Leo Ferris

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Leo Ferris (May 31, 1917 – June 1, 1993) [1] was an American sports executive and businessman from Elmira, New York best known for helping invent the 24-second shot clock in the National Basketball Association.[2]

Managerial career in basketball[edit]

With Ben Kerner, Ferris founded the Buffalo Bisons, which played in the National Basketball League in 1946. The Bisons evolved into the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, based in Moline, Illinois, which eventually became the Milwaukee Hawks, the St. Louis Hawks, and finally today's Atlanta Hawks.[3] He signed Pop Gates, one of the first two African-American players in the NBL, in 1946. He later became NBL vice president and president and helped orchestrate its eventual merger with the Basketball Association of America, forming what would become today's NBA. Indiana sportswriter John Whitaker called Ferris the most influential owner in basketball, the “minister, ring bearer, best man” at what Whitaker described as “the shotgun wedding” that created the NBA.[4]

The Syracuse Nationals' "recipe for success" began by recruiting Leo F. Ferris, then a talented team executive to reorganize the Syracuse team.[5] Acting in capacity of NBL Vice President and then as general manager of the Nationals, Ferris first moves included signing Dolph Schayes, Al Cervi & Billy Gabor to the roster which put in place the core of the club that took three trips NBA Finals and captured the 1955 NBA title.[6]

Leo F. Ferris

Concerns about a fan-unfriendly slow pace led to discussion of adding a shot clock to NBA games, adding possessions and excitement. Ferris and Danny Biasone — owner of the Syracuse Nationals, where Ferris was general manager — are often given credit for the selection of 24 seconds, though there is evidence Ferris may deserve the lion's share.[2]

Ferris became the first general manager in basketball to organize celebrity halftime shows and brought acts like Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sarah Vaugh, Duke Ellington, and others to perform in Syracuse.[7] Many of them provided halftime entertainment for the Syracuse Nationals home games. Ferris was successful boosting attendance and expanded the possibilities of the types of entertainment one could enjoy at a basketball game. "Get an attractive ‘package’, and put it within reach of the greatest possible number of customers. Satisfy the fans, and you have a steady, and increasing, following. That's what pro basketball is doing."[citation needed]

Later career[edit]

Ferris left sports in 1955 and entered the real estate business. He died in 1993, at age 76 of Huntington's disease.

Halls of Fame[edit]

Ferris has been nominated four times to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, in 2016, 2017.,[8] 2018[9] & 2019[10] by the Veterans Committee.

Ferris is a member of three regional sports halls of fame: The Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame,[11] Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame,[12] and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.[13]


  1. ^ "New York Times". June 5, 1993.
  2. ^ a b "Long-forgotten Leo Ferris helped devise NBA's 24-second clock, first used 61 years ago today". ESPN.com.
  3. ^ Kirst, Sean (2016-12-29). "Team that's now Atlanta Hawks bailed on Buffalo 70 years ago". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  4. ^ Kirst, Sean (2018-08-19). "Sean Kirst: Campaign to honor an NBA founder comes home, to Buffalo". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  5. ^ Baker, Mark Allen (2010-10-25). Basketball History in Syracuse: Hoops Roots. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781614236450.
  6. ^ The Sixers History Podcast: Episode 4 - Looking Back on the Career of Leo Ferris, retrieved 2018-08-08
  7. ^ Sohi, Seerat. "How the NBA was saved on the back of a napkin". SI.com. Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  8. ^ "The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame :: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Announces Eligible Candidates for the Class of 2017". Retrieved 2016-12-27.
  9. ^ "The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame :: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Announces Eligible Candidates for the Class of 2018". Retrieved 2017-12-21.
  10. ^ "The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame :: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Announces Eligible Candidates for the Class of 2019". www.hoophall.com. Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  11. ^ "Bob McKenney, Leo Ferris among 8 new inductees to Greater Syracuse Hall of Fame". syracuse.com. Retrieved 2017-06-20.
  12. ^ Legare, Andrew. "Elmira Star Gazette".
  13. ^ Firchau, Bruce. "Illinois Basketball Coaches Association".