Eddie Gottlieb: Going Back Over The Mogul, 1940s

[The great Sam Goldaper, best known for his byline in the New York Times, published a 1977 paperback for the masses titled Great Moments in Pro Basketball. It revisits classic moments such as Wilt’s 100-point night, the Lakers’ 33-game winning streak, and the NBA’s Longest Game. But enough about those chapters. This chapter from the paperback (transcribed below) takes up Eddie Gottlieb and his Philadelphia Warriors winning the 1946-47 championship in the Basketball Association of America, one of the precursor leagues of the NBA.

Goldaper, though a veteran reporter, can lose narrative focus in his profiles, and he does so here. But the somewhat-meandering article is still worth the read. As a bonus, I’ve also added a newspaper account of Philadelphia’s Joe Fulks and his record-breaking 63-point game.]

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When Lew Alcindor was growing up and blossoming into stardom at Power Memorial Academy in New York City, the natural impulse was to compare him with Wilt Chamberlain when he played at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia. To test their accuracy, the comparison seekers were always told, “Ask Eddie Gottlieb.”

Eddie Gottlieb, the Mogul, owned and coached the Philadelphia Warriors, which won the 1946-47 Basketball Association of America championship. In those days, pro basketball had not yet made a dent in the national sports scene. The BAA was only the latest in a long series of leagues that had sprung up over the years, only to struggle along with minimal impact—or fail altogether.

Philadelphia and Baltimore battle on the boards. Note: The Baltimore player has a very black eye.

The BAA was organized to cash in on the new popularity of intersectional college basketball and to fill the arenas that were owned and operated by hockey people. By the 1949-50 season, the BAA merged with the older National League, which had the better players, into the NBA. But all feats of the BAA remain part of NBA history. Thus, the Philadelphia Warriors’ 1947 championship is where it all began.

And in his present position as “consultant” to the NBA commissioner, Eddie Gottlieb still prepares the schedule for the league, a task zany enough to drive an IBM computer crazy. But the Mogul’s mental power is extraordinary. His memory is almost faultless. He remembers the scores of games, the gate receipts, the attendance, and the weather conditions. His difficulty is pinpointing the exact year.

The dictionary defines a “mogul” as an important person. “A mogul,” explains Eddie Gottlieb, as a big smile breaks across his pale, heavily lined face, “is a top banana.”

Gottlieb sat at his desk in the NBA offices in the Madison Square Garden complex, working on the league playoff schedule and reflecting on that championship season. “We finished second  in the East during the regular season that year,” Gottlieb recalled. “The Washington Capitals won the division title. They were 49-11, and we were 35-25. 14 games behind.

“Chicago finished first in the West, and in the playoff system borrowed from hockey, Chicago knocked out Washington in the first round of a best-of-seven series. I suppose that was a good break for us, since we had beaten Washington only once in six games during the regular season.”

Chicago’s victory qualified the Stags for the final round. Meanwhile, Philadelphia defeated the St. Louis Bombers, second in the West, two games to one, and eliminated the New York Knickerbockers, the third-place finishers in the East, in another three-game series.

The Warriors, loser to the Stags in five of the six regular-season games, defeated Chicago in the championship opener, 84-71, as Joe Fulks scored 37 points, 29 in the second half. Twenty-four hours later, the Warriors won again, 85-74. With Philadelphia ahead, 2-0, the series moved to Chicago.

“We were booked to take a TWA flight from Philly to Chicago,” recalled Gottlieb. “The airplane was going to make an attempt to set a record speed between the cities, and they thought it would be good publicity if they could set the record with a basketball team aboard. Don’t forget, that first year not every team was flying regularly to games. We were the first team that flew on a regular basis.

“We were all seated, and the plane was ready for the takeoff when Matty Goukas said he smelled smoke. He called one of the stewardesses over, and she checked with the pilots, and they found there was a small fire. In a few minutes, they transferred us all over to another plane, and we finally got to Chicago with no record flight attempt, but in one piece anyway.”

The Warriors won again, 75-72, but the Stags took the fourth game, 74-73, and sent the series back to Philadelphia for a fifth game. On April 22, 1947, before an overflow crowd of 8,221, the Warriors won the title, 83-80. Fulks was the high scorer with 34 points, but Howie Dallmar broke the 80-80 tie when he scored a basket which one minute of play remaining.

****

The Warriors began the 1946-47 season with only five or six players with pro experience. Four of them had played for Gottlieb and the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (SPHAS), a team he had coached for many seasons in the American Basketball League.

The key to the Warriors was Joe Fulks, the league’s first scoring champion and one of the top players for eight seasons. Known as “Jumping Joe” during his collegiate days at Kentucky’s Murray State, Fulks was to pro basketball what Hank Luisetti was to the college game.

Playing for Stanford University, Luisetti had introduced the one-hand jump shot in 1936 against Long Island University at Madison Square Garden. His style of shooting a basketball remains with us today. Luisetti was a trailblazer. From him all else flowed, at least indirectly.

