The Early Stars of Basketball
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We all know about players like George Mikan, Bob Cousey, Bob Pettit, and Bill Russell, but who were the stars of basketball before these guys? Not many people know the answer to this question, few if any have heard of Bobby McDermott, LeRoy Edwards, Mel Riebe, Gene Englund, or Ed Sadowski. But in a by gone era of basketball history, these guys were the best of the best, they were the true pioneers of professional basketball.
Englund was a six five forward who played his college ball at the university of Wisconsin. Englund was never really a superstar but he was an above average player who would finish 3rd all time in scoring in the NBL.
England would play one season in the NBA, appearing in 46 games during the leagues inaugural season for both the Boston Celtics and Tri-Cities Blackhawks, but by the time the NBA formed Englunds career was well over with.
Of all the guys listed, he is the most like a modern player. McDermott was a shooter, the first shooter in pro basketball, though by some accounts he was only about a 30% shooter, this was vastly improved from other outside shooters of his day which were lucky if they hit 10% of their shots. During McDermotts time the game was an inside game only where big men roamed like wild animals in the paint and guards were not scorers. McDermott would change all that, not only was he a good shooter but he was one of the few guards able to slash to the hoop in the land of giants for layups. Ironically, for a shooter McDermott had very poor form, he would shoot from the chest which is easily blocked but he was accurate so coaches let it go.
McDermott was also one of the first true high school to pro players in the games history, he quite school after a year joined up with the Brooklyn Visitations of the American Basketball League. McDermott would continue to play in the Visitations and lead them to the ABL championship in 1935. He would join the New York Professional League for one season before joining the Original Celtics. McDermott would continue to bounce around from league to league and team to team until 1941 when he joined the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons of the National Basketball League. McDermott’s peak was with the Pistons and the NBL as he would go on to become the leagues all-time leading scorer and help lead them to two NBL titles.
By 1947 McDermotts playing days were drawing to a close, he decided to join the Chicago American Gears as a player-coach, despite a nice offer from the newly former Basketball Association of America. In the 46-47 season McDermott was paired with a young rising center named George Mikan, the gears would go on to win the NBL championship. The next season Mikan tried to convince McDermott to make the jump with him to the Minneapolis Lakers, but McDermott declined and continued to play in smaller and smaller leagues.
When the NBL and BAA merged in 1949 to form the National Basketball Association, McDermott did not follow suit, he would retire from the game of basketball and very little is known about what happened following his career. McDermott died in 1963 and was elected to the Basketball hall-of-fame in 1988.
He would go on to play for the Philadelphia Warriors for two seasons, and for the original Baltimore Bullets before calling his career quits in 1950.