1939-1940

The American Basketball League opened the new season with only one franchise shift when John Donlin moved his club from Brooklyn to Baltimore in search of paying customers.  The other seven teams in the league appeared to be in solid shape, but as the season unfolded many weaknesses were uncovered. Kingston remained a consistent winner on the court (8-4 record), but a heavy loser at the box office. In mid-December, Troy owners Marty and Ed Conner bought the struggling franchise and merged the two teams. One month later, the Jersey Reds were forced to follow suit, and merged with Eddie Wilde’s New York Jewels. The shakeout was completed in early February when the Wilkes-Barre club folded.

Troy and Washington benefited most from the reshuffling of players. Troy was buried in the cellar until the infusion of talent from Kingston propelled them to 16 wins in their last 22 games and a third-place finish.  Washington tied Philadelphia for first place with the help of Phil Rabin from Jersey (via Philadelphia), Ben Kramer from Kingston, and Moe Dublier from Wilkes-Barre.  Eddie Gottlieb’s Philadelphia club remained the strongest franchise on and off the court, finishing tied for first place while performing before consistently large home crowds.

The Sphas tangled with Washington in a one-game playoff for the regular season title.  Fans slumbered through two dull periods before the action ignited in final period outbursts of scoring and fisticuffs. Philadelphia center Moe Goldman and ex-Sphas Mike Bloom squared off in the preliminary bout, and were soon followed by Shicky Gotthoffer and Ash Resnick, who engaged in a bloody fight before being banished from the game. Almost incidental to the boxing, the Sphas won the game 34-27. All five teams that survived the season then entered an eight-game round robin for the post-season championship. Philadelphia went undefeated in the tourney to claim their fourth ABL title.

While the ABL was shrinking in numbers and atrophying from a lack of new talent, the National Basketball League was aggressively upgrading its fortunes with new big-city teams and a liberal influx of college stars.  George Halas took a second fling at pro basketball with a new team in Chicago. He signed hometown favorites Mike Novak and Wibs Kautz from Loyola of Chicago to lay the foundation of his new team. Meanwhile, the moribund Cleveland franchise was transferred to Detroit and staffed with an impressive collection of big-time college talent.  The stars on the Detroit Eagles’ roster included Laddie Gale and Slim Wintermuite from NCAA champion Oregon University, Irv Torgoff from NIT champion LIU, and All-American Bernie Opper from Kentucky

The young Eagles jumped off to a big early season lead, but gradually wore down under pressure from the defending champion Firestone. They had to settle for second place in the Eastern division behind the Akron-based club. In the Western Division, Halas’ new Chicago team battled the veteran Oshkosh and Sheboygan clubs until the last week of the season, but just missed out on the post-season playoffs, finishing a single game behind the Wisconsin clubs who ended in a first-place tie.

In the playoffs, Firestone eliminated Detroit, which was handicapped by an injury to center Slim Wintermuite, while Oshkosh nipped Sheboygan in a closely contested series.  In a rematch of last year’s finals, the league’s two highest scoring teams moved on to the championship round.  Oshkosh’s attack was built around the NBL’s strongest offensive player Leroy Edwards, who won his third consecutive scoring title with his accurate hook shooting.  Firestone countered with a well-balanced blue-collar work force that included Johnny Moir, Jerry Bush, Soup Cable and Jack Ozburn.

Oshkosh opened the best-of-five game finals with two lopsided homecourt victories over Firestone. The All-Stars traveled to Akron needing only one win in the next three games to take the title.  Oshkosh was throttled in game three 35-22, but fought back hard in the next two games only to suffer frustrating 41-40 and 61-60 losses and watch the Firestones claim their second straight NBL title.

The championship of the Chicago World Pro Tournament became a hometown affair when the fourteen-team field was narrowed to just two teams, the Chicago Bruins and the Harlem Globetrotters.  The Trotters had earlier eliminated the defending champion New York Rens by one point, while the Bruins had disposed of NBL champion Oshkosh by two points.  Sonny Boswell had an outstanding shooting night to lead the Trotters to a 31-29 win and the title.

AMERICAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE

CONNECTICUT STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

NATIONAL BASKETBALL LEAGUE

NEW YORK STATE BASKETBALL LEAGUE

TRI-COUNTY BASKETBALL LEAGUE

WORLD BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

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