American Basketball League (1925-55)
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American Basketball League 1925%E2%80%9355
American Basketball League (1925-1955)
No. of teams40-50?
CountryUnited States
Manchester British-Americans

The American Basketball League (ABL) was an early professional basketball league. During six seasons from 1925-26 to 1930-31, the ABL was the first attempt to create a major professional basketball league in the United States. Joseph Carr, who was, in 1925, the president of the recently founded, three year old National Football League, organized the ABL from nine of the best independent pro teams from the East and the Midwest.[1]George Halas of the NFL Chicago Bears was the owner of the Chicago Bruins, and department store magnate Max Rosenblum, a part owner of the NFL's Cleveland Bulldogs, financed the Cleveland Rosenblums. Future NFL (Washington Redskins) owner George Preston Marshall, the owner of a chain of laundries, was owner of the Washington Palace Five. Other teams were the Boston Whirlwinds, Brooklyn Arcadians, Buffalo Bisons, Detroit Pulaski Post Five, Fort Wayne Caseys, and Rochester Centrals. With the exception of 1927-28, the ABL season was divided into two halves, with the winner of the first half playing the winner of the second half for the championship.[1] Five games into the 1926-27 season, the Original Celtics were admitted to replace the Brooklyn franchise, and won 32 of the remaining 37 games, then shifted to New York the following season.

For the 1927-28 season, the ABL had an Eastern (New York, Philadelphia, Rochester and Washington) and Western (Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Fort Wayne) division, with the two best teams in each division going to playoffs, and a championship between the playoff winners. Playing in Madison Square Garden, the New York Celtics had a 40-9 record in the regular season and won the championship. At season's end, the champions were voted out of the league by the other owners.[1] The ABL played three more seasons and then, with only five teams playing at the end of 1930-31, folded during the Great Depression.[1]

After more than two years, the league was reorganized in 1933, but as an East Coast league, with teams in Pennsylvania and New York City metro area.[1]

The league did take some measure to help modernize the game. One of the major issues that had plagued basketball was players jumping from team to team. To combat this, players signed contracts with teams, sometimes for amounts like $1,500 a month, not a bad pay for a time when the average laborer was making $15 a week. Backboard were mandatory, and new rules, such as three second lane violations, and foul outs were implemented. Another rule the ABL implemented was the collegiate rule, which eliminated the double dribble. This was also done to encourage many of the game's top college stars to play in the league.[2]

The 1925-26 season saw Cleveland, the second half winner, defeat Brooklyn, winner of the first half of the season, three games to none. The Boston Celtics dropped out of the league. The Celtics were one of the top teams at the time, but refused to join the ABL, instead opting to be an "at Large" member. This conflict resulted in Boston dropping out, and refusing to take part in the second half of the season.[3] One of the early stars for the league was Cleveland's Honey Russell whose 7.4 points was the second highest average in the league. Cleveland drew well, bringing in nearly 10,000 fans a game, while Brooklyn could only draw around 2,000.

1926-27 season

The league knew they had a problem when it came to the Celtics. So the league opted to force the hands of the Celtics ownership. The teams in the league agreed to prohibiting any games against the Celtics, and this left the Celtics with a dilemma. They could either join the American Basketball League, or they could try and schedule games against lesser competition, thus possibly losing out on drawing bigger crowds. In the end, ownership decided that it was worth the draw to join the ABL, so they did. Representing the city of Brooklyn, the team won the league title. They defeated Cleveland, which, despite still being a good team, was not the dominant force that had won the title the year before. Honey Russell, without a doubt the team's top star, got into a dispute with owner Max Rosenblum, thus leading to his contract being sold to Chicago. Cleveland also lost Vic Hanson, who had been one of the top college stars, but did not like the rough style of the pro level, and also did not care for the overall lack of playing time he was getting. The Celtics represented the borough of Brooklyn, which had been without a team after the Brooklyn Arcadians dropped out of the league. The Celtics assumed Brooklyn's 0-5 start.[3] The league also lost the team in Detroit, which dropped out after a 0-6 start.

1927-28 season

Once again, the ABL placed a team in Detroit, and once again it was a failure. Detroit was 5-13 when it opted to disband on January 3, 1927. The Washington franchise on that same day was shifted to Brooklyn. The Celtics this time represented the city of New York. Joe Lapchick, Nat Holman, Pete Berry, Dutch Dehnert and Davey Banks. They led the New York Celtics to a 40-9 record. The playoffs saw Fort Wayne defeat Cleveland 2 games to 0, and New York defeated Philadelphia 2 games to zero. In the championship series, New York defeated Fort Wayne 3 games to 1. The play offs would be Philadelphia's last appearance in the league, as the team folded, becoming the third league team to do so.

1928-29 season

During the 1927-28 season, the league divided the league into divisions, Eastern and Western. The 1928-29 season saw the format discarded. The Celtics were dominant, to the point that the league was suffering. The rally cry of "Break up the Celtics" was heeded. Players were dispersed to other teams, and this also resolved an issue for Celtics owner Jim Furey, who had issues with Madison Square Garden management. The arena's owners sought to evict the Celtics, who despite being a dominant team, never drew well at home.[3] Cleveland, through purchase and trades, ended up with nearly all of the Celtics players on their roster. Cleveland ran away with the title, defeating Fort Wayne four games to none in the play offs.[3]

1929-30 season

The New York Stock Market crashed on October 29, 1929. John J. O'Brien the League's president, took the viewpoint that the "Great Depression" economic / financial slump would not last long, and the ABL continued business as usual. Former Celtics owner Jim Furey had just been released from prison, and put together a new version of the Celtics. However, the players were quickly becoming past their prime, and Nat Holman didn't play weekend games because he was a coach for the City College of New York. However, Cleveland still managed to win the league title, defeated Rochester and their star player, Tiny Hearn a six-foot, nine inch rookie star from Georgia Tech.[3] However, there would never be a dynasty for Cleveland. The stock Market crash took its toll on the ABL. During the 1930-31 season, Max Rosenblum shocked the world of basketball when he announce that his Cleveland team would cease operations. Rosenblum was unable to pay the contracts that he signed his players to. George Halas at the end of the season, opted to fold his struggling Chicago Bruins club, and Toledo, which featured three former Celtics stars, Denhert, Lapchick, and Berry, shockingly finished in last place, with a record of four wins, and eleven losses. Fort Wayne defeated Chicago, and lost to Brooklyn in the finals, as Brooklyn won would ultimately be the league's last championship.

American Basketball League teams, 1925/26 to 1930/31

American Basketball League teams, 1933/34 to 1954/55

League championships


  • David S. Neft and Richard M. Cohen, The Sports Encyclopedia: Pro Basketball (5th Edition) (St. Martin's Press, 1992)
  • [1]
  1. ^ a b c d e David S. Neft and Richard M. Cohen, The Sports Encyclopedia: Pro Basketball (5th Edition) (St. Martin's Press, 1992) pp. 12-18
  2. ^ The NBA's official Encyclopedia of Pro Basketball ISBN 0-453-00407-5
  3. ^ a b c d e The NBA's Official Encyclopedia of Pro Basketball ISBN 0-453-00407-5

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