It Happened In Jersey...
The Trenton Tigers are listed as the champions of the American Basketball League for the 1946-47 season. They were indeed the last team standing in the playoffs that spring, but their title probably deserves an asterisk. It certainly begs an explanation.
The ’46–’47 campaign was a wild one for pro basketball. The decade-old National Basketball League fielded 12 teams and crowned the Chicago American Gears as its champion. The newly formed Basketball Association of America struggled through its inaugural campaign with a lack of big-name players and—with the exception of the New York Knicks and Philadelphia Warriors—a ton of empty seats. The Warriors won the first BAA title but shortly thereafter four of the league’s 11 teams folded. The American Basketball League, four years older than the NBL but considered a notch below, fielded 10 clubs in the fall of 1946, including five in New Jersey. The league struggled to compete and two clubs didn’t make it to the end of the schedule.
As for the Tigers, Chilly Edelstein, Eddie Boyle (right) and Al Schneider led a well-balanced Trenton team, which included future NBA referee Norm Drucker. The Tigers finished the year with a sub-.500 record, but still qualified for the postseason. They prevailed in their opening playoff round, defeating the Elizabeth Braves. The Tigers then upset the Philadelphia SPHAs in a best-of-three series, winning the deciding game 48–46. On the other side of the ABL draw were the Baltimore Bullets, led by future Hall of Famer Buddy Jeannette and high-scoring Mike Bloom, who cruised through their series with the Brooklyn Gothams to reach the finals.
The ABL championship series happened to coincide with the World Professional Basketball Tournament, which played to packed houses in Chicago Stadium. The Bullets calculated that their cut of the gate—particularly if they made it out of the first round—would dwarf their earnings from the ABL finals. So Jeannette and his crew boarded a train to the Windy City and never looked back. The Tigers rightfully claimed the league championship without breaking a sweat. They were awarded the title by forfeit. As for the Bullets, they drew the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (distant forerunner of the Atlanta Hawks) and fell 57–46.
The following season, the Trenton Tigers went 17–15 but lost in the opening round of the playoffs. They continued to play winning basketball until the team folded during the 1949–50 season.