The Golden State Warriors are currently one of the best teams in the NBA, and are the pride of the otherwise dreary San Francisco Bay Area sports scene. That’s just fantastic for the denizens of the nine counties by ‘the Bay’, and I applaud them on their success. It should be noted however, that the Warriors franchise was STOLEN from Philadelphia in 1962. When people talk about the ‘theft’ of professional sport teams, people regurgitate the same tired examples; the Baltimore Colts, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and if you’re British, Wimbledon F.C, but never the Philadelphia Warriors. Let’s change that.
The Philadelphia Warriors were founded in 1946 as a franchise in the upstart Basketball Association of America (BAA). They played their games at the Philadelphia Arena (1946-1952) and at the Philadelphia Civic Center (1952-1962), with the occasional game at Hershey Arena. In the beginning, the Warriors were owned, operated, and coached by the legendary basketball promoter and future NBA commissioner/scheduling king, Eddie Gottlieb. Prior to owning the Warriors, Gottlieb was owner/player/coach of the barnstorming SPHAs basketball team, widely considered one of the best teams of their era. In the Warriors (and the league’s) inaugural season, the team would would post a 35-25 record (field goal percentages are particularly cringe-inducing from this era). Led by the league’s premier scorer, Hall of Famer “Jumpin” Joe Fulks, the Warriors would defeat the Chicago Stags four games to one to win the first BBA championship (the BAA eventually became the NBA in 1949, and this is often considered the first NBA championship). The following season, the Warriors would lose in the BAA finals to the Baltimore Bullets, four games to two.
The Warriors snuck into the playoffs the next few years, but eventually missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. In 1955, an outraged Gottlieb had seen enough, and fired himself. He turned the Warriors over to former team point guard, George Senesky. In Senesky’s first season, the Warriors vastly improved. Led by a trio of Hall of Famers ”Pitchin’” Paul Arizin, Tom “Mr. All-Around” Gola, and Neil “Gabby” Johnston, the Warriors posted the best record in the NBA, and earned a trip to the 1956 NBA playoffs. Their first test was a semi-finals matchup against the reigning NBA champs, the Syracuse Nationals (the future 76ers), led by Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes. The Warriors won the hard-fought series three game to two, and advanced to the finals. In the finals, the Warriors took on a Fort Wayne (Now Detroit) Pistons team that had their own Hall of Fame trio (George “Bird” Yardley, Bobby Houbregs, and Andy Phillip). The Warriors won the best-of-seven series in five games (4-1), led by the transcendent scoring abilities of Paul Arizin. It was an extremely close fought series, with the average margin of victory of just four points (inflated by Warriors 11-point game five victory). This was to be the last triumph tasted by the Warriors in Philadelphia.
The offseason following the Warriors championship run would change the course of the NBA forever. In 1956, a certain vile team that wears green (The Boston Celtics), led by a certain cigar chomping coach/general manager (Arnold “Red” Auerbach), acquired a certain talented center through suspicious methods (Bill Russell), sparking a dynasty that won 11 of the next 13 NBA championships. The Warriors were stuck behind that dominant Boston squad with little hope of passing them. After three long seasons trapped in the looming shadow of the Celtics, a huge ray of sunlight peeked through the darkness in 1959.
That light was Wilton Norman “Wilt” Chamberlain, the 7-foot 1-inch behemoth from Overbrook High School, by way of the University of Kansas. In the early days of the NBA, there was an interesting mechanism used to engage local fans. Teams were allowed to stake a Territorial Pick claim to a player from a 50-mile radius of their home arena in exchange for the team’s first round pick. The thought process behind this was that fans would be more likely to foster a connection with one of their own than they would with some out-of-towner. With Chamberlain being far-and-away the best player in the draft, it was a no-brainer for the Warriors to stake a territorial claim. Chamberlain quickly became the best player in the NBA. Through his first three seasons, Chamberlain dominated the league, but his extremely talented supporting cast could not come close to the talent amassed by the Celtics (8 Hall–of–Famers on roster in 1960-61). Unfortunately for Philadelphians, there was an even bigger shadow than the Celtics looming over their team’s fortunes, Eddie Gottlieb’s ambitions.
In 1962, Eddie Gottlieb sold the Warriors to a group of California based investors led by Franklin Mieuli, who promptly moved them across the country to San Francisco’s Cow Palace. The motive for the sale (other than money) is not entirely clear. There is the notion that Gottlieb, as NBA commissioner, wanted to expand the league westward, but this is unproven. The move upset several players, most notably Paul Arizin, who quit the team to play for the semi-professional Camden Bullets of the Eastern Professional Basketball League. (They won the Championship in Arizin’s only season.) Fortunately for fans of pro basketball in Philadelphia, the city was without a team for just one season. In 1963, the Syracuse Nationals moved to Philadelphia and became the Philadelphia 76ers.