“Petey Rosenberg, who played for me with the SPHAS, told me about Fulks,” said Gottlieb. “Petey had played with Fulks in the Philippines while they were in the Marine Corps during World War II. He said that if I could sign him, the SPHAS would win the championship.”

While Gottlieb tried to contact Fulks, the BAA was formed in May 1946 with a $50,000 salary limit set for each team. Gottlieb, who owned the Philadelphia franchise, offered Fulks the then huge sum of $5,000. Gottlieb had arrived at the salary formula by dividing the 10-player roster he had planned into the $50,000 limit.

“In my mind, I thought I offered this hillbilly too much,” said Gottlieb. “Then I found out who really was the hillbilly, because he said he would come for $8,000. I told him that was a hell of a lot of money.”

Fulks eventually signed for the $8,000 he had asked for, even though Gottlieb had not even seen him play. “I found out the first day in practice how good he was,” said the Mogul. “He’s the only player I know who insisted on having his own ball, No one could touch it. He shot for hours.

“In Fulks’ case, it wasn’t just his scoring. He had that flair that only a few athletes possess—an ability to excite the crowd just by loping on the court and taking a few practice shots. Before the season was over, Fulks put so many people in the 8,000-seat arena, we bought him a $5,000 automobile as a bonus.”

Fully as superstitious as any other athlete, the 6-feet-5, 190-pound Fulks always put his right shoe on first when dressing for a game. He never passed a ball inside the locker room and always made sure that his last shot in the pregame warmup went through the hoop.

Joe led the league in scoring in 1947 with a 23.2 average. Prior to his rookie season performance, a 14- or 15-point average by a player was considered an outstanding accomplishment.

Fulks (10) slices to the hoop.

The 63 points he scored on February 10, 1949 was the most in a single game by a player until Elgin Baylor of the 1959 Minneapolis Lakers scored 64 against the Boston Celtics. The unusual aspect of Fulks’ performance what is that it was accomplished in the days before the innovation of the 24-second clock. The tendency before the clock was for teams to hold the ball and stall.

In Fulks’ eight pro seasons, he scored 8,003 points, an average of 16.4 points a game. Fulks, who retired from basketball in 1954, went to work as a recreational officer at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville. When he was shot to death on March 21, 1976, basketball people recalled his greatness.

Red Auerbach, in 1946 the coach of the Washington Capitals, said, “He was a great, great player, one of the first guys who had a great variety of shots. He could shoot them any way, from any place. He set up defenses revolving about him.”

“Fulks was the greatest shooter I’ve ever seen for a variety of shots,” said Gottlieb. “I’m not saying he was the best shooter ever, but no one could match his assortment—driving hooks with either hand, jump shots with either hand, and an outside two-hand set when he got a little older. And no one could shoot better with people hanging on him—then or since.

“I can still see him scoring those 63 points against Indianapolis. I can remember calling a timeout and telling Joe, ‘Hang around the basket, get as many as you can, because you may never have another chance like this.’ I remember him saying, ‘I only want ‘em if I can earn ‘em.’”

Gottlieb, more than anyone else, remembers the trials and tribulations of those early days because he was one of the league’s organizers. He purchased the Philadelphia Warriors for $25,000. Ten years later, he sold the team for $850,000. The franchise was moved to San Francisco, and he went along at a substantial salary to help get things underway.

Little hard to see, but the SPHAS’ Gil Fitch (left) stops the shot of Brooklyn Visitation star Bobby McDermott (right) by grabbing his upper lip. Fitch is also the famous Philadelphia bandleader and former Temple star.

The Mogul has been associated with pro basketball for almost 60 years, but ask him his age and the most he will admit to is “at least” 49. Around 1919, however, he was known to have scored 26 points in a game for the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy.

The Mogul can remember the ancient days when pro basketball was an adolescent, trying to survive its growing pains. He remembers those days in Philadelphia where, in the grand ballroom of the Broadwood Hotel, for 65 cents (men) and 35 cents (ladies), you could “get the Saturday night habit of watching the SPHAS,” with Chickie Passon scrambling or Stretch Meehan maneuvering under the basket. Eddie himself would be on the bench, resplendent in a loud, flowered tie, managing the team and counting the house. After the game, Gil Fitch would climb out of his SPHAS basketball uniform, jump up on the stage, and to lead his band as the dancing began.

“In those days,” recalled Gottlieb, “many of the Jewish people wouldn’t let their daughters go to an ordinary dance, except when the SPHAS were in action before the dance. And listen, they were good times for the young people. We even gave what’s-her-name, Kitty Kallen, her start.”

Besides owning the Philadelphia Warriors, Gottlieb managed football and baseball teams and once owned a Black baseball franchise. He served as a commissioner of various leagues in several sports.

While promoting Black baseball, Gottlieb seldom bothered with contracts, preferring instead to accept a man’s word. He disliked negotiating and would set a fair price, strike a quick bargain, and settle the deal with a handshake . . . 

