoff for second-half honors. For all their success, the Brooklyn Jewels were not always a popular team because of their conservative style of play, earmarked by a nagging tendency to go into a stall whenever they got a lead of more than a few points. The tactic backfired on them in the playoff game for second-half title, when the Jewels went scoreless in the final period and then lost in double overtime to the Reds.
The loss forced the Jewels into a best-of-three game playoff for the season championship. Hampered by the loss of team captain Rip Collins to an injury, the Reds put up little opposition, and the Jewels captured the Metropolitan title with two convincing victories.
In the Eastern Basketball League, the defending champion Philadelphia Sphas, with three straight titles to their credit, stood out as the pre-season favorites. In addition to last year’s talented squad, Eddie Gottlieb added Mac Posnack (moonlighting from the Brooklyn Jewels) to beef up his frontline. In addition to Posnack, the other Jewels all signed on for part-time duties with EBL clubs. Kinsbrunner and Begovich played the Philadelphia Moose, while Schuckman shared scoring duties with old pro Benny Borgmann at Bridgeton.
The newly formed Trenton Moose, a team without any Jewels, turned out to be the most glittering combination in the circuit. Early pro star Teddy Kearns built his team with veteran ABL stars. Trenton natives Rusty Saunders and George Glasco were the first to sign up, to be followed by former CCNY speedster Lou Spindell and 6’8″ center Howie Bollerman. As the final and most important ingredient Kearns signed veteran all-star Honey Russell who still performed with icy efficiency.
The Sphas managed to hold off Trenton and win first place in the first half, but Kearns’ team completely controlled the second- half of the season with fourteen wins in fifteen games. The two teams split the opening games of the best-of-five game championship series. Spindell and Saunders combined for 18 points in a dazzling exhibition of pivot play execution to lead Trenton to an upset 34-29 victory in Philadelphia in game three. The Moose wrapped up the championship at home a week later behind 15 points by Russell.
The National Professional Basketball League was created during this season in an another attempt to bring the professional game to the Midwest. The company-sponsored Akron Firestones dominated the circuit, losing only once in regular season play before polishing off second-place Toledo in three straight games in the playoffs. The Firestones combined ABL veterans Cookie Cunningham and Shang Chadwick with talented young players like Merle Alexander and Ray Dickerson. The league’s leading scorer was former Purdue All-American Johnny Wooden, who took time off from his high school teaching and coaching duties to perform on weekends. Depression realities doomed the new circuit to just one year of existence.