Despite the continued desperate economic condition of the nation, professional basketball managed to move beyond mere survival to a season of small financial successes and even expansion into the Midwest.
The American Basketball League was anchored by stable franchises in Brooklyn, Jersey (Union City), New York, and Philadelphia, but continued to be vexed with the problem of filling the necessary fifth and sixth slots. The Kingston team that had won the New York State League title the previous season replaced the weak Boston franchise. Benny Borgmann purchased the New Britain franchise and transferred it to his hometown, Paterson, New Jersey.
Exciting new young players were moving to the forefront of the league. Most of the pre-Depression stars were gone, beaten out of their jobs by quicker, younger players. The best of the newcomers was Brooklyn’s 21-year-old Bobby McDermott, a well chiseled 5’11″, 190-pounder, whose cocky, swaggering style of play never failed to illicit a chorus of cheers or jeers. In addition to a deadly set shot (he led the league in scoring), McDermott handled the ball well and played aggressive defense. His teammate Pete Berensen, a second-year pro from CCNY, was also among the league’s elite. Jersey showcased youngsters Moe Spahn and Moe Frankel, while Paterson had a fine shooter in LIU rookie Phil Rabin.
Philadelphia easily took first-half honors, but slumped in the second half to throw the race wide open. Brooklyn took advantage of Jersey’s continuing problems at center to nip the Reds by one game at the wire for the honors of facing the Sphas in the playoffs. With the home team winning each game, they split the first six games. In the deciding seventh game at Philadelphia, the Sphas beat the speedy Visitation at their own game. Philadelphia moved the ball constantly to wear down the speed of the faster Visitation five. The key to the Sphas’ attack was their youthful center Moe Goldman, who completely outplayed Brooklyn veterans Howie Bollerman and Bob Grody. By the third period the Visitation’s offense had broken down completely and Philadelphia won by a lopsided 47-34 score to take their second ABL title.
In the summer of 1935, the Midwest Basketball Conference was formed with Paul Sheeks, recreational director of the Firestone Tire Company, supplying the impetus. Dr. H.C. Carlson, basketball coach at the University of Pittsburgh was named commissioner. The league was organized informally, with individual teams arranging the own schedules. While it nominally operated as an amateur organization, it was in fact a professional league. The conference was a marriage of industrial teams such as the Akron’s Firestone Tire Co. and Indianapolis’ U.S. Tire Co., with long established professional clubs in cities such as Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit. Many college All-Americans dotted the rosters of the Midwest Conference teams, including Leroy Edwards of Kentucky, Claire Cribbs of Pittsburgh, Johnny Wooden of Purdue, and Bill Hosket of Ohio State.
The Akron Firestone team displayed an extraordinary 6’6” average height in its starting lineup in an era when few centers were that tall. The Firestones nipped the Pittsburgh YMHA by a single game to take Eastern Division title. The Indianapolis Kautskys handily won the western Division, while Chicago was awarded second place despite not playing the required minimum of eight league games. With Chicago as the chosen site of the league championships, the hometown Duffy Florists presence in the championship series was important for financial reasons. Chicago, behind the strong performance of former Northwestern All American Joe Reiff, pulled off stunning back-to-back upsets of Akron and Indianapolis to win the league championship.