During the summer of 1933, Metropolitan Basketball League president John O’Brien recruited the Eastern Basketball League’s two best teams, the Philadelphia Sphas and Trenton Moose, to join with five clubs from his league, the Jersey (Union City) Reds, Brooklyn Visitation, Brooklyn Jewels, Bronx American and Hudson Lisas, to form a reorganized version of the American Basketball League. An eighth team, the Newark Bears, was added to complete the circuit. The Bears were new to league play, but were optimistic about their chances because of the presence of scoring ace Benny Borgmann.
O’Brien’s new creation had few similarities to the ambitious mid-twenties ABL with franchises stretching from New York to Chicago. The new version consisted solely of teams in the one-hundred mile New York to Philadelphia corridor. The ABL of 1933 was a product of the Depression. Gone were the large salaries, and “big-league” atmosphere. While cities like Union City and Hoboken lacked the big-city aura of Chicago or Cleveland, the quality of play on the court was not discernibly lower. The majority of the best players in the old ABL were either from New York or Philadelphia. In 1933, the best players in professional basketball were still mostly from the two metropolitan areas, they were simply playing in lesser circumstances. The league changed the format of the game, replacing two twenty-minute halves with three fifteen-minute periods
When play got underway, three teams, the Jewels, Moose, and Sphas, soon proved to be the primary contenders. The Brooklyn Jewels signed two more St.John’s alumni, George Slott and Jake Poliskin, to provide some much needed additional height. Mac Kinsbrunner continued to amaze audiences with his dribbling skills, while Allie Schuckman kept the offense in gear with his set-shooting skills.
The Philadelphia Sphas had won the Eastern League title three of their four years in the league, but owner Eddie Gottlieb had been upset by the easy way his club had been defeated by Trenton in last season’s finale. Gottlieb made a bold decision. He broke up a combination that had a four-year league record of 110-38 and started over with new players. He added 19-year-old Inky Lautman, 20-year-old Moe Goldman and 22-year-old Shicky Gotthoffer to his starting lineup, and shifted forward Red Wolfe to the backcourt. Only high-scoring guard Cy Kaselman retained is position on the new team.
The Trenton Moose showcased the same team that had convincingly captured last year’s Eastern League title. Honey Russell and Rusty Saunders in the frontcourt and George Glasco and Lou Spindall at the guards provided the Moose with a rock-solid lineup. An important addition to the team was 6’9” Tiny Hearn who replaced Howie Bollerman at center. Hearn excelled at the center tap play, setting up the Moose offense that featured Saunders working the pivot play to perfection, feeding the ball to speedsters Spindell and Glasco as they cut to the basket.
The veteran Trenton club tied the young Brooklyn Jewels for first-half honors and then hammered them with two decisive wins in a best-of-three game playoff for first place. The second half was a different story as the Philadelphia Sphas rolled to fourteen consecutive victories without a loss to run away with first place.
The championship playoff series between Trenton and Philadelphia was a repeat of last year’s Eastern League final in which Trenton had prevailed. But the Sphas rebuilt offense, fueled by its talented trio of rookies had substantially changed the nature of this season’s confrontation. The Sphas played a running game, always on the move, fast breaking off Trenton shots whenever possible. The Moose, by comparison, seemed to be playing in slow motion. Nowhere was the disparity more evident then that at the center position. Young Moe Goldman of the SPHAS was a lean 6’3″ 180 pounder who was an integral part of the Philadelphia offense. While, Trenton’s mammoth 6’9″, 235 center Tiny Hearn was a virtual spectator when Trenton had the ball. The Sphas outran the Moose to take the title in six games.