Born: July 2, 1916
Died: October 25, 2003
Town: Scotch Plains
Henry G. Beenders was born July 2, 1916 in the northern Holland city of Haarlem. He moved with his family to Brooklyn in the mid-1920s and from there they moved to Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Hank was a lanky 6’6” center who starred for North Plainfield High. A fair shooter, he was at his best in the paint, where he was a solid defender and rebounder.
Hank was recruited by Clair Bee to play for Long Island University and joined the varsity in the 1939–40 season. LIU had one of the nation’s most formidable programs. They won the NIT championship during Hank’s freshman year and returned to the tournament in each of his three varsity seasons. The Blackbirds won the NIT title in 1941, defeating Ohio University 56–42 in the championship game. Their 25–2 record enabled them to claim the #1 ranking in the country. Hank and Dolly King were the top players on the squad. Hank was named captain of the Blackbirds as a senior in 1941–42. They went 25–3 but lost to West Virginia in the NIT. In all, LIU went 69–9 during his three varsity seasons.
Although he was too tall to qualify for combat duty, Hank enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and served until 1945, attaining the rank of captain. He stayed in shape playing service ball and played professionally for the Paterson Crescents of the American Basketball League after his discharge.
Hank was 30 and past his prime when the Basketball Association of America began play in 1946–47. He was the oldest player signed by the Providence Steamrollers, and was one of four players, including college superstar Ernie Calverley, that season to score in double figures, with 12.3 points per game. Midway through the 1947–48 campaign, Providence sold Hank to the Philadelphia Warriors, where he backed up Chick Halbert at center. The Warriors were led by high-scoring Joe Fulks. The team finished first in the standings but lost to the Baltimore Bullets in the BAA Finals. Hank holds the distinction of being the first international player in NBA history to reach the finals.
Hank was traded with Halbert to the Boston Celtics after the season for another aging star, Ed Sadowski. Hank lasted just 8 games in 1948–49 before the Celts let him go. He continued to play minor-league ball in Schenectady and Hartford while focusing on his post-hoops career. Hank is remembered as the first of many Dutch basketball luminaries to play in the NBA or its forerunner, the BAA. It is worth noting that the owner of the Washington Capitals, Mike Uline, was also born in the Netherlands.
Hank’s ability to speak multiple languages enabled him to find work as an international sales rep. He worked for Henry Isaacs, a New York City clothing exporter, until the mid-1980s, when he retired at 70 years old. Hank lived in Bridgewater during his later years and passed away in Somerville in 2003 at the age of 87.