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Who’s who of pre NBA hoops

It’s time to learn the names Harry Hough, Charles “Tarzan” Cooper, Leroy “Cowboy” Edwards and 48 other players who dominated prior to the creation of the NBA.

Whos who of pre nba hoops
Whos who of pre nba hoops

To much acclaim and discussion, the NBA has celebrated its existence with their 25th, 50th and more recently the 75th anniversary teams.

Once again, with this mentality, we are totally disrespecting the thousands of players who played pro basketball prior to the creation of the NBA in 1946.

Starting in 1898 and leading up to the formation of the NBA…there were more than 20 major pro basketball leagues and close to 60 minor pro leagues in North America with somewhere around 550 teams!

Why should they be ignored?

There were also the barnstorming teams and the African American travelling teams composed of some of the best hoopsters in the country.

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So here exclusively for BasketballBuzz is my list – after extensive research – of the top 48 players of the first 48 years of pro basketball.

A total of 19 of them have been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: Tom Barlow, Johnny Beckman, Bennie Borgmann, Joe Brennan, Tarzan Cooper, Dutch Dehnert, Marty Friedman, Pop Gates, Nat Holman, John Isscas, Buddy Jeannette, Joe Lapchick, Bobby McDermott, Cumberland Posey, Honey Russell, Barney Sedran, Goose Tatum, Ed Wachter and John Wooden.

Additional players are: Davey Banks, Thomas Barlow, Pete Barry, Puggy Bell, Sonny Boswell, Al Cooper, Leroy Edwards, Joseph Fogarty, Inky Lautman, Marty Friedman, Nat Hickey, Harry Hough, Carl Husta, Jack Inglis, Fats Jenkins, Bill Keenan,  Dolly King, Bill Kummer, Chris Leonard, Chief Muller, Jack Porter, Phil Rabin, Mel Reid, Rusty Saunders, Andy Sears, Sandy Shields, Moe Spahn, Andy Suils and John Wendelken.

Here are brief bios of a few of these unsung heroes.

Charles “Tarzan” Cooper

  • Playing for the all-black Rens in 1932-33, the team wins 88 straight games in 86 days of barnstorming.
  • Rens win 1939 World Prfessional Tournament title in Chicago. He is named MVP.
  • As a member of Washington Bears, wins 1943 World Professional Tournament
  • 1977 became the first African American player inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as an individual.

Buddy Jeannette

  • 1938 Rookie-of-the-Year National Basketball League (NBL) as a member of the Cleveland White Horses
  • Detroit Eagles 1941 World Professional Tournament champion. All-Tourney team in 1941 and 1942
  • Fort Wayne Pistons win three consecutive World Professional Tournaments from 1944 to 1946.
  • Four time Most Valuable Player Three times in NBL and once in American Basketball League (ABL)
  • Five championship teams: Sheboygan Redskins (1943 NBL), the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons (1944 and 1945 NBL), and the Baltimore Bullets (1947 ABL and 1948 Basketball Association of America).
  • Coached Georgetown University (1952-1956), Baltimore Bullets of the NBA for parts of two seasons (1964-65 and 1966-67), and Pittsburgh Pipers (American Basketball Association) during the 1969-70 season.
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Bobby McDermott

  • 1935 ABL Championship with Brooklyn Visitations
  • MVP of NBL for four consecutive years from 1943 -1946.
  • Zollner Pistons two NBL Championships in 1944 and 1945
  • 1942-1947, selected to the All-NBL First Team six consecutive times.
  • 1947 joins the Chicago American Gears and teamed with a new young player named George Mikan to win the NBL Championship.
  • Began playing professional basketball after only one year of high school. He was one of the first players in basketball history to make the jump from high school to pro ball.
  • First player in NBL history to average 20 points per game.

Ed Wachter

  • Pro at age 19 in 1902.
  • Led the Troy Trojans to five league championships, four of them taking place consecutively between 1909-1915. The leagues were the Hudson River League and New York State Basketball League.
  • 1915 barnstormed for 37 games and 37 wins with Trojans
  • Believed to be the inventor of the bounce pass.
  • One of the first to develop the fast break offence,
  • Played pro until 1923 and at 6-1 considered one of the best centres in the early game.
  • The two players on this list that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has overlooked are without a doubt Leroy “Cowboy” Edwards and Harry Hough.

Leroy “Cowboy” Edwards

An All-American in his one year at the University of Kentucky (1935), the 6-foot-4, 215 pound center was racking up unheard of points at the time.

Thirty-four points against Creighton and 26 against Chicago.

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He was named the Helms Player of the Year.

This ambidextrous Hoosier (Indianapolis born) would go on to be the main star in the National Basketball League.

The Charles Barkley of the era, he went on to play for Oshkosh All-Stars from 1937-1949.

He was first team all-star six times and second team all-star twice.

He was a big time scorer, leading the league in scoring his first three years with 16.2, 11.9 and 12.9 averages.

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Those first three seasons also led his team to the finals. The league had up to 13 teams at the time.

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The following two seasons the All-Stars won the championship with Edwards leading the way.

In his first five seasons alone his team had winning records of 12-2, 17-11, 15-13, 18-6 and 20-4.

By his fourth season, he was the smallest center in the league. In 1945-46 at 31 years of age, he out played a rookie by the name of George Mikan (6-foot-10) dropping 24 points on the rookie.

In his second last season (1947-48) at 33 years of age, he was one of the top performers in the playoffs. This despite giving away an average of five inches per game.

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Edwards is generally recognized as the player responsible for the implementation of the three-second rule.

Edwards should be in the Hall.

Harry Hough

He was the Michael Jordan of basketball in its early years, playing for 22 years from 1900 to 1922.

He was only 5-foot-7, and it is written in Pro Basketball Encyclopedia of Hough “He possessed incredible agility and speed. Not only that, but he was unequalled in his ability to break free for a clear shot. If a defender played him tight, he would drive around him for an easy layup. If the defender backed off to defend against the drive, Hough could show off the fact that he was among the best set-shooters of the era. On the court, Hough was an extremely intense, high-strung figure who raged at referees, opponents and even teammates at times.”

In 1908 the Pittsburgh South Side team paid him $300 a month to play for them, making him the highest paid basketball player in the world.

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In the 1909–10 season, playing for Pittsburgh South Side in the Central Basketball League, Hough made 963 free throws, the most free throws recorded by any professional player in a single season.

But remember, in that era, each team designated a player to shoot all team free throws.

He won countless scoring titles and won championships galore.

Let’s remember the name Harry Hough.

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