Tony Lavelli

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Tony Lavelli
Tony Lavelli 1959.JPG
Lavelli in 1959.
Personal information
Born (1926-07-11)July 11, 1926
Somerville, Massachusetts
Died January 8, 1998(1998-01-08) (aged 71)
Laconia, New Hampshire
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Listed weight 185 lb (84 kg)
Career information
High school Somerville
(Somerville, Massachusetts)
College Yale (1945–1949)
BAA draft 1949 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4th overall
Selected by the Boston Celtics
Playing career 1949–1951
Position Small forward
Number 4, 11, 6, 16
Career history
1949–1950 Boston Celtics
1950–1951 New York Knicks
Career highlights and awards
Career NBA statistics
Points 591 (6.9 ppg)
Rebounds 59 (2.0 rpg)
Assists 63 (0.7 apg)
Stats at

Anthony Lavelli, Jr. (July 11, 1926 – January 8, 1998) was an American basketball player and musician. He averaged 6.9 points [1] per game during his two-year NBA career (1949–1951) while also providing half-time entertainment with his accordion performances.


A native of Somerville, Massachusetts, Lavelli attended Yale University as a music student and was a member of Skull and Bones.[2]:169[3] He aspired to compose musical comedies after he graduated.[4] He wrote over a dozen songs while in college, with titles like "I Want a Helicopter" [4] and "You're the Boppiest Bee-Bop",[5] and he also appeared as an accordion soloist for the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.[6] As a senior, he applied to the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the New England Conservatory of Music.[4]

However, Lavelli's musical talents were often overshadowed by his achievements on the basketball court. Lavelli claimed that he had only learned basketball as a teenager to impress his friends, who were mostly apathetic to his music.[4] Nevertheless, he would become one of Yale's all-time greatest players. A 6'3" forward with an accurate one-handed hook shot, he scored 1,964 points in four years and graduated as the fourth highest-scorer in college basketball history.[4] He also earned four All-American team selections and one Player of the Year award during his college career.[4] Upon graduating, he was selected as the first overall pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1949 BAA draft.[7]

Professional basketball[edit]

Despite his athletic accomplishments, Lavelli's first love was music, and he initially refused to sign with the Celtics so that he could enroll at Juilliard.[5] Eventually, however, based on suggestions made by sports executive Leo Ferris, Lavelli proposed to join the team on the condition that they would pay him an extra $125 per game to play his accordion during half-time breaks at Boston Garden and certain visitors' arenas.[8] The Celtics conceded to his demands.

Lavelli made his Celtics debut on November 24, 1949 in a game against the Fort Wayne Pistons. He tallied 20 points in his first game,[9] and would average 8.8 points per game over the course of the 1949–50 NBA season.[1] However, he received much more attention for his half-time accordion performances; indeed, some basketball historians have credited Lavelli's mini-concerts for saving the early Celtics franchise, which was in danger of folding due to lack of fans and money.[10] In a typical performance, Lavelli would greet the fans and play "Granada", "Lady of Spain", and other musical pieces before dashing off to the Celtics' locker room.[11] He usually played in his basketball jersey, as he had little time to change his clothes.[10] The Celtics unfortunately finished last in their division that season, but one newspaper joked that the team "doubtless [found] his music soothing".[12]

Lavelli signed with the rival New York Knicks prior to the start of the 1950–51 NBA season. He averaged 3.3 points per game with the Knicks and participated in their playoff run, which ended in the 1951 NBA Finals at the hands of the Rochester Royals.[13] However, Lavelli had joined the Knicks specifically so that he would be close to Juilliard, and he finally began taking courses there during his tenure with the team.[11]

During the mid-1950s, Lavelli played with the College All-Stars, who primarily served as opponents to the Harlem Globetrotters, and his accordion performances became a fixture of the Globetrotters’ halftime shows.[11]

Post-basketball career[edit]

After retiring from basketball in the late 1950s, Lavelli embarked on a long career as a songwriter and nightclub performer.[11] He released two records during his life: All-American Accordionist and Accordion Classics.[14] In 1998, he suffered a heart attack at his home in Laconia, New Hampshire and died shortly afterwards.[11]



  1. ^ a b "Tony Lavelli". Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  2. ^ Robbins, Alexandra (2002). Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-72091-7. 
  3. ^ Porter, David L. (2005). Basketball: a biographical dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 275. Retrieved April 8, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Baskets in 4/4 Time". Time. March 14, 1949. [dead link]
  5. ^ a b "Lavelli of Yale passes up pro basketball for music career". New York Times: 18. April 16, 1949. 
  6. ^ "Tony Lavelli solos with New Haven Symphony". Accordion World. 1949. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  7. ^ "1949 BAA Draft". The Official NBA Encyclopedia. New York: Doubleday. 2000. p. 368. 
  8. ^ Burwell, Brian (2001). At the Buzzer!. New York: Doubleday. p. 145. 
  9. ^ "Celtics bow, Lavelli gets 20". New York Times: 34. November 25, 1949. 
  10. ^ a b Cavanaugh, Jack (April 16, 1995). "The last days of a garden where memories grew". New York Times: S7. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Goldstein, Richard (January 13, 1998). "Tony Lavelli, 71, musician with a memorable hook shot". New York Times: D21. 
  12. ^ "Tony from Yale likes accordion, cage combination; halftime 'concerts' prove biggest success". The Charleston Gazette. November 28, 1949. 
  13. ^ "Royals Reign, Despite Knicks Unlikely Comeback". Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Tony Lavelli". Retrieved September 18, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Tony Lavelli". IMDb. Retrieved September 18, 2015. 

External links[edit]