American Basketball League (1925–1955)

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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 then-new 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. The New York Celtics were one of the top teams at the time, but declined to join the ABL, instead opting to be an "at large" team.

The league adopted a format with a split season that was divided into two halves, with the winner of the first half playing the winner of the second half for the championship.[1] 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 Whirlwinds, in conflict with the other owners over the status of the Celtics, refused to take part in the second half of the season and dropped out of the league.[2]

Five games into the 1926–27 season, the original Celtics were fully admitted to replace the Brooklyn franchise, and won 32 of the remaining 37 games.

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 Celtics finished with a 40–9 record in the regular season and won the championship. However, at season's end, the team was 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 measures to help modernize the game. One of the major issues that had plagued basketball was players jumping from team to team. To combat this, teams began signing players to contracts. Often these contracts went up to $1,500 per month, which was considerably more than what an average laborer was making at the time ($15 per week). New rules that were implemented included making backboards mandatory, adding a three-second lane violation, and implementing foul outs. The ABL also eliminated the double dribble, which was done to encourage many of the game's top college stars to play in the league.[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[edit]

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 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. 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.[2] The league also lost the team in Detroit, which dropped out after a 0–6 start.

1927–28 season[edit]

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 playoffs would be Philadelphia's last appearance in the league, as the team folded, becoming the third league team to do so.

1928–29 season[edit]

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.[2] 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 playoffs.[2]

1929–30 season[edit]

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.[2] 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 announced that his Cleveland team would cease operations. Rosenblum was unable to pay the contracts that his players had signed. 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 what would ultimately be the league's last championship.

American Basketball League teams, 1925/26 to 1930/31[edit]

American Basketball League teams, 1933/34 to 1954/55[edit]

League championships[edit]

Year Winner Result Runner Up
1925–26 Cleveland Rosenblums 3–0 Brooklyn Arcadians
1926–27 Original Celtics 3–0 Cleveland Rosenblums
1927–28 Original Celtics 3–1 Fort Wayne Hoosiers
1928–29 Cleveland Rosenblums 4–0 Fort Wayne Hoosiers
1929–30 Cleveland Rosenblums 4–1 Rochester Centrals
1930–31 Brooklyn Visitations 4–2 Fort Wayne Hoosiers
1931–32 League suspended operations.
1932–33 League suspended operations.
1933–34 Philadelphia Sphas 4–2 Trenton Moose
1934–35 Brooklyn Visitations 3–2 New York Jewels
1935–36 Philadelphia Sphas 4–3 Brooklyn Visitations
1936–37 Philadelphia Sphas 4–3 Jersey Reds
1937–38 Jersey Reds 4–2 New York Jewels
1938–39 New York Jewels 3–0 Jersey Reds
1939–40 Philadelphia Sphas 1–0 Washington Heurich Brewers
1940–41 Philadelphia Sphas 3–1 Brooklyn Celtics
1941–42 Wilmington Blue Bombers Won both halves to claim championship.
1942–43 Philadelphia Sphas 4–3 Trenton Tigers
1943–44 Wilmington Bombers 4–3 Philadelphia Sphas
1944–45 Philadelphia Sphas 2–1 Baltimore Bullets
1945–46 Baltimore Bullets 3–1 Philadelphia Sphas
1946–47 Trenton Tigers Won forfeit, Baltimore Bullets could not play finals
1947–48 Wilkes-Barre Barons 2–1 Paterson Crescents
1948–49 Wilkes-Barre Barons 3–2 Scranton Miners
1949–50 Scranton Miners 1–0 Bridgeport Aer-A-Sols
1950–51 Scranton Miners 1–0 Wilkes-Barre Barons
1951–52 Wilkes-Barre Barons 1–0 Scranton Miners
1952–53 Manchester British-Americans 1–0 Wilkes-Barre Barons
1953–54 League suspended operations.
1954–55 League disbanded.

Season scoring leaders[edit]

The American Basketball League's (ABL) scoring title was awarded to the player with the most total points in a given season.[4]

* Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
Season Player Team Total
PPG Field goals
Free throws
1925–26 Rusty Saunders Brooklyn Arcadians, Washington Palace Five 238 34 7.0 73 92
1926–27 Rusty Saunders (2) Washington Palace Five 399 42 9.5 119 161
1927–28 Harry Topel Rochester Centrals 438 52 8.4 171 96
1928–29 Bennie Borgmann Fort Wayne Hoosiers 325 42 7.7 100 125
1929–30 Bennie Borgmann* (2) Fort Wayne Hoosiers 416 50 8.3 149 118
1930–31 Bennie Borgmann* (3) Paterson Crescents, Chicago Bruins 290 33 8.8 111 68
1933–34 Moe Spahn New Britain Palaces 333 38 8.7 92 149
1934–35 Carl Johnson Brooklyn Visitations 310 43 7.2 N/A N/A
1935–36 Bobby McDermott* Brooklyn Visitations 382 40 9.6 157 68
1936–37 Phil Rabin Kingston Colonials 488 37 13.2 187 144
1937–38 Phil Rabin (2) Kingston Colonials 514 39 13.2 203 108
1938–39 Phil Rabin (3) Jersey Reds 341 33 10.3 116 109
1939–40 Bobby McDermott* (2) Baltimore Clippers 341 31 11.0 130 81
1940–41 Petey Rosenberg Philadelphia Sphas 278 31 8.9 122 31
1941–42 Nat Frankel Washington Brewers 188 20 9.4 59 70
1942–43 Steve Juenger Harrisburg Senators 116 10 11.6 38 40
1943–44 Mike Bloom Trenton Tigers 273 26 10.5 94 85
1944–45 Mike Bloom (2) Trenton Tigers 321 30 10.7 118 85
1945–46 Art Hillhouse Philadelphia Sphas 423 34 12.4 139 145
1946–47 Ash Resnick Troy Celtics 563 35 16.1 191 181
1947–48 Kugler Ostrowski Wilkes-Barre Barons 561 31 18.1 214 133
1948–49 Dick Holub Paterson Crescents 835 41 20.4 285 265
1949–50 Elmore Morgenthaler Scranton Miners 728 37 19.7 267 194
1950–51 Johnny Ezersky Wilkes-Barre Barons 718 39 18.4 242 234
1951–52 Joe Colone Wilkes-Barre Barons 762 39 19.5 260 242
1952–53 Ray Felix Manchester British-Americans 618 28 22.0 208 200


  • 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. ^ a b c d e The NBA's Official Encyclopedia of Pro Basketball ISBN 0-453-00407-5
  3. ^ The NBA's official Encyclopedia of Pro Basketball ISBN 0-453-00407-5
  4. ^ "Steve Dimitry's Early ABL Web Site". Archived from the original on 22 April 2004. Retrieved 11 January 2022.

External links[edit]