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We played our basketball on the street . . . through the rungs of a ladder of a fire escape”

Sonny Hertzberg, 1946-47 New York Knickerbockers

“Basketball was our religion”

Hank Rosenstein, 1946-47 New York Knickerbockers

Philadelphia SPHAs player

Do you know who scored THE FIRST BASKET in the NBA?

On November 1, 1946, in the opening game of the fledgling Basketball Association of America (BAA), Ossie Schectman scored the opening basket for the New York Knickerbockers against the Toronto Huskies. Schectman and his teammates Sonny Hertzberg, Stan Stutz, Hank Rosenstein, Ralph Kaplowitz, Jake Weber, and Leo "Ace" Gottlieb went on to win the opening game 68 – 66 and finish the season with a 33 – 27 record. In 1949, the BAA became the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Schectman’s shot is considered the first basket in the NBA.

In fact, several of the BAA and NBA teams had evolved out of the semi-pro teams, settlement houses, playgrounds, schoolyard and community center leagues, and college teams that sprung from the Jewish inner-city neighborhoods of the early 20th century. While the era of Jewish professional basketball players has passed, the story of these sports pioneers illustrates how the American 20th Century was shaped by the experiences of many immigrant groups.

In The First Basket, we will root for these players and follow their basketball experiences, from ash cans placed on the stoops of brownstones to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.


• Basketball as a reflection of the inner city. The documentary will examine the inner-city social factors that led urban Jewish youths to basketball, and their notable success in basketball from the 1920s through the early 1950s;

• The role of basketball as a middle ground for second-generation eastern European immigrants as they established their own American identities, and the corresponding conflicts between old world tradition and American culture;

• Anti-Semitism and Jewish stereotypes in the face of Jewish success in basketball from the 1920s through the early 1950s;

• The declining presence of Jews in professional basketball from the early 1950s onwards and the CCNY point shaving scandals of 1951, both against the backdrop of 1950s America, and the success of Jews in sports management.

The Narrative

Part One: The 1946 – 47 New York Knickerbockers
Audiences will delight in the grace of the game during pro basketball’s early years as we see clear newsreel footage of the first basket and first game in NBA history. We will then get to know the players--Ossie Schectman, Sonny Hertzberg, Leo “Ace” Gotlieb, Ralph Kaplowitz, Stan Stutz, Hank Rosenstein--through original interviews, archival film clips, and rarely seen memorabilia from their personal collections. We will share the rich experience of that first season: the dream come true of playing in a new professional league, and the rumors and realities surrounding this league. We will learn what it meant to be a young Jewish American right out of World War II, traveling around the country playing professional basketball.

Part Two: Basketball Meant Being American
Between 1881 and 1924, more than two million eastern European Jewish immigrants arrived in the United States. The First Basket will illustrate the forgotten story of how these new Americans settled in inner city neighborhoods and avidly took to American sports. Since basketball did not require open fields or expensive equipment, it thrived among urban youth. As audiences visit the community centers, YMHA’s and tenement houses, we will learn how sports played an essential part in becoming American for the children of these immigrants, and how sports provided Jewish youths with a way of proving to the Gentile world their physical strength, speed, and dexterity, in the face of traditional stereotypes of Jews as bookish and physically frail. We will also witness the conflict between generations as well as between eastern European Jewish traditions and American culture as we learn why basketball became the most popular sport among this generation.

Part Three: The Development of Professional Basketball
During the first half of the 20th century, basketball became the most popular sport among American Jews. Nearly every urban institution had a basketball team, from the Jewish Community Centers to the labor unions and department stores. The First Basket will chronicle the evolution of these community-based teams into professional leagues and will explain how basketball became a bedrock of inner-city Jewish communities.

Audiences will meet and root for the neighborhood semi-pro teams such as the Dux, from the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn; the South Philadelphia Hebrew All Stars (SPHAs); and local college teams such as CCNY (City College of New York); LIU (Long Island University), and St. John’s. We will hear the stories of Jewish community basketball heroes such as Nat Holman, Max Zaslofsky, Sammy Kaplan, Barney Sedran, Max “Marty” Friedman, Nat Krinsky, Harry “Jammy” Moscowitz, Red Saracheck, Red Holzman, and Red Auerbach.

In this section, The First Basket will also examine the anti-Semitic responses to Jewish success in basketball. New York Daily News sports editor Paul Gallico wrote in the mid 1930s that basketball “appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background [because] the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind and flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smartalecness.” We will see how qualities such as cunning or wiliness were posited as the keys to Jewish basketball success and how these kinds of statements were indicative of early 20th century America.

Part Three will conclude with the inauguration of the BAA and the NBA and bring us back to the original Knicks team.

1946-47 New York Knickerbockers

Epilogue: The 1950s
The concluding section will examine changes in society and in the game in the early 1950s.
This section will begin by recounting the legend of Nat Holman, CCNY, and the 1951 CCNY point-shaving scandals. We will see how these scandals had a tremendous impact on the future of the game as the NBA rose to pre-eminence.
This period also saw a sharp decline in the number of Jewish players in professional and college basketball. The documentary will examine the gradual disappearance of second-generation ethnic Jewish neighborhoods that had produced waves of players as millions of Americans migrated to the suburbs, while basketball has remained the most popular sport in America’s inner cities. The section will conclude by illustrating how Jewish success on the court extended to the fields of management and broadcasting, and will look at notable Jewish coaches, owners, and commentators such as Red Holzman, Red Auerbach, Larry Brown, Abe Pollin, Abe Saperstein, Marty Glickman, Howard Cosell, and Marv Albert, among many others.

1949-50 NCAA & NIT Tournament champions CCNY (City College of New York) Beavers

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