|The SPHAs were organized in 1918 as an amateur team by Eddie Gottlieb (Naismith Hall of Fame and IJSHOF honoree), Harry Passon, and Hughie Black shortly after their high school graduation. Always a team of considerable prowess whether the competition was amateur or professional, from 1933 to 1946 the SPHAs were the most dominant team in the professional American Basketball League (ABL), capturing 7 league championships in 13 seasons.
Called the SPHAs because the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association
bought the players uniforms, the team featured many eastern
U.S. top college graduates, including Harry Litwack (IJSHOF
honoree), Cy Kaselman, Davey Banks, Moe Goldman (ABL MVP
1937-38), Shikey Gotthoffer, Irv Torgoff, Red Wolfe, Max
Posnack, and many others. All but a few SPHAs players were
Jewish during the club' s many years of amateur
and professional existence.
Originally an independent team sponsored by the Young Men's
Hebrew Association (YMHA), the players found a new home in
1921 at the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association when the
YMHA withdrew its sponsorship. Soon, their local skills earned
them a spot in the Philadelphia League, where they won two
consecutive championships, after which the League disbanded.
The SPHAs then joined the Eastern League for 1925-26,
but it went out of business that same season.
Refusing to keep his team idle, owner-coach Gottlieb, the
consummate basketball entrepreneur, promoted a series of
exhibition games against leading pro teams from New York's
Metropolitan League and the new ABL, then in its first year
of operation. When the SPHAs won five of six games, losing
only to the ABL's top team, the Cleveland Rosenblums,
Gottlieb arranged for best-of-three series against both the
Original Celtics and the New York Rens (an all-Black team).
The SPHAs defeated the fabled Celtics in three games, and
the Rens twice by scores of 36-33 in overtime and 40-39.
Within approximately six weeks, the minor league SPHAs had
won 9 of 11 matches against the most celebrated teams in
When the Eastern League found new life in 1929, the SPHAs once again joined its ranks, winning three championships in four seasons. This success led to an invitation from the newly reorganized ABL, which had been dormant for two Depression years.
In 1933, the SPHAs were Eddie Gottlieb's ABL franchise entry.
The team promptly captured three League championships in
four years, eventually winning seven titles in 13 years (1933-34,
1935-36, 1936-37, 1939-40, 1940-41,
1942-43, 1944-45), and they were runners-up twice.
The team's uniform tops featured a samach, pey, hey,
aleph—Hebrew letters spelling SPHAs—and a Jewish
star. In case opponents or spectators did not understand,
the back of the team's road uniforms said "Hebrews"!
In 1946, following World War II, the Basketball Association
of America, forerunner of the NBA, debuted, and the ABL ceased
to be a major league. With Gottlieb establishing the Philadelphia
Warriors as his BAA franchise, his SPHAs continued with the
minor league ABL and as a touring opponent of the Harlem
Globetrotters. Gottlieb sold the team in 1950 to former SPHAs
star Red Klotz, who changed the name of the Globetrotters'
regular opponents to the Washington Generals.
SPHAs Primary Players 1930-1946
Heshie Forman, Lou Forman, Dave Gordon, Cy Kaselman, Harry
Litwack, Babe Lyman, Chickie Passon, Louis "Reds" Sherr,
Yock Welsh, Red Wolfe
Solly Bertman, Max Posnack
1932-33 (lost playoffs)
Ed Beron, Moe Goldman, Shikey Gotthofer, Louis "Inky" Lautman
No roster additions
Mike Bloom, Lou Dubin, Beno Resnick, Lou Wisner
Sol Miehoff, Petey Rosenberg
Cy Boardman, Leo Gottlieb, Phil Rabin
Lou Possner, Irv Torgoff, Butch Weintraub
Ossie Schectman, Chink Morganstein, Solomon "Butch" Schwartz,
Eddie Gottlieb (one game at age 43)
Irv Davis, Red Klotz
Dutch Garfinkel, Herb Knuppel, Paul Nowak, Jerry Fleishman, Moe Becker
Art Hillhouse, Bernie Opper, Rader Twins—Howie and Lenny, Irv Rothenberg
1945-46 (last pro year)
Ralph Kaplowitz, Jules Kassner, George Sensky
NOTE: Names listed under each season are primary
players added to the roster that year. Core players played
for many years, but some were in and out during the war
years. Others, not mentioned, also played for the SPHAs.