The Pro Basketball Encyclopedia – The Early Years is the most complete historical work ever created about the first fifty years of professional basketball. The site covers the years from 1898 through 1951 and provides standings, playoff results, and top ten-scorers for every professional league active during those years. Each season is covered individually with a narrative and a listing of every active league. Major leagues are coded in orange and minor leagues in blue. For major league teams, complete rosters and individual scoring records are provided for each season. In addition, the lifetime records of every major-league player and coach are available. When browsing the Player Register, keep in mind a few things that will help you to understand the data. Hometown refers not to birthplace, but where the player grew up and attended high school. College year designated is the final year the player played college basketball. It does not indicate his year of graduation or of his graduating class.
In the early years of the game, most players were of normal height and weight. Courts were smaller making the game rougher and more violent. The ball was larger and heavier making it harder to handle. Players seldom left their feet except for layups. Through the mid-thirties there was a center jump after every basket.
Before the arrival of the NBA in the late 1940s, professional basketball leagues and teams came and went with dizzying regularity. Most lasted just a few seasons. Over twenty major leagues and close to sixty minor leagues operated during the first fifty years of professional basketball. To truly grasp a sense of professional basketball, you have to understand the importance of a myriad of early leagues in the story. The evolution of professional basketball did not follow an orderly pattern. The life span of even the more successful leagues seldom stretched beyond a half -dozen years and the relative strength of the leagues were not readily discernible by a system of classifications as in baseball. The standard of play in most leagues varied considerably from year to year as the best players migrated from league to league. Compounding the confusion was the fact that during most of the early years of the professional game, the big stars performed for more than one team (sometimes as many as five) at any one time.
College eligibility rules were much more flexible and easier to circumvent. During the 1909-10 season, Dutch Wise and Jack Ingles played in college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and played professional basketball in the New York State League at the same time. In 1919-20, Babe Allen played for Springfield in the Inter-State League and the following season he attended the University of Springfield where he played collegiate ball. Fred Gieg played professional basketball for five seasons before he entered Swarthmore College where he became a two-time college All-American. Phil Rabin, a mid-thirties Long Island University star, played pro ball under an assumed during the 1934-35 season. These are not a few isolated situations, but rather examples of a practice that remained in effect for decades
Unlike professional baseball, which had a well-defined line between major and minor leagues, the designation of major leagues in professional basketball has often been blurred. The Eastern Basketball League began play in 1909 and was a preeminent pro organization until its mid-season collapse in 1922. The EBL was revived in 1928 and functioned as a minor league for the next three seasons. After the collapse of the American Basketball League in 1931, the EBL regained major league status for two seasons until a new version of the ABL started up again in 1933. The Eastern League continued on as a minor league until its final season in 1936. The new version of the American League was a major league operation from 1933-34 until 1945-46. With the arrival of the Basketball Association of American in the summer of 1946, the ABL was totally eclipsed and immediately lost any claim to major league status during the next seven years until disbanding 1n 1953.
Star major league players frequently moonlighted in the minor leagues. During the 1930’s the minor league Pennsylvania State Basketball League rosters were largely composed of local players, but every team featured a big-name New York or Philadelphia area star. All of the players on the famed Philadelphia SPHAS, one of top three professional teams in the country at the time, regularly showed up PSL box scores. Most pro teams in the twenties and thirties played as many non-league games as league games. The 1920s American Basketball League was the first the major basketball league national in scope. In addition to about 40 league games, most ABL teams played anywhere from 40 to 50 additional games during the course of season against independent teams. The Cleveland Rosenblums played exhibition games all over Ohio during the season. A team traveling from New York or Philadelphia for games in the Midwest would often book games on route against independent teams.
Independent barnstorming teams were a huge part of the professional game, especially in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Independent teams often purposely blurred the distinction between pro and amateur status. Independent teams played against professional, amateur and college teams. Many squads played all season against professional teams, but still ended up in year-end amateur tournaments. The 1935-36 and 1936-37 Midwest Basketball Conference promoted itself an as an amateur league, but the players were all paid professionals.
We hope you will enjoy exploring the website to learn more about this fascinating period in the history of professional basketball. We welcome your comments, contributions and corrections.