It Happened In Jersey...
BEASTS OF THE EAST
In the spring of 1964, the cities of Trenton and Camden squared off in a best-of-three series to decide the championship of the Eastern Professional Basketball League. Trenton, coached by Stan Novak, had three of the circuit’s Top 10 scorers: New York playground legend Stacey Arceneaux (right), 6’10”rookie Jim Hadnot and Holy Cross All-Star George Blaney, all of whom averaged over 20 a game. The Colonials also had a strong bench, featuring Cleo Hill. The big gun heading into the series, however, was Camden’s Paul Arizin (below), a longtime Philadelphia Warrior who chose to stay in Philly after the franchise moved to San Francisco. The burly, 35-year-old forward averaged 25.8 point per game. The Bullets also had veteran guard Hal Lear.
The star of Game One turned out to be a little-known Bullets benchwarmer named Bill Burwell. The 6–8 reserve, who’d had a solid career at Illinois University, helped turn a slim halftime lead into a comfortable double-digit margin by the end of the third period, nailing six straight shots. Burwell’s timing was perfect, as Arizin went ice-cold. Burwell poured in 20 points and collected a dozen rebounds as Camden cruised to a 131–125 lead. Lear was the high man for the Bullets with 29 and Herb Gray played shutdown defense on Arceneaux in the second half. Hadnot was the game’s top scorer with 30 points. After the final buzzer, Burwell received a standing ovation from Camden fans.
Throughout the game, a small but vocal contingent of Trenton fans gave Novak an earful—questioning everything from his judgment to his manhood during the high-scoring contest. Novak had been in the Eastern League as a player and coach since the early 1950s. Their beef with Novak dated back to the beginning of the year, when he cut a popular player named Willie Choice. Afterwards, Novak felt he had heard enough from the fans and informed GM Hal Simon that he was quitting—in the middle of a championship series! Simon ended up taking the coaching reins for Game Two.
Prior to that game, Camden’s coach, Buddy Donnelley, was almost a no-show, too. He had to accompany his wife to the hospital for an operation, but he made it to the Trenton gym in time for the opening tap.
The Bullets won the championship in Trenton with another high-scoring performance, 142–138. Arizin got back on track with 29 points to lead Camden, while Hadnot was the contest’s top scorer again with 32 points. Burwell was great again for the Bullets, with a season-high 23 points. Another sub, Jay Norman, made a couple of clutch plays down the stretch. In the final minutes, with Arizin fouled out, Lear made two clutch steals to blunt a final Trenton comeback.
“I feel great right now,” Arizin told reporters after the game. “Possibly the only feeling that compares with is was back in 1956 with the Warriors and we won the NBA championship. It’s a great feeling.”
Each winning player received a check for $800.