Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Milestone #8 - American Basketball League II

What I call the ABL II is the same organization as ABL I. There was a two-season break in the league due to the depression, but when it came back, it was still lead by John O'Brien who reformed it from the Metropolitan League. The scope of ABL II was much smaller geographically. ABL 1 covered a large swath of the Eastern US, from Chicago to Boston; roughly a thousand-mile diameter footprint. When ABL II came along, it was a much smaller footprint, with the largest distance between two teams being about 300 miles apart. A prominent league in the beginning, after World War 2, it was relegated to minor league status, and by the early 50's, was barely even the largest minor league.


It was clear after the 1952-53 season the American Basketball League was in dire condition. Teams were failing to sell tickets, secure home courts and fighting with the league office. In May of 1953, Eddie White announced that his Wilkes-Barre Barons were leaving the ABL. Granted, he had made claims prior to this before, but he went so far to sell the actual bleachers in the Kingston Armory, the Barons home court.  A week later, the Pawtucket club was sold to George Patrick Duffy who was the publicity director for the Providence club in the American Hockey League. . In June of 1953, Elmira’s ownership was dealt a blow with the death of Harl Robacher. Robacher was the principal owner of the Colonels and had taken over the team prior to the 52-53 season. He died suddenly from a heart attack at 51 years of age. 

By the end of summer, it didn’t appear there would be another season. President John O’Brien made efforts to reorganize, despite his public claims he wanted to pass the presidency to someone else, specifically Matty Begovich, the former player who now was the chief of the referees. Finally, On October 16, 1953, the announcement was made that the league had suspended operations.
The Scranton Miners, a two-time ABL champion and two-time runner up in 5-and-a-half seasons in the league (they moved from Jersey City partway into the 1947-48 season) would reform in 1954 as a member of the Eastern Basketball League. The won that league title in 1956-57, and would continue to play through 1970, when the league renamed itself as the Eastern Basketball Association. The club changed their moniker to the Scranton Apollos. They won the EBA championship in 1971, and again in 1977. After winning that title, the club dissolved, with a lot of their personnel moving to Wilkes-Barre. relocated to Wilkes-Barre Barons to become the Wilkes-Barre Barons, of all things. When the league changed to the Continental Basketball Association in 1978, the team would play the 1978-79 season under that name before changing their name to the Pennsylvania Barons (1979-80 season) then to the Scranton Aces (1980-81) before disbanding.

The Wilkes-Barre Barons had won three ABL crowns in their six seasons in the league.  After the league folded, the team joined the Eastern League in 1954 along with Scranton. The club quickly became a powerhouse in that league, winning 4 EBL Championships in their first five seasons in the league. They would win the title again in 1969, and yet again in 1973 as the EBA, The team folded in midseason of the 1973-74 season. During the 1975-76 season, the Brooklyn Pros team of the EBA moved to Wilkes-Barre in mid—season and took the Barons name. This incarnation, not tied to the ABL team any more, would play the 1978-79 season under that name before changing their name to the Pennsylvania Barons (1979-80 season) then to the Scranton Aces (1980-81) before disbanding.
The Manchester British Americans would continue play in the much smaller Eastern Basketball League of Connecticut for the 1953-54 season before disbanding.

The impact of the ABL is mainly in its foundation. It was the first attempt at a major basketball league in the lines of the NHL, NFL, AL and NL. The sport was barely 30-years old at the time of the ABL's formation in 1925. It was also the first league to serve as a minor league support system to the NBA (some franchises, at least.) However, grander vision and deep pockets possessed by the owners of the BAA/NBA/NBL spelled the leagues doom. Solidifying itself as the top major league, the NBA would enjoy years without a serious run at its hegemony.

As for ABL-II, here are the numbers for the six season run:

Number of ABL-II players:  951
Unidentified/unknown whereabouts:168
Surviving ABL-II players: 50. It is quite possible that a few of the guys I have listed as living have indeed passed, but I haven't found that information yet. Compared to other sports' longevity data I have, that number should be around 40. It is also possible that of the 130+ unideintified players who debuted after the 1930's, a few of them could very well be alive. I wouldn't take the number of surviving players as definitive number.

Of the 951 players, 127 players (13.35%) lived to see the age of 90. 46 men (4.84%) died before the age of 50. (Numbers could obviously change as unknown players get identified.

ABL-I and ABL-II Longevity numbers combined:
1225 player
155 (12.65%) saw the age of 90.
68 (5.55%) died before 50.

Earl Hill ('26) and Gil Ely ('26) both lived to be 100. Hubs McCord ('29) made it to 101.

So there you go. I started this journey with the ABL back on October 10, 2017, so a little over 13 months. I'm tired. Have a good Thanksgiving and Christmas and Happy New Year, too.

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