Born: February 19, 1923
Died: January 9, 1981
Thomas P. Byrnes was born February 19, 1923 in Teaneck and grew up across the Hudson River in the Bronx. Slim and scrappy, Tommy was not a superior athlete, but at DeWitt Clinton High he grew to 6’3” and his hustle and versatile put him on the radar of Seton Hall coach Honey Russell. Tommy played one year for Russell before the school suspended its hoops program during World War II. After graduation, Tommy signed to play with the New York Knicks of the newly formed Basketball Association of America.
Joe Lapchick saw Tommy as a sparkplug-type player. He reminded the Knicks coach of his teammates during the glory days of the New York Celtics. He proved his grit in the opener—the first game of the fledgling BAA. In the closing minutes, Dick Murphy hit a pair of shots and Tommy sealed the deal with a clutch free throw to win the game 68–66. Tommy turned out to be one of coach Lapchick’s favorite players.
Tommy finished the year and the Knicks made the playoffs with a 33–27 record. He was one seven Knicks who averaged between 7 and 10 points a game in a remarkably balanced offense. He was also a dependable rebounder. New York got past the Cleveland Rebels in the opening round but had no answer for jump-shooting Joe Fulks and the Philadelphia Warriors.
The Knicks returned to the playoffs the following season, but slumped in 1948–49. Against Lapchick’s wishes, team owner Ned Irish traded Tommy to the Indianapolis Jets for Ray Lumpp. Lumpp had been a star guard at NYU and promised to put fannies in the seats. When Lapchick heard he had lost his hustling forward, he literally became ill. When the famously emotional coach told Tommy he was off the team, he fainted. That very spring, the Knicks bought him back from the Jets.
Tommy was traded for Connie Simmons in 1949–50 and played that year with the Baltimore Bullets. In 1950–51, he split what would be his final pro season with the Bullets, Washington Capitals and Tri-Cities Blackhawks.
Tommy went into business and moved to Connecticut. He passed away in 1981 at the age of 57.