Sport: Basketball & Baseball
Born: January 30, 1902
Died: September 16, 1979
Matthew J. Hickey was born January 30, 1902 in Hoboken. A fine all-around athlete, the boy everyone called Nat starred in baseball and basketball, earning all-state honors twice in high school before playing professionally at the age of 18. Nat stood 5’1"1 and was a superb two-way player. He starred for independent teams in New York and New Jersey in the early 1920s, including Eddie Holly’s Majors, a team assembled by popular baseball personalities Al Schacht and Nick Altrock.
In 1925, the American Basketball League began play. The Cleveland Rosenblums recruited Nat and he quickly established himself as one of the top players, along with Honey Russell, on the ABL’s best team. He averaged 10.7 points in the playoffs as Cleveland won the league title. Two other stars on the club were New Jerseyan Carl Husta and Dave Kerr, the team’s defensive enforcer.
Nat played five seasons with the Rosenblums and was among the ABL’s leading scorers every year. Cleveland won the ABL championship again in 1929. In 1929–30, Nat was traded to the Chicago Bruins. The ABL folded after the 1930–31 season. Nat’s star power led to a job with the barnstorming Original Celtics. He joined the game’s most celebrated cast of characters, playing for the Celts on and off for a decade. He also served as a player-coach in the National Basketball League.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Nat kept busy in the summers as a minor league baseball infielder and manager. He was a .306 lifetime hitter and was Stan Musial’s first manager, in 1938 with the Class-D Williamson Colts.
In 1947, Nat was hired to coach the Providence Steamroller of the BAA. Near the end of his less-than-successful tenure, he inserted himself in two games as a player, two days short of his 46th birthday. He is still considered the oldest player in NBA history. In 1951, while coaching a minor-league basketball team in Pennsylvania, a car Nat was driving slid off an icy road and killed one of his players. That was his last coaching job in the sport.
Nat passed away in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1979 at he age of 77.