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It Happened In Jersey...


During the late-1930s, pro basketball was to regain its footing after being decimated by the Great Depression. Industrial leagues were beginning to flourish, with the strongest company teams providing a foundation for the National Basketball League—a very early forerunner of the NBA. The American Basketball League reformulated and the Metropolitan Basketball League, both in the New York region, kept pro hoops alive playing to small but enthusiastic playing crowds. From 1936 to 1939, some of the best basketball being played in America could be seen in the Hudson County town of North Bergen, thanks to the Jersey Reds.

The Reds had originally started as a Union City team. In 1932–33, they reached the finals of the Metropolitan League. A few months later they joined the ABL and then moved up Bergenline Avenue to North Bergen for the 1934–35 season. In 1936–37, they played the Philadelphia Sphas for the ABL championship—but lost Game 7 in overtime. The star of the Reds was Moe Spahn (right), an All-American under Nat Holman at CCNY. Spahn was a nightmare to guard. He had an accurate set shot but could also drive MoeFrankelto the basket with either hand if a defender tried to close the gap on him. Stationed at forward, he was adept at finishing fast breaks and was among the league leaders in scoring every place he played during his career. The Reds’ other star was Moe Frankel (left), who was less flashy than Spahn, but was a shutdown defender and a clutch shooter.

In 1937–38, the Two Moes finished among the ABL’s Top 10 scorers and led the Reds to the first-half title. They finished second in the second half. The best-of-seven league championship series pitted the Reds against the New York Jewels, an itinerant club that scheduled its home games for the series at Arcadia Hall in Brooklyn. During the regular season the Reds and Jewels played 10 times and won five games apiece. The Jewels had a star-studded roster than included player-coach Honey Russell, Matty Begovich, Mac Kinsbrunner, Lou Spindell and Jake Pelkington. ABL games in 1938 were three-period affairs, mimicking hockey as opposed to college hoops.

The Reds won two of the first three games, setting up a contentious Game Four in Brooklyn. Pushing and shoving led fistfights and at one point the Reds walked off the floor after the referee disallowed one of their baskets. ABL president Johnny O’Brien had to talk the Jersey players back onto the court. They won 26–42 to take a commanding lead. The Reds were especially tough on their homecourt, so it was considered a great upset when the Jewels went to North Bergen and won Game 5. However, Jersey closed out the series in Brooklyn, 30-–28. The Jewels actually led 20–18 heading into the final stanza, but ice-cold shooting (Kinsbrunner went 0-for-18 in the game) doomed them to a two-point loss.

In 1938–39 the Reds made it to their third straight ABL final, but the Jewels exacted revenge by sweeping the Reds. In 1940, the two clubs merged and made New York their official home base.


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