The American Basketball League completed last season’s shakeout of smaller cities when the Troy franchise was transferred to Brooklyn to join Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington in the five-team league. For the first time in many years, attendance was high enough to generate some profits. Eddie Gottleib’s Sphas regularly drew capacity crowds to the Broadwood Hotel in Philadelphia, while in Brooklyn, the Jewels and the Celtics drew full-houses almost every Saturday night. Baltimore and Washington, however, remained money losers.
Similarly, the National Basketball League looked upon the new decade with hopes for growing prosperity. Only the Indianapolis Kautskys were missing from last year’s complement of eight teams. The well-promoted company teams in Akron drew well as did the small Wisconsin towns of Oshkosh and Sheboygan. Less successful were the big-city franchises in Chicago and Detroit in direct competition with professional hockey.
The most noticeable difference between the leagues remained in the procurement of players. While the ABL could not point to a single rookie of any significance, virtually every NBL club had at least one first-year standout: Oshkosh, Bob Carpenter (East Texas St.); Hammond, Ralph Vaughn (USC), Detroit, Ed Sadowski (Seton Hall); Chicago, Bill Hapac (Illinois); Goodyear, Marv Huffman (Indiana); Firestone, Jack Jennings (Washington State); Sheboygan, Bill McDonald (Marquette).
Oshkosh, which had twice come tantalizingly close to the league championship, only to be blocked by the Firestones, began play determined to capture the elusive title. Coach Lon Darling inserted Bob Carpenter, a tough 6’5″ youngster, into the starting lineup to relieve some of the scoring load from Leroy Edwards. Playmaker Charlie Shipp and defensive specialists Herm Witasek and Lou Barle filled out the starting five, while rookie Erv Prasse and second-year man Tommy Nisbet were signed to provide greater depth. The beefed-up Oshkosh squad won ten of its first eleven games and easily went on to a first-place finish. The rest of the clubs were left to battle for the remaining three playoff spots.
The defending champion Firestone club showed little spark and settled for a second place tie with Sheboygan. Ex-Celtic Dutch Dehnert took over as coach in Detroit, but faced a tough task in the new season with four starters missing from last year’s squad. The rebuilt Eagles managed to snare fourth place behind the fine play of rookies Ed Sadowski and Bob Calihan and lone holdover Buddy Jeannette. In the playoffs, Oshkosh eliminated its old nemesis Firestone, while Sheboygan ousted Detroit. Oshkosh, featuring Carpenter and Edwards in a double-post offense, then crushed cross-state rival Sheboygan in three lopsided games to claim their first NBL title.
In the American League, Philadelphia was the convincing winner of the first-half of the season, but slumped out of contention during the second season. In contrast, the Brooklyn Celtics who had staggered through the first half, came alive to win second-half honors. The Celtics engineered the turn around by selling aging veteran Pete Berensen to Washington and expanding the playing time of youngsters Chick Reiser and Bernie Fliegel.
In the best-of-five game championship series, the home team won each of the first three games to give Philadelphia a 2-1 edge before they faced off against the Celtics in Brooklyn for game four. Brooklyn overpowered the Philadelphia club during the first two periods to take a 27-16 lead into the final stanza. The Sphas, however, reeled off fourteen straight points before the Celtics could score their single third-period basket. The St. Nicholas Arena crowd filed out in bitter silence, stunned by the Sphas remarkable feat. Philadelphia’s 30-29 victory provided the Sphas with their fifth ABL championship in eight seasons.
NBL champion Oshkosh entered the Chicago World Pro Tournament as the favorite and worked its way to the finals as expected. Another NBL team, the Detroit Eagles, also earned a spot in the finals with successive one-point victories over the tournament’s first two champions, the New York Rens and the Harlem Globetrotters. The Eagles then upset favored Oshkosh 39-37 to take the championship.