Philadelphia Sphas

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Philadelphia Sphas
Founded 1917
Folded 1955
Arena Broadwood Hotel
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Team colors Red, White & Blue
Championships 10 (1930, 1931, 1932, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1945)

The Philadelphia Sphas, also written SPHAs and SPHAS, were a team that competed in the Eastern Basketball League and then the American Basketball League. They played their home games in social halls and, from 1938, in the ballroom of the Broadwood Hotel. After World War II they also played some games in the Philadelphia Arena.

The name "Spha" was originally an acronym, derived from South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, and the team's players were primarily Jewish. Many pundits of the time tried to explain this on the basis of genetics, stating that Jews were naturally more dexterous, had better rhythm, and more intrinsic athletic ability, exactly the same sort of comments that would later be made about basketball with regard to African Americans in later years. At times writers used more specifically (and derogatory) Jewish stereotypes: Paul Gallico stated that they did well because "the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind".[1] The team was doomed once the National Basketball Association was formed and the owner of the Sphas got an NBA franchise (the Philadelphia Warriors) for the same arena. Essentially, the NBA destroyed the following of the entire league, which did not compete after 1953 although it did not formally cease to exist until 1955.


The Sphas were organized in 1917 as an amateur team by neighborhood friends Eddie Gottlieb, Harry Passon, and Hughie Black after their high school graduation. From 1933 to 1946 the Sphas were among the most dominant team in the professional American Basketball League (ABL), winning seven league championships in 13 seasons.

Called the Sphas because the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association bought the players uniforms, the team featured many eastern U.S. top college graduates, including Harry Litwack (IJSHOF honoree), Asher, Cy Kasselman, Davey Banks, Moe Goldman (ABL MVP 1937–38), Shiky Gotthofer, Mendy Snyder, Irv Torgoff, Red Wolfe, Max Posnack, Gil Fitch, Jerry Fleishman and many others. All but a few Sphas players were Jewish during the club's many years of amateur and professional existence. Originally an independent team sponsored by the Young Men's Hebrew Association (YMHA), the players found a new home in 1921 at the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association when the YMHA withdrew its sponsorship. Their area victories earned the team a place in the Philadelphia League, where the Sphas won two consecutive championships, after which the league disbanded. The Sphas then joined the Eastern League for 1925–26, but it went out of business that same season.

Refusing to keep his team idle, owner-coach Gottlieb promoted a series of exhibition games against leading professional teams from New York's Metropolitan League and the new ABL, in its first year of operation. When the Sphas won five of six games, losing only to the ABL's top team, the Cleveland Rosenblums, Gottlieb arranged for best-of-three series against both the Original Celtics and the New York Renaissance. The Sphas defeated the Celtics in three games, and the Rens twice, 36–33 in overtime and 40–39. Within approximately six weeks, the Sphas had won 9 of 11 matches against the top teams in professional basketball.

When the Eastern League reformed in 1929, the Sphas joined its ranks and won three championships in four seasons. This led to an invitation from the newly reorganized ABL, dormant for two Depression years, which the Sphas joined for 1933. The team captured three League championships in four years, and would win seven titles in 13 years, and were twice runners-up. In 1946, following World War II, the Basketball Association of America, forerunner of the NBA, debuted, and the ABL ceased to be a major league. With Gottlieb establishing the Philadelphia Warriors as his BAA franchise, his Sphas continued with the minor league ABL and as a touring opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters. Gottlieb sold the team in 1950 to former Sphas star Red Klotz.


Year League Reg. Season Playoffs
1925/26 EBL 3rd (1st half); 1st (2nd half) No playoff
1929/30 EBL 2nd (1st half); 1st (2nd half) Champion
1930/31 EBL 1st (1st half); 2nd (2nd half) Champion
1931/32 EBL 2nd (1st half); 1st (2nd half) Champion
1932/33 EBL 1st (1st half); 3rd (2nd half) Finals
1933/34 ABL 3rd (1st half); 1st (2nd half) Champion
1934/35 ABL 2nd (1st half); 1st(t) (2nd half) 2nd Half Playoff
1935/36 ABL 1st (1st half); 5th (2nd half) Champion
1936/37 ABL 2nd (1st half); 1st (2nd half) Champion
1937/38 ABL 4th (1st half); 3rd (2nd half) Did not qualify
1938/39 ABL 2nd Playoffs
1939/40 ABL 1st(t) Champion (Round Robin)
1940/41 ABL 1st (1st half); 4th (2nd half) Champion
1941/42 ABL 2nd (1st half); 3rd (2nd half) No playoff
1942/43 ABL 2nd Champion
1943/44 ABL 4th (1st half); 1st (2nd half) Finals
1944/45 ABL 1st Champion
1945/46 ABL 2nd Finals
1946/47 ABL 2nd, Southern 2nd Round
1947/48 ABL 6th Did not qualify
1948/49 ABL 8th Did not qualify