On March 4, 1934, the Philadelphia SPHAS (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) basketball team was in Brooklyn to face the Brooklyn Jewels at Arcadia Hall. The game marked the third contest of the second half of the 1933-1934 American Basketball League season. The SPHAS had finished the first half with a 15-12 mark, good for third place. The Trenton Moose and Brooklyn Jewels each sported 22-6 records. The SPHAS needed to win the season’s second half if they wanted to be eligible for the postseason.
As the SPHAS got dressed into their uniforms in the visiting locker rooms, Coach Eddie Gottlieb and his squad welcomed a new member to the team. Moe Goldman, a Brooklyn native, had just completed his senior year of basketball at the City College of New York (CCNY). He had excelled as a center for the CCNY team, under the tutelage of coach Nat Holman, who was arguably the best Jewish basketball player in the 1920s.
Goldman had first met Gottlieb a few weeks earlier when CCNY traveled to Philadelphia to play Temple University in a last season game. Back at the hotel after the game, one of Moe’s teammates came into his room and said, “Moe, there’s somebody here to see you. He said he’s Eddie Gottlieb.”
“I don’t know who Eddie Gottlieb is,” Goldman said.
“He’s the owner of the Philadelphia team,” his teammate replied.
“Okay, I’ll see him,” Goldman told his teammate even though he had never heard of the SPHAS or Gottlieb.
With nothing to lose, Goldman met with Gottlieb for a few minutes. Gottlieb told him about the team and the newly formed American Basketball League and how professional basketball operated. He mentioned his need for a center and how Goldman was the last piece of the puzzle, the perfect complement for his young team.
“Moe, how would you like to play for the SPHAS?” Gottlieb asked.
“I don’t mind, but I have two more college games to play,” Goldman replied.
“I’ll offer you $35.00 a game,” Gottlieb explained. “Now Saturday night you’re playing NYU. That will be your last game. Sunday night we’ll be in Brooklyn playing against the New York Jewels in the American League. So you meet us at Arcadia Hall in Brooklyn.”
Goldman and Gottlieb shook hands, and Goldman became a member of the SPHAS, pending his final two games at CCNY. “And I accepted, because it was good money, comparatively speaking,” Goldman recalled.
Goldman joined the team at Arcadia Hall and met his new teammates. “I got a uniform and I figured I’d go upstairs and watch them play.” Little did Goldman know he would be playing that game. Before opening tip off as the team huddled to go over final instructions, Gottlieb declared, “Goldman, you’re at center.”
Without ever having practiced with his new teammates, Goldman stood for the jump ball. He scored the first point of the game but was largely outplayed. Most likely nerves and not being fully prepared affected him. However, the SPHAS won and upped their record to 3-0 in the season’s second half.
Goldman proved the key, and the SPHAS kept winning with him. They won all 14 contests in the season’s second half to earn a spot in the championship round against the Trenton Moose. The SPHAS defeated the Trenton Moose 4 games to 2 to clinch the first of seven titles in the American Basketball League.
The key move was signing Goldman, who gave them a legitimate center. Goldman was a mainstay over the next 10 years and helped jump start the SPHAS dynasty. Eighty years ago on March 4, 1934, the arrival of Moe Goldman coincided with the beginning of the SPHAS dynasty.
Doug Stark is the author of The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team