Gottlieb gained the expertise that enables him to prepare the almost 800-game NBA schedule in the days when he was virtually the schedule-maker for every amateur and semi pro team Philadelphia and the surrounding area.

“We rip up a lot of pieces of paper before we get the schedule down pat,” said Gottlieb. “The first thing we do is ask each club to forward a list of available dates at the arena. We also ask the teams to underline their preferred dates, and from there we start.

“No team likes to be away from home too long a time. When we send a club on an extended road trip, the East to the West and vice versa, is when their arenas are booked for long periods of time. For example, when the National Horse Show operates at Madison Square Garden for a 10-day period or the ice show is in for a long stay.

“Sometimes my mind is so bogged down with schedules that I get the urge and get up in the middle of the night to work on them. But in the long run, when the schedule is finally ready, everybody is happy.”

Gottlieb speaks about the early days of the 10-team BAA. He even recalls the first day (but not the exact date—it was November 1, 1946) when play began in Toronto, Canada, with the Knicks beating the Toronto Huskies, 68-66.

Toronto tried hard to promote that first game. There were large three-column newspaper advertisements with a photo of George Nostrand, the tallest Toronto player at 6-feet-8. “Can You Top This?” the ad asked. Any fan taller than Nostrand would be admitted to Maple Leaf Gardens free of charge. After all, the most-expensive ticket for that game cost $2.50 (the least expensive was 75 cents), so it would be a big saving for any tall Canadian fan.

“There was a crowd of 8,000,” recalled Sonny Hertzberg, a Knick at the time. “It was interesting to play before those Canadian fans. The fans really didn’t understand the game. To them, a jump ball was a faceoff. But they started to catch on and liked the action.”

And that’s how the NBA began—with Eddie Gottlieb, the Mogul; Joe Fulks; and the Philadelphia Warriors.

Fulks (10) reaches with everyone else for the ball.

[Bonus CoverageHere’s the Philadelphia Inquirer’s account of Joe Fulks’ big 63-point night, on his whopping 56 field goal attempts. History was made before just 1,500 fans, the smallest crowd of that season so far owing to a planned public transportation strike across the city, starting at midnight. The article ran in the Inquirer on February 11, 1949.]

The Indianapolis Jets walked out of one storm into another last night at the Arena. The Jets found the one that struck them inside by far the worse: a raging blizzard of field goals by the Philadelphia Warriors’ Joe Fulks, who stacked basket on basket in almost unbelievable fashion for a Basketball Association of America record of 63 points.

With Fulks on this wild rampage, the 108-87 victory registered by the Warriors became a sideshow, even though it was their high-water mark in scoring in three seasons of BAA competition.

Fulks, swelling his total for 46 games to 1,196 points, an average of exactly 26, broke these league records:

One game—old record, 46, set by Minneapolis’ George Mikan against Washington, January 30, 1949, at Minneapolis.

One half (33)—an old record, 31, set by New York’s Carl Braun.

Field goals (27)—old record, 18, held jointly by Fulks, Mikan, and Braun.

Most shots (56)—old record, 55, by Fulks against Providence last season.

Mikan, tallying 21 points as Minneapolis defeated New York last night, 90-76, now has 1,144 for the season, but having played in five fewer games than Fulks, has the higher game average, 27.9.

The 26-year-old ex-Marine, whose 1,611 points in 70 games in the BAA’s first season is an all-time record for the game, confounded the Jets with his amazing assortment of shots. He made spinning one-handers, running shots with either hand, and two-handed set shots. But the two-handed set—from the left front corner—was his main stock in trade last night.

First in the crowd of 1,500 to congratulate Fulks was Burl Friddle, the Jets’ coach, who turned his back on the game to pump Joe’s hand when Manager Eddie Gottlieb took him out—for the first time—with 58 seconds remaining to play.

Before that Friddle had tried, in mock seriousness, to substitute one of his own players for Joe. Five different Jets had tried unsuccessfully to shackle the Warriors ace. Each fouled him at least once. Joe made nine of his 14 free throws.

Joe was the hottest at the outset, connecting on six of his first nine tries from the floor. But he never failed twice in a row until late in the second quarter, when he missed on four in a row. Then he racked up No. 13 with a running one-hander.

The Jets had tied the score four times in the early minutes and trailed by only 49-38 at halftime, but wilted in the second half before the Fulks deluge. Late in the third quarter, Joe connected with three successive shots. Shortly afterward, he got another on a tap-in of George Senesky’s foul line miss, and then he passed the Mikan mark of 48 by grabbing a rebound and dropping a jumping one-hander with 1:50 to go in the period.

Obviously dead tired—he hasn’t fully recovered from a stomach ailment which has troubled him for the last 10 days—Fulks got up to 59 points with four minutes left. Then he sank his last two baskets in quick succession on a layup, following a pass from Chink Crossin, and a jumping two-hander.Senesky who tallied 11 points [on six field goal attempts], was the only other Warrior to break into double figures

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