As professional basketball prepared to begin the 1931-32 season, it seemed as if the preceding decade had not existed. All traces of the progress of the past ten years, including the ambitious American Basketball League, had been swept away. The sport’s leading players were distributed once again in small regional leagues such as the Eastern, Pennsylvania State, and Metropolitan Leagues. Depression realities forced performers back to the draining practice of playing with multiple teams in more than one league at a time.
The Eastern Basketball League, the preeminent circuit from 1912 until it folded in 1923, returned to its position at the forefront of the pro game. After an abortive comeback in 1925, the EBL had revived in 1928 as strictly a minor league operation. The ABL’s collapse at the end of the 1930-31 season gave the old league a new importance.
With major leaguers added to nearly every roster, the two-time defending champion Philadelphia Sphas faced their stiffest challenge in their third EBL season. The new Philadelphia Moose club proved to be particularly tough for the Sphas in some brawling early season matchups. Veteran major leaguer Gaza Chizmadia, a 6’2″ center, controlled the backboards for the new team and, along with George Clift, provided the team with most of its scoring punch. The Moose tied the Sphas for first place and then took the first half honors in a single game playoff.
In the second half the Moose fell back, but Bridgeton, featuring the incomparable Benny Borgmann and a slew of ABL veterans, loomed just as ominously in the path of the Sphas’ playoff aspirations. Eddie Gottlieb’s club, led by Cy Kaselman, met the challenge by jumping off to an early insurmountable lead over Bridgeton. Kaselman won his second consecutive scoring title, averaging just under eleven points a game. Future Temple University coach Harry Latwick shared the backcourt with Kaselman, while Reds Sherr, Red Wolfe and Lou Forman handled the frontcourt chores. The Sphas maintained their momentum in the post-season playoffs against the Moose by taking three of four games to secure their third consecutive Eastern League title.
In late February of 1932, with only a month to go in the basketball season, the Metropolitan League finally got underway and played a limited 12-game schedule. The seven-team league had three teams in Brooklyn, two on Long Island, and two in New Jersey. The two Brooklyn squads, the Visitation and the Jewels, and the Union City (N.J.) Reds proved to be the top teams.
The Visitation quintet that had won the final ABL competition the past season, was still at the peak of its game. The club featured excellent balance with all five starters averaging either five or six points a game. Frank Conaty, Al Kellett, and Pat Herlihy were up front while Rody Cooney and Willie Scrill handled the backcourt. The Brooklyn Jewels were the professional version of the famous St.John’s University “Wonder Five” the most highly publicized college team of the era. The Jewels featured the slick ball handling of Mac Kinsbrunner and fine shooting of Allie Schuckman, along with 6’5″ Matty Begovich at center and defensive stars Rip Gerson and Mac Posnack. The Union City Reds featured ex-Visitation star Joe Brennan at forward, and former Colgate star Howie Bollerman at center.
The Visitation defeated the Jewels 19-17 on the last day of the regular season to finish tied for first place with identical 10-2 records, while Union City finished in third place two games behind the leaders. The Jewels opened the best-of-three game playoff for the championship handicapped by the absence of starter, Mac Posnack, who was out with an injury. The Jewels also had distinct height disadvantage which they hoped to overcome with better team speed. As the series progressed, the Visitation’s superior height proved to be more important than the Jewels’ greater speed. Al Kellett and Frank Conaty effectively kept the Jewels’ only big man, center Matty Begovich, away from the basket as the Visitation took the deciding third game of series 28-25 for the championship.
METROPOLITAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE
MIDWEST PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL LEAGUE