The history of the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association's basketball team and the legends it spawned


The Life and Times of Basketball's Greatest Jewish Team

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Foreword by Lynn Sherr

Douglas Stark

"Douglas Stark chronicles some amazing facts about the game of basketball. It is almost inconceivable today, but basketball in its infancy was a ‘Jewish’ game. The SPHAS is a great read for every basketball fan who cares about the origins and history of the game."
Governor Ed Rendell

Founded in 1918, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association's basketball team, known as the SPHAS, was a top squad in the American Basketball League—capturing seven championships in thirteen seasons—until it disbanded in 1959. In The SPHAS, the first book to chronicle the history of this team and its numerous achievements, Douglas Stark includes not only rare and noteworthy images of players and memorabilia but also interviews and anecdotes to recall how players like Inky Lautman, Cy Kaselman, and Shikey Gotthoffer challenged racial stereotypes of weakness and physical inferiority as they boosted the game's popularity. Team owner Eddie Gottlieb and Temple University coach Harry Litwack, among others profiled here, began their remarkable careers with the SPHAS.

Stark explores the significance of basketball to the Jewish community during the early years of the game, when Jewish players dominated the sport and a distinct American Jewish identity was on the rise. At a time when basketball teams were split along ethnic lines, the SPHAS represented the Philadelphia Jewish community. This book is an inspiring and heartfelt tale of the team on and off the court.



Read Chapter 1 (pdf).



"For three decades, the Philadelphia SPHAS were one of the most important professional basketball teams in America, yet today almost no one knows their name. Hopefully, Douglas Stark’s book, The SPHAS, will change that. With encyclopedic detail, Stark traces the SPHAS’ unique role as an all-Jewish team that survived anti-Semitism, the Great Depression, and a world war to leave a lasting legacy in American sport."
Ben Green, author of Spinning the Globe: The Rise, Fall, and Return to Greatness of the Harlem Globetrotters

"Douglas Stark has made a valuable contribution in bringing back to life a vibrant era in early basketball history. His portraits of the players, their fans, and such memorable figures as team founder Eddie Gottlieb and announcer Dave Zinkoff will entertain and instruct lovers of not only basketball but also American urban history."
Lee Lowenfish, author of Branch Rickey: Baseball's Ferocious Gentleman

"Steeped in well-researched detail, The SPHAS helps resurrect the memory of a team that represented a nation and dominated a game."
Slam Magazine

"[A]n extremely well-researched book, one that captures in detail a bygone era, and belongs on the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in basketball history."
Providence Journal

"The team's interesting history, now well chronicled by Douglas Stark...stretched from its founding in 1918 until its demise in 1959.... Sports fans will enjoy Stark's volume, particularly its biographies of the SPHAs players."
The Jewish Book World

"The SPHAS documents the story in more detail than anyone has done before.... Stark’s book includes rare and vivid photographs of players as he describes how these Jews fought stereotypes of Jewish weakness and inferiority while spreading the popularity of what was then a relatively new game."
The Broad Street Review



Foreword by Lynn Sherr
1. On the Road
2. A Jewish Game
3. A New League, a New Team
4. Prospect Hall and the Vissies
5. Shikey
6. Howard the Red
7. Saturday Night SPHAS' Habit
8. The Darlings of Philadelphia
9. Rosenberg to the Rescue
10. Basketball and War
11. The Influx of New York Players
12. Losing Home Court
13. The End of the Line
14. Playing it Straight
Epilogue: Memories Live On
Appendix A: Game-by-Game American Basketball League Standings for the SPHAS
Appendix B: Year-by-Year Standings for the SPHAS
Appendix C: SPHAS versus Other Philadelphia Professional Teams
Appendix D: Box Scores
Appendix E: All-Time SPHAS Roster


About the Author(s)

Douglas Stark is the Museum Director of the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum.

Subject Categories

Philadelphia Region
Jewish Studies



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