SPHAS, hegemony in the face of anti-Semitism

To understand what we are going through today, it is important to know what happened yesterday. And so, with the image of the different teams that shined long before the NBA was a strong league, TrashTalk invites you to immerse yourself in a piece of US basketball history, away from parking lot shots and more. The top ten that permeate our daily lives. Today we’re going to Pennsylvania to visit SPHAS, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Players Association.

October 17, 1959 in Madison Square Garden. The Harlem Globetrotters without forcing defeated SPHAS (68-42) in front of 18,000 spectators. This is the last game in the history of the Philadelphia team, a few months before its official end. But already, for a few years, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association was just a shadow of the dominant formation that dominated basketball from the mid-1920s through the 1940s.

The arrival of the BAA in 1946 marked the beginning of the end for SPHAS. It must be said that their boss, Eddie Gottlieb, now has other projects in mind. Projects strictly related to the new professional league. He actively participates in its creation and development with his franchise. But not that of SPHAS, that of the Philadelphia Warriors. His lack of interest in his first love is that SPHAS now regularly play their home games… away from Philadelphia, in order to make way for the Warriors. Lovely for one of the first dynasties in basketball history. Lament enough, let’s go back to see what made these SPHAS great.

The assimilation of Jews in the United States, in Philadelphia, and in basketball

At the end of the 19th century, Villi was a city that attracted immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia. Among the lot, many Jews flee persecution and seek to live on their own American dream.

At the same time, basketball has also made its way across the United States, since its invention by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. In the city of brotherly love as across the country, it was the YMCA that served as the carrier for the orange ball. And quickly, their counterparts in the Hebrew community – the YMHAs – took over the management of the sport on their own.

Young sport attracts immigrants? They see it as a way to create a gap that suits them, An orange ball is easier to reach than a baseball or American football. Just put any basket on a wall or pole, make what looks like a ball: and zou, we’re playing basketball. This essentially urban practice opened him up for luck in various ghettos, particularly ghettos. Teams were formed to represent different communities at the beginning of the 20th century. The Jewish community, following the YMHAs, is on board.

She has developed her style of play, with movement, and basket cutting, and that’s very fast. Less rough, more focused on player movement. Quickly, basketball is associated with this community, not without prejudice. On the one hand, if we consider that they are more skilled and smarter in the game, we see that if they move more on the ground, it is because they are less able to contact. This is only the beginning of preconceived notions about the Hebrew community in basketball. While you wait for the rise of anti-Semitism during the 20th century, which would peak in the 1940s…

The beginnings of SPHAS

In Philly, the ghetto is located to the south of the city. The part of South Philadelphia consists of many community congregations. It was there that between 1914 and 1916, the local high school won three consecutive city titles following Eddie Gottlieb, Hoggie Black, and Harry Basson. After graduation, young people continue to enjoy the orange ball. They play under the auspices of the local YMHA and want to study basketball.

Unfortunately for them, after their first season in MLS in Philadelphia, YMHA refuses to continue the adventure, finding the sport too violent to make its contribution. Thereafter, Gottlieb, Black, and Basson approached the South Philadelphia Hebrew Society to be their patron. The arrival of the SPHA school uniform, the team was born. And even if the union only lasted a year, it is now much more comfortable in their work, as the three young men take care of the equipment themselves and keep the SPHA, written in Hebrew.

Remarkable progress

We are now in 1919, so the team is independent, semi-professional and consists only of Jewish players. They earn about five dollars per meeting. Misery on the scale of the current NBA, but an insignificant detail for men who don’t think of living off their passion and who already have a job. To add to the old side of their organization, SPHAS have no room to play. They run on a case-by-case basis, a situation that earns them a nickname Itinerant Jews (The lost Jews).

They develop into smaller leagues, at first without much success. Until 1923 – 1924 and the title in the Philadelphia League, it was double-validated the following year. Then they seek a higher competition and join the Eastern League. Admittedly, the level is going up a bit, but the organization is still haphazard. So the league soon collapses. Not a problem for SPHAS who have already allowed themselves out-of-Eastern League matches against other local teams, in order to fill the coffers. The financial task falls to Eddie Gottlieb who steps away from parquet floors, after realizing that his place is not on the floor but behind the scenes to pull the strings. The beginnings of a colossal journey for one of the greatest future managers of his time.

