Monday, February 4, 2019

Southern Professional Basketball League (SPBL)

Greetings, everyone. I am back after a good month off and ready to get back into it. I wasn't sure what I was going to do after the ABL. Do I return to the NBA and move forward, or do I step back and check some older leads from the leagues I had already done and fill some blanks? Or something different.

I noticed last year when compiling the 2018 In Memoriam video that a few players who played in the short-lived Southern Basketball League had passed. Knowing how few players remain from the 1940's, I figured there can't be many Southern League players remaining. I had spoken to Julie Silverman's daughter about a year ago, and I knew that he was still with us, but who else from that league was around? I figured I'd give this one a go.

The SBL (or SPBL) lasted two seasons before folding. Formed in 1947 with Nashville Tennessean sportswriter Raymond Johnson (1904-1991) as commissioner, they started as a six-team league with teams in Nashville, Montgomery, Jackson (Mississippi), Memphis, Gadsden (Alabama) and Birmingham. The league was a more-offensively focused league, unlike their American Basketball League counterparts. The PBLA, which also opened play this year, folded within their first month, and a few of their players wound up in the SBL. The fortunes of certain teams were not rosy. Memphis, saddled with a 4-16 start, would relocate to Mobile, Alabama, in January. Their fortunes didn't change much as they finished with a paltry 13-33 record. Gadsden dropped their first 8 games before moving to Bessemer, Alabama. They ran up three-straight wins after an 0-11 start, but never really improved their fortunes as they would finish the season 7-30.

The Montgomery Rebels were a wrecking machine. They rolled through the schedule with little resistance, winning 34 of their first 36 games and finishing at 44-6. The Rebs were 26-1 at home, losing only to the Nashville Volunteers. Nashville, Jackson and Birmingham were fairly even throughout the season, but at the end of the season, the Jackson club had called it quits. A three-team round-robin was devised for Nashville, Birmingham and Montgomery. The Birmingham Vulcans were ousted in the round-robin, and in a best-of-5 championship series, Montgomery grabbed the crown in four games after being blown out in the opener.

The SBL was now without Jackson, and Mobile and Bessemer withdrew as well. The Vulcans dropped out, but a new Birmingham contingent took their place, named the Steelers. The league also added the Laurel (Mississippi) Oilers and the New Orleans Sports to make the league a 5-team league for the 1948-49 season.

Montgomery again was the team to beat, but the new Birmingham club and the Laurel contingent made it a closer race. Montgomery still managed to win 2/3 of their games, but Birmingham finished 3 games back, Laurel 4. Nashville never really found their rhythm, and New Orleans cut their season short and finished buried in last place. The league was now a wreck financially, and the prospects of playoffs were dim. The league scrapped the playoffs, declaring Montgomery the champions again based on the regular season title. The off-season saw the intentions of a third season fs the Southern League, with possible new teams in Georgia and Florida. However, with the major basketball leagues siphoning talent and the lack of a decent support in small market towns, the Southern League disbanded in the summer of 1949.

A few good players rolled through the SBL on their way to the NBA, but the impact of the league on the national scope or the region is miniscule. It was more or less a distraction in their home towns until baseball season started.

I managed to find a lot of the box scores for this league, but am probably missing around 24 games. Still able to piece together decent scoring statistics but would like to fill these gaps one day so I can publish complete league stats.

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