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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.

Gene Englund

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.

LeRoy Edwards

Edwards was one of the first college basketball stars, the six four center who played only two seasons for the Kentucky Wildcats, but would help guide them to a NCAA championship in 1933. He would leave Kentucky after his sophomore season to join the Oshkosh All-stars of the National Basketball League.

While with Oshkosh Edwards would lead the league in scoring from 1938-1940, he would also win league MVP during those years. Edwards is the second all time leading scorer in NBL history behind only Bobby McDermott with 3221 career points.

Edwards had a relatively short career even by 1930s standards, he played only from 1936-1942, despite that he left an indelible mark on the game of basketball. Edwards would be inducted into the basketball hall of fame in 1970 a year before he died.

Bobby McDermott

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.

Mel Riebe

Riebe, a 5'11 guard from College of Wooster is widely considered to be the greatest player in Cleveland Rebels history. Riebe played for the Rebels from 1943 until they folded in 1947, he would than go and join the Boston Celtics.

With the Rebels Riebe would lead the NBL in scoring in 1944 and 1945, and would become the first player in league history to average over 20 points a game, which he did in 1945 when he averaged 20.2 points per game. Riebe was a scoring machine in his early days, but he lacked other fundamentals which set him apart from others like McDermott and Edwards and is likely the reason he is lesser remembered than the other two.

When the Rebels left the NBL for the newly formed BAA, Riebe went with his team, but the aging Riebe and increased talent level was to much as Riebe began to slow down. After the 1946-47 season Riebe would leave Cleveland join up with the Boston Celtics. Riebe would play a season and a half with the Celtics before finishing his career with the Providence Steamrollers.

Riebe died in 1977 never having made the Basketball hall of fame, he is one of only a few of the early stars not to be enshrined in Springfield.

Ed Sadowski

Sadowski, a Seton Hall product, joined the ranks of pro basketball in 1940 with the Indianapolis Kautskies. He than played with the Rebels along side Mel Riebe, the pair made a formidable duo but were unable to ever lead the team anywhere.

In 1946 he joined with the Toronto Huskies, he appeared in only 10 games because he also served as the teams first ever head coach. After being released by the Huskies Sadowski once again returned to the Rebels. Sadowski would join the BAA’s Boston Celtics, where he played one season with the Celtics averaging just under 20 points a game and becoming the first ever Boston Celtics player to be selected all BAA/NBA.

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.