Both the Warriors and the Sixers have won two NBA titles since their respective moves. However, when you juxtapose the Warriors’ recent success with the woes of the ‘process’ era Sixers, it is inevitable that some fans will yearn for the Warriors to return to their roots.
In autumn of 1927, long before the Flyers were even a glimmer in the eye of Ed Snider, Philadelphia received its first professional ice hockey team: the Philadelphia Arrows of the Canadian-American Hockey League, a minor league.
The Arrows played their home games at Philadelphia Arena, located on the 4500 block of Market Street in West Philadelphia. It was on the same block as the legendary WFIL television studio that hosted Dick Clark’s iconic American Bandstand TV program.
The Arrows got off to a very poor start, coming in last place in both of their first two seasons, and going through two head coaches in the process. The club’s fortunes changed dramatically in their third year with the appointment of Herb Gardiner as head coach. Gardiner, a World War I veteran and the winner of the 1926-27 Hart Trophy (NHL MVP), completely turned the team around and would coach the Arrows for the remainder of the club’s existence. They finished in second place during the 1929-30 regular season before an early playoff exit at the hands of the Boston Tigers. The team took a couple of steps back in the subsequent two seasons, just missing out on the playoffs in the 1930-31 and coming in second to last place in 1931-32.
The 1932-33 season saw the Arrows dominate behind league points leader, Center Paul Runge. They finished the regular season in first place, earning them an automatic berth in the Finals. In true Philadelphia fashion they lost the finals against the Boston Cubs. The Arrows would jump out to a two-games-to-none lead before losing the final three games of the best-of-5 series, culminating with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss at home. The following season saw the Arrows drop down to third place, losing to Boston in the first round of the playoffs. In 1934-35, their last season as the Arrows, the team slumped down to last place.
In the offseason, the team changed names to become the Philadelphia Ramblers. The name change must have helped as the Ramblers won the 1935-36 Canadian-American Hockey League championship. In 1936, the Canadian-American Hockey League merged with the International Hockey League to form the International-American Hockey League. This would later be shortened to the American Hockey League. The Ramblers would make the finals of this new league two out of the next three years, losing on both occasions. After three seasons out of the playoff picture, the Ramblers (Now with a new moniker: the Philadelphia Rockets) ceased operations for good in 1942.
Philadelphia Arena fell into disuse after the construction of the Spectrum in 1967, and was renamed after Martin Luther King Jr. in 1977. On August 24th, 1983, the arena was burned down by arsonists. Today the location where the arena stood is occupied by an apartment complex.
Fun Facts about the Philadelphia Arrows:
- The Arrows had three Hockey Hall of Fame members involved with the club. They were Herb Gardiner (enshrined in 1958), Marty “Goal-a-game” Barry (enshrined in 1965), and Art Coulter. (enshrined in 1974)
- When the Philadelphia Flyers were created in 1967, Ed Snider sought out Arrows coach Herb Gardiner (still living in Philadelphia) and awarded him the honor of being the Flyers first season ticket holder. Gardiner attended Flyers games until his death in 1972.
- Tommy Anderson, who played for the Arrows from 1930-1934 won the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP award) in 1942 with the Brooklyn Americans. He became the last player from a non Original Six team to win the award until Flyers great Bobby Clark won in 1973.
- In 1930, the NHL moved its Pittsburgh Pirates franchise to Philadelphia and rebranded them as the Philadelphia Quakers. The team was so bad that they were out-attended by the Arrows. The Quakers folded after just one season.
Shibe Vintage Sports features this vintage Philadelphia Arrows shirt now available.
One website I am really digging these days is called funwhileitlasted.net, a site dedicated to short-lived pro sports teams. It was from that site that I learned about the Philadelphia Kings, a pro basketball team that played in West Philly in front of crowds that were only slightly larger than your average Wednesday night quizzo crowd, and whose short but sordid history includes cocaine, arson, and fraud.
Larry Lavin was a dental student at Penn when he started dealing cocaine, and within a few short years he was a millionaire. Of course, all of that money was cash coming in untaxed, so he had to find something to invest it in. Enter Mark Stewart, business manager for Freddie Shero, coach of the Flyers, as well as for a couple of Eagles. Stewart convinced Lavin to purchase the Philadelphia Arena, located at 45th and Market Street.
The Arena had housed numerous basketball and hockey teams through the years, with the Warriors and later