South Prime Hebrew Society

The team’s fame grew, and they realized that they could achieve higher goals in these confrontations. By occasionally rubbing their shoulders with the ABL line-ups, they know they have the level to reach a new level. Then the issue of the sparrow arises. But finally, in 1926-1927, they chose ABL. A small novelty, they changed their name to Philadelphia Warriors. Does this tell you anything? Logically, it’s the same name Gottlieb – who no longer plays but manages the team – would choose years later for his BAA franchise. Changing fire and passing in the league only the past two years, SPHAS regained its independence and then joined the Eastern Basketball League after one season. There, they became dominant with three titles and a finalist in four drills. Balance sheet is more than correct.

In 1933, ABL rose from its ashes after two years of inactivity due to the Great Depression. SPHAS is in the game and Gottlieb plays an important behind-the-scenes role in the league. After the erratic first part of the season, the arrival of the pivotal Maurice “Moe” Goldman gave them a real boost and allowed them to strive for the title. Six more seasons would follow over the next eleven seasons, for a total of seven titles in thirteen years..

During these years, SPHAS took advantage of the ABL winter vacation to go on a tour of the Midwest. An opportunity to promote basketball and bring more wheat, but also to keep players fit. However, these flights do not fill the cupboards very often. So much so that some members of the workforce question their merits. Gottlieb’s answer is clear:

“We are not here to make money. We are pioneers for the future of basketball.”

[1945andtheendofthewarmarkedtheendoftheSPHASdynastyAlthough the final appearance in the final in 1946. The date that coincides with the arrival of the BAA and the beginning of the decline of the Hebrew team.

Faced with the financial strength of this new league that monopolized much of its boss Eddie Gottlieb’s agenda, ABL also followed that slippery slope that brought it to a halt in 1949. SPHAS at the time was nothing more than a team of sparrows, whose playing rivals are the Harlem Globetrotters. . But this less cool ending shouldn’t make us forget the SPHAS effect.

A symbol against anti-Semitism

In the mid-1930s, with anti-Semitism echoing in Europe also in the United States, SPHAS brought pride to their community. Like the Black Fives of African Americans, the SPHAS are champions of the Hebrew community. When millions of Jews are persecuted and sent to concentration camps across the Atlantic, they proudly wear the Star of David on their flowing Hebrew SPHA shirts.

If it doesn’t reduce the hostility of the fans according to the outside rounds or matches, it will perfectly clarify the state of mind of SPHAS. In their minds, they are not just playing for themselves, but for their people in the United States and Europe. The atmosphere of ‘us against the rest of the world’ gives them an extra soul. It gives them the courage to hold their heads high. They are accustomed from childhood to humiliation and humiliation, and were able to integrate thanks to basketball. When you are on the street, the racial or religious question passes well past the level on the ground. So when it’s time to respond, they respond.

But in the professional world, when you’re on the move and the sheer audience seems to want your skin, it’s not the same as a rave. You must not hesitate. Continue to undermine the damage caused by Jewish weakness by imposing itself on the courts in this hostile environment. And what do they do until their decline caused by several reasons besides the arrival of BAA.

In the 1940s, American demography shifted. Jews leave cities for suburbs. At the same time, they leave basketball as the main source of entertainment. The African Americans seizing power in the stadiums are the ones who for several years have been arriving in the major cities of the North to escape the Southern states and Jim Crow laws. SPHAS’ workforce is also experiencing this change. Even if Jews remained the base of the team, they did not necessarily return from Philadelphia. Instead of New York to facilitate many of the matches being played in the Big Apple. Societal attachment persists, but is less locally connected. And since the Gottlieb has other fish to fry, SPHAS suffers.

Commemorative plaque for work submitted by SPHAS and Eddie Gottlieb

For two decades, SPHAS has been the symbol of the Jewish community on the basketball court. More so, their story perfectly illustrates the lives of the so-called societal teams that permeated the first half of the twentieth century. Formations that arose in neighborhoods, where the pride of belonging to a group was the driving force of life and assimilation.

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