The Original Celtics were a barnstorming professional basketball team in the 1920s. There is no relation to the modern Boston Celtics. The Original Celtics are often credited with extending the reach of basketball across America and for establishing the importance of aggressive defensive play. As a group, the team was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959.
The team's roots lay in the New York Celtics team that disbanded during World War I. In 1918, James Furey assembled his own team around a nucleus of those truly "original" Celtics, adding other players mostly from the West Side of New York City, and defiantly called his new squad the Original Celtics. Initially they played in various struggling professional leagues, before becoming primarily a touring squad which traveled up to 150,000 miles a year while completing a 150-200 game schedule. They won about ninety percent of their games and finished 1922-23 with the unbelievable record of 193-11-1. Hoping to claim an undisputed national championship, they challenged the nationally famous Franklin Wonder Five, but the Franklin coach refused as his team "was too tired" after a grueling year.
The team's first dominant player was "Dutch" Dehnert, a 6'1" (1.85 m) standing guard whom some credit with introducing the modern concept of pivot play. When ballhandling wizard Nat Holman (later to coach national championship teams at CCNY) was signed to play for then-coach John Whitty in 1922, the Original Celtics hit their stride. Other outstanding individual players on these squads were another "big man", Joe Lapchick; John Beckman, called the "Babe Ruth of Basketball"; George "Horse" Haggerty; John "Pete" Barry; and speedy Davey Banks.
In 1926, the American Basketball League, developed by sports entrepreneur George Preston Marshall, effectively railroaded the team into joining its ranks by prohibiting member teams from playing against them. The Original Celtics responded by winning the next two ABL titles. During their first full season in the ABL, their dominance was so absolute that fans in other cities took up the cry, "Break up the Celtics!" In response, the league disbanded the Celtics and apportioned their players to the other teams. The strategy backfired as game attendance plummeted and, further deflated by the Great Depression, the A.B.L. folded after the 1931 season. The Original Celtics briefly reorganized as a barnstorming team in the 1930s, but never replicated their initial glory.
At various times in their existence, the team played in the ABL, the Eastern Basketball League and the Metropolitan Basketball League. During the 1921/22 season, the team replaced the New York Giants, whose owner also owned the Whirlwinds during the 1st half. During the 1922/23 season, the team took over the Atlantic City franchise when it was 4-7 and won five of six games before the Eastern League folded in January, 1923.They also competed in the Metropolitan League but dropped out of the league during the 1st half after going 12-0. During the 1926/27 season, the team replaced the Brooklyn Arcadians after 5 games, and took the name Brooklyn Celtics. By the next season they had returned to the name, New York Celtics. After winning back-to-back ABL championships in 1926/27 and 1927/28, the team was broken up. An attempt to return the team for the 1929/30 season failed, and the team dropped out of the league during the 1st half on December 10, 1929. Later the team, sponsored by popular singer Kate Smith, also played in the ABL in the 1936/37 and 1937/38 as New York Celtics and in 1938/39 as Kingston Colonials (in this last year with the ABL they won the regular season but lost in playoffs).
|1921/22||EBL||1st (2nd half)||Champions|
|1926/27||ABL||4th (1st half); 1st (2nd half)||Champions|
Notable players with the Original Celtics include:
- Nat Holman (1896–1995)
- Lou Bender (1910–2009), pioneer player with the Columbia Lions and in early pro basketball, who was later a successful trial attorney.
- Mallozzii, Vincent M. "Lou Bender, Columbia Star Who Helped Popularize Basketball in New York, Dies at 99", The New York Times, September 12, 2009. Accessed September 13, 2009.
- Original Celtics at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
- Fox, Larry. 1973. Illustrated History of Basketball.
- Murry Nelson. (1999). The Originals: the New York Celtics invent modern basketball. Bowling Green State University Popular Press. ISBN 0-87972-794-2.
- Murry Nelson. (2004). "The Original Celtics and the 1926–27 American Basketball League". The Journal of Popular Culture 30 (2). doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1996.00087.x.
- Peterson, Robert W. (1990). "The Rise of the Original Celtics". Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketballs Early Years. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 69–79. ISBN 0-8032-8772-0.