The Philadelphia Historical and Museum Commission and author Douglas Stark on Sunday honored the SPHAS, a basketball team comprised mostly of Jewish players that had great success in the early 20th century, with the dedication of a historical marker at the corner of Broad and Wood Sts., the former site of the Broadwood Hotel, where the team often played.
Joshua Hersz, marketing director of the Jewish Exponent, later presented Stark, the author of The SPHAS: The Life and Times of Basketball's Greatest Jewish Team, with a plaque in recognition of his contribution to Jewish literature in an on-court ceremony prior to a game between the 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Stark said the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association's basketball team, which played from 1918 until disbanding in 1959, has largely been overlooked by historians.
"The SPHAS are one of the great stories that has never been told," he said. The team, which grew from an amateur squad to become 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.
During one stretch, the team captured seven championships in 13 years, defeating opponents such as the Original Celtics and the New York Renaissance. Stark said the team helped change basketball from its initial slow, plodding physical style, with jump-balls after each basket, to a fast-paced game filled with passing and more scoring.
"In many ways they helped grow professional basketball to the game we know today," Stark said.
The author, who lives in Providence, R.I., and is museum director at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, spent five years researching and writing the book, which was published in May 2011. He said his next goal is to try and get the team inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Jerry Rullo, who played and coached for the SPHAS, attended the historical marker dedication Sunday along with relatives of former players.
The pregame ceremony coincided with Jewish Heritage Night at the Wells Fargo Center. Fans got to see Omri Casspi, the Cavalier's Israel-born forward, play 24 minutes and score 9 points. The 76ers defeated the visitors 91-77 in their final home game of the season.