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Edward Gottlieb (September 15, 1898 – December 7, 1979) was the first coach and manager of the Philadelphia Warriors in the BAA/NBA and the former owner and coach of the team from 1951 to 1962 when he sold the Philadelphia Warriors to San Francisco. The Kiev, Ukraine native was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor on April 20, 1972. The trophy that the NBA Rookie of the Year receives is named after Gottlieb.

Biography

Few have blazed as many basketball trails as did Eddie Gottlieb, “the Mogul” of the NBA for its first 30 years. As organizer of and player for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (SPHAs) teams in the 1920s, he helped introduce Philadelphia to the sport of basketball. Then, along with a few other sports promoters, he organized the Basketball Association of America, the league that later became the NBA.

Gottlieb coached the original Philadelphia Warriors, bought the team, and sent it to San Francisco in order to expand the game westward. He headed the NBA rules committee for 25 years, and when he died at age 81 he had been in charge of NBA scheduling for three decades. In 1971 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “Gottlieb was about as important to the game of basketball as the basketball,” fellow Hall of Famer Harry Litwack remarked.

With his deep eyes and penchant for wearing bow ties, Gottlieb took on many duties. He started teams and organized leagues. He was in charge of semipro baseball in Philadelphia and made the schedule for the old Negro National League. He also helped coordinate the overseas tours of the Harlem Globetrotters.

The NBA might have been able to get started without him, but it probably wouldn’t have survived. Sportswriter Mike Lupica wrote in a eulogy, “They used to joke that if he got hit by a car and died, the NBA died with him.”

Gottlieb was involved with sports throughout his life. Born in 1898 in Kiev, Russia, he moved with his family to Philadelphia at the turn of the century. By the time he was a young adult he had not only played on but had also coached, owned, and operated neighborhood sports teams.

He was, by his own admission, a born promoter and organizer. In 1918, at age 19, he organized a team of mostly Jewish players representing the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, which supplied the team with uniforms for three years. The players later found a new home with the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, a social club from which the team derived its new identity. The team wore uniforms with the acronym SPHAs stenciled across the chest in Hebrew letters. Even after the association stopped providing the uniforms, the team kept the unusual name.

In the early days of the SPHAs, a game was as much a social event as anything. “We played in a lot of dance halls in those early years,” Gottlieb told The Associated Press. “It was basketball, then dancing. A very nice Saturday evening for yourself and your date. We used to let the girls in for free, because you couldn’t have a dance after the game without the girls. We had no trouble getting the guys to pay for the basketball game when they heard that news.”

The SPHAs became one of the powerhouses of basketball in the East. The team entered the Philadelphia League and won two consecutive championships, the final two in the league’s history. The SPHAs then joined the Eastern League, which went out of business in the same season, forcing the team to book its own games.

Gottlieb, an entrepreneur and future schedule maker, had no trouble lining up a series of exhibition games against teams from both New York’s Metropolitan League and the American Basketball League, which in 1925–26 began operation as the country’s first major professional basketball league.

The SPHAs won five of six games against ABL teams in 1925–26, losing only to the league’s top club, the Cleveland Rosenblums. The SPHAs then defeated two of the game’s best touring squads, the New York Original Celtics and the New York Renaissance Five (Rens), in best-of-three series. In about six weeks, Gottlieb’s team had won 9 of 11 contests against the most celebrated squads in basketball.

For the next two years Gottlieb devoted his energy to the Philadelphia Warriors, a 1926–27 ABL entry. The Warriors, who featured former SPHAs stars Chick Passon and Stretch Meehan, competed in the ABL for two seasons, posting winning records both years. The ABL, its decline hastened by the Great Depression, shut down two seasons later, in 1931. Meanwhile, Gottlieb had rebuilt the SPHAs in 1929 with younger talent, and in 1933 the team joined the ABL, which had reorganized as a smaller, regional circuit after a two-year hiatus.

The clubs in this reincarnation of the ABL played in small arenas, armories, and dance halls, much as teams had in the early 1920s. The SPHAs were the premier team, winning championships in three of the league’s first four seasons and taking titles in 7 of 15 years. The club stayed together for 31 years, until 1949, when Gottlieb became too involved with the new Basketball Association of America.

In the spring of 1946 the United States was celebrating the end of World War II, which had ended formally in September 1945. Peace brought the population leisure time and money for entertainment, and basketball was ripe for a move to the big time. College basketball had grown immensely in popularity during the previous 10 years, and there was no professional basketball circuit on a par with the National Hockey League.

The National Basketball League was operating primarily in the Midwest and didn’t attract the attention of basketball cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, which for nearly half a century had been the hotbeds of barnstorming teams and fly-by-night leagues. The owners or operators of major arenas in some of the country’s biggest cities were looking for events to help fill their schedules. They met in New York City in 1946 and created the 11-team Basketball Association of America. The league was fashioned after the National Hockey League, with a 60-game schedule followed by championship playoffs.

Of the original 11 teams, only three still survive in the present-day NBA: the Boston Celtics, the New York Knickerbockers, and the Golden State (then Philadelphia) Warriors. Gottlieb was the coach and general manager of the Philadelphia Warriors. Besides coaching, he made sure the team stayed afloat during the rocky days of the BAA and the NBA. “He promoted the team on street corners and he sold tickets and then he counted the cold house,” Mike Lupica wrote after Gottlieb’s death.

Gottlieb coached the Warriors for a total of nine seasons, compiling a 263-318 regular-season career record and going 15-17 in the playoffs. The Warriors finished at .500 or better in four of their first six campaigns, but in Gottlieb’s last three seasons they compiled losing records and failed to make the playoffs. During his coaching years, from 1946–47 to 1954–55, his teams included such early NBA standouts as Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston.

Gottlieb won his lone championship with the Warriors in the first term of the BAA, 1946–47. Behind “Jumping Joe” Fulks, who led the league with 23.2 points per game, the Warriors logged a 35-25 regular-season record, second to the Washington Capitols in the Eastern Division. In the playoffs the Warriors defeated New York, the St. Louis Bombers, and the Chicago Stags for the title. In the league’s second season the BAA lost four teams and picked up another one. The Warriors edged the Knicks by a single game in the regular season and then lost in six in the BAA Finals to the league’s newest entrant, the Baltimore Bullets. For the 1949–50 season the BAA merged with the NBL to form the NBA, a marriage in which Gottlieb was influential. For the next three seasons the Warriors lost in the first round of the playoffs without winning a game.

Gottlieb, who was instrumental in helping original Warriors owner Pete Tyrell launch the franchise, bought the club in 1952 for $25,000. He also had a major role in shaping the league’s rules, serving as chairman of the rules committee for 25 years. He was there when Syracuse Nationals owner Danny Biasone came up with the idea of a 24-second shot clock in 1954, and he helped to implement a rule that gave a bonus free throw after six team fouls in a quarter. The new rules supplied the framework for a more fast-paced and exciting game and were pivotal in the continued existence and eventual success of the NBA.

“I probably was responsible for more rule changes in pro basketball than any other man,” Gottlieb told the Associated Press late in his life. “They call me in now because I’m the only one left who can connect things to the past, who knows why this rule was put in or why that one was thrown out.”

Gottlieb was behind the NBA’s “territorial draft” rule, which gave teams the right to claim a local college or high school player in exchange for giving up their first-round draft pick. The rule was particularly advantageous for Philadelphia, which landed Overbrook High School’s Wilt Chamberlain in 1959 after his stints with the University of Kansas and the Harlem Globetrotters.

Chamberlain furthered the franchise’s success. An immediate drawing card, he led the NBA in scoring and rebounding as a rookie and helped the Warriors to a 49-26 record and a trip to the division semifinals. With the Warriors for five full seasons (he was traded during his sixth season), Chamberlain took the team to the playoffs four times. In 1961–62 Philadelphia fell to Boston in seven games in the Eastern Division Finals.

Before the 1962–63 season the Warriors moved west. Gottlieb, who had purchased the franchise 10 years earlier, sold it for a $600,000 profit to a credit card company, which kept 33.3 percent of the ownership while Franklin Mieuli put together a group of almost 40 Bay Area investors to purchase the remainder of the team. The move to San Francisco followed the Minneapolis Lakers’ migration to Los Angeles two seasons earlier and helped open the West to professional basketball.

Gottlieb remained involved with the team in San Francisco before “retiring” in 1964. However, he retained his leadership position with the NBA. His role was crucial: the job of planning the league schedule had become solely his. “They joked that Eddie Gottlieb carried the NBA around in his briefcase,” Lupica wrote.

In any July or August, a visit to Gottlieb’s office would find him in front of stacks of paper, a yellow legal pad, and graph paper. “Gottlieb’s skin would be the color of the yellow paper, and his eyes would look like black holes,” Lupica wrote. “But he was making a season, as always.”

Gottlieb was the force behind the NBA schedule until shortly before his death. While other sports leagues used computers, the NBA relied on Gottlieb. For 1978–79, the season prior to his death, he reluctantly gave up his duties as schedule maker to a software program.

A life-long bachelor, Gottlieb remained employed by the NBA until his death in December 1979, traveling from Philadelphia to New York a few times a week as a coordinator and consultant. “Eddie Gottlieb was one of the real pioneers of professional round ball,” Red Smith wrote in The New York Times in 1980. Wrote Lupica, “Eddie Gottlieb loved basketball. Maybe no one ever loved basketball quite the way he did.”

External links

Preceded by
Initial coach
Philadelphia Warriors head coach
1946–1955
Succeeded by
George Senesky
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