It Happened In Jersey...
WILL THE REAL BOB MAXWELL PLEASE STAND UP?
Everyone during the Depression had a side hustle. If someone tells you otherwise, they’re not telling the truth. College basketball players during this time of financial struggle could (and often did) earn a few extra bucks suiting up for barnstorming or even professional league teams—performing under assumed names, of course, so as not to jeopardize their NCAA eligibility. While their real names might have been familiar to fans, their faces rarely were; TV was still years away and newspapers rarely if ever sent photographers to cover pro or college games.
That being said, fans in upstate New York had to have had a glint of recognition when Bob Maxwell took the floor for the Syracuse Reds during the winter of 1939–40. He stood a muscular 6’5” and demonstrated quickness and skill that was highly unusual in a big man. His hook shot was money in the bank and hard to defend because of his wide body. He was also a dominant rebounder. The Reds played in the rough-and-tumble New York State League and they needed a center like this in the worst way. Bob Maxwell, whom the Reds reported came from the courts of New York City, proved to be an excellent fit.
Just one problem…Bob Maxwell was a 24-year-old senior at Seton Hall.
His real name was Ed Sadowski, and he was the high-scoring All-Eastern center for the Pirates’ varsity basketball team, which was on its way to the school’s one and only undefeated season. Oh, and he was also the team’s captain. Coach Honey Russell no doubt suspected something was amiss, but Russell himself had worn multiple uniforms in the same season during the 1920s and early 1930s, so he probably looked the other way.
Alas, Bob Maxwell’s pro career came to an abrupt end when he injured his knee in a college game in February. Ed Sadowski’s pro career began in earnest the following fall, when he signed to play with the Detroit Eagles of the National Basketball League. He was the leading scorer on a club that included veteran Rusty Saunders and young guns Bob Calihan and Buddy Jeannette.
As for the Reds, they found a replacement for Maxwell/Sadowski in Mark Haller of Syracuse University, who signed with them after he had completed his senior season for the Orangemen and could play under his own name. The Reds would go on to compete in the World Pro Tournament in Chicago that spring and Haller was the top scorer in their three games.
Sadowski served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, but because he was in constant demand, he continued to play here and there for pro teams when he could arrange it. He was a member of Barnet Sedran’s Wilmington Blue Bombers, who won the American Basketball League title in 1942. After the war, Sadowski lost some of his agility, but he was still a big name in the pros. When the Basketball Association of American (forerunner of the NBA) began play, Sadowski signed with the Toronto Huskies. He scored what is regarded as the NBA/BAA’s first basket on opening night, against the Knicks.
In 1947–48, Sadowski was reunited with Honey Russell as a member of the Boston Celtics. His teammates included New Jersey stars Connie Simmons, Mike Bloom and another Seton Hall alum, Chuck Connors. Sadowski finished among the league leaders with an average of 19.4 points per game. He played one more year in the BAA and finished his pro career with the Paterson Crescents of the second-tier American Basketball League.
After retiring from basketball, Sadowski lived in Bloomfield and worked in New York. He kept a summer home at the shore and owned Big Ed’s Soda Mart in Brielle during the 1960s. Sadowski was inducted into Seton Hall’s Hall of Fame in 1974 and passed away in Wall Township at the age of 75.