"Boxed Out of the NBA: Remembering the Eastern Professional Basketball League."

“Boxed Out of the NBA: Remembering the Eastern Professional Basketball League” by Syl Sobel and Jya Rosenstein

The Eastern Basketball League had some of the best players who were certainly talented enough to play in the NBA. The league was in operation from 1946-78. They played games in Eastern Pennsylvania cities like Wilkes-Barre, Allentown, Scranton, Sunbury, Hazelton and Williamsport. The league also had games in Camden and Trenton, N.J. and in Wilmington, DE. 

There's a great book, which chronicles the history of the league along with many of the outstanding players who competed on a weekly basis titled, "Boxed Out of the NBA: Remembering the Eastern Professional Basketball League," by writers Syl Sobel and Jay Rosenstein (Rowman & Littlefield). 

Sobel and Rosenstein provide the readers with a real good insight to not only the history of the league, but also describing the exciting moments and what the league meant to the fans in these towns.

There were a number of players who would travel to play professional basketball in these cities on the weekends. These players had terrific college basketball careers and many of them already had fulltime jobs during the week. 

They played games on Saturdays and Sundays in front of packed crowds in small high school gyms in these towns. According to the book, the players were paid $50 to $100 game. That's not a lot of money particularly for many players who travel upstate from Philadelphia, Camden and Trenton to play these games. 

The league featured several African American players who couldn't play in the NBA because of segregation at the time. There weren't many professional opportunities for Black players.

According to the book, "the Eastern League was formed on April 23, 1946, six weeks before the Basketball Association of America [BAA] was launched in big cities around the country to compete with the ABL and NBL (In 1949 the BAA would merge with the NBL to form the NBA)."

The book states, "Professional basketball had essentially been a segregated sport for its first several decades.  Though a few Black players had played in the NBL and ABL, the only professional options for most Black players were barnstorming teams like [Harlem] Globetrotters and the Harlem Rens. The NBA signed its first three Black players in 1950, but the door open slowly. In 1955 and '56, the NBA's eight teams had a total of only nine players. The Eastern League, however had Black players from the start."

"Three African Americans played for the Hazelton Mountaineers in the 1946/47 inaugural season and in 1955/56, nine years before the NBA, Hazelton featured the first all-Black starting lineup in organized professional basketball. African American players like Hal "King" Lear (Temple), Wally Choice (Indiana), Julius McCoy (Michigan State), Dick Gaines (Seton Hall) and Tom Hemans (Niagara) thrived by the late 1950s and are among the league's top players."

The book interviews the late Hall of Fame Temple coach John Chaney who was a huge star in the league. Chaney played for Sunbury. He averaged 19.1 points a game during the 1956-57 season. He was a sensational playmaker and defender.

Former Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan wrote the foreword for the book. Ryan, who covered the Boston Celtics for many years, and had seen Chaney play in the league.

"John Chaney was a great player in the Eastern League," said Ryan in the book. "There wasn't any question that John Chaney, as he was then, today is comparable in this league [to] a 10-year NBA player...He was pretty damn good."

The book also has interviews with former West Philadelphia High, Detroit Pistons player and coach, ESPN NBA analyst Hubie Brown, Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim and others.

This is truly a fascinating book with a lot of good stories in each chapter.

215-893-5719; dhunt@phillytrib.com

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