01 June 2009

Philadelphia: Jewish basketball

In a Philadelphia Inquirer story about the city during 1928-30, discussing the economic woes at that time and interspersed with more contemporary comments, the following paragraph lurked:

Basketball also was big in Philadelphia, and no team got more Inquirer ink than the Philadelphia SPHAs of the recently reborn Eastern League. "SPHA" was an acronym for South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, and the players came from the city's immigrant Jewish neighborhoods.

The SPHAs wore blue uniforms with Hebrew lettering, and beginning with the 1929-30 season, they won three consecutive league championships.

Sportswriters were apt to attribute their success to genetics. Jews, it was said, were naturally more coordinated and athletic. The New York Daily News' Paul Gallico wrote that Jews did so well because "the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind."
Read the complete story here.

The 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will take place August 2-7. On the program schedule are talks about Philadelphia's Jewish history, which will include the Philadelphia SPHAs. For all conference details, click here.

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