Pro Basketball in Easthampton

Professional Basketball in 1920s Easthampton, Massachusetts. I found this interesting tidbit of Easthampton history on the web.  These events occurred about the time of my father’s birth and seemed informative of the the time and place that was Easthampton, Massachusetts.

by: Edward Dwyer (source article- article has been removed from the web)

During the 1920s, pro basketball players played for semi-pro teams. Such a team was located in Easthampton and used the present upper Town Hall as their home. The NBA and the current popularity of basketball did not yet exist. The most talented teams were barnstorming squads that used New York for their base of operations such as the New York Celtics, the Original Celtics, and the New York Whirlwinds. Players moved rather freely between teams. An opponent one night could be a teammate the next. No arenas existed in those days, so large areas, such as a town hall floor, would be partitioned off with chicken wire, (the source of the name ‘cagers’ for players), and a game would be played. A band and dancing would usually follow the game. The Easthampton team was an offshoot of the Turn [Verein] (a local athletic club), basketball team. According to the 1935 Anniversary Book, the team started with local players, but gradually recruited outside talent. The first mention of the professional team in the Daily Hampshire Gazette was in 1920.

The Easthampton Team played in the Interstate League. Also in this circuit, were teams from Holyoke, Springfield, Adams, Turner’s Falls, Westfield, Albany, NY and Thompsonville, CT. The 1921 and 1922 teams had some good players. The stars of the team were Barney Sedran, the self described ‘midget guard’, and forward Marty Friedman. Together, they played as a combo for many teams. Nat Holman, long time coach for the City College of New York, regarded both as super-stars of the era and Sedran as one of the greatest guards ever. Both had injuries that curtailed their playing time in Easthampton.

The third star was Honey Russell, a guard. Although only 18 when he came to Easthampton, he had been a pro since his midteens. He was a defensive specialist. Russell played for many years and later coached Seton Hall in the 1940s and 50s. He was also the first coach of the Boston Celtics.

Freedman, Sedran and Russell have been inducted in the Hall of Fame in Springfield. Sedran’s plaque has him in his Easthampton uniform. Freedman’s biography at the Hall mentions playing here. All three began playing in town in 1921.

Another player was Em Grayson, a forward. He was captain at Mass Aggie (now University of Massachusetts, Amherst) in 1916-17 and 1919-20, he later coached there and at Amherst College. Harry ‘Man-o-War’ Riconda was a forward in 1921 and 22. Once with the Original Celtics, he had the reputation as a tough player. ‘Hot’ Haggerty of Springfield had several stays in Easthampton. In 1922, he left Springfield’s team to play for Easthampton then quit to play for the Original Celtics. He again played for Easthampton in 1923. From newspaper accounts, he was a very popular player.

Others came and went. A player named Bernot was at center for a few games in 1922, left and came back in 1923. Billy Sullivan played in 1921 and moved to the Adams team. ‘Stretch’ Meehan, a 6’9″ center was used as a drawing card in 1921. Bob Jackson, a center also played in 1921.

The league suffered financial difficulties. To recoup some losses, the Original Celtics came in 1922 to play each team in the circuit. An ad billed them as the World Champs of the previous year. Easthampton emerged victorious by the score of 18 to 12. Sedran led all players with 7 points and held Celtic star Nat Holman to gust one point.

After the season, Sedran, Friedman, Russell and Riconda all left to play other circuits. On February 5, 1923 the team moved to Northampton. The season and the entire league ended the next month.