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SPHAS Get Some Philly Recognition

May 3, 2012 By:
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The Philadelphia SPHAS, the long defunct South Philadelphia Hebrew Association's basketball team, are getting a historic plaque from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The team, which existed from 1918 to 1959, first as an amateur squad and later as a professional club, played an important role in both the history of Philadelphia Jewry and the development of pro-basketball.

Most of the team's players were Jews. They were managed by Eddie Gottlieb, a seminal figure in basketball. In the 1950s, the SPHAS competed against the Harlem Globetrotters.

Doug Stark, author of The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball's Greatest Jewish Team, submitted the application for a marker. Stark has no connection to Philadelphia, but he grew interested in the SPHAS while working for the the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. (He currently directs the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.)

At its April 23 meeting, the Commission approved 15 historic markers across the state, including one for the SPHAS.

The exact text and location for the plaque haven't been determined yet, according to Howard Pollman, a Commission spokesman.

One possible site is at the intersection of Broad and Wood Streets, where the Broadwood Hotel once stood. Starting in 1933, the Sphas played home games there.

During their heyday in the 1930s, more than 3,000 people regularly packed into the games, which were often followed by a dance complete with a big band.

Another option is at the corner of Fourth and Reed streets, which had been the location of the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, which is the organization that first sponsored the team and was similar to a Young Men's Hebrew Association.

The final spot will be determined by the nominating party and the Philadelphia Streets department.

Stark said his next goal is push for the induction of the entire SPHAS organization into the basketball hall of fame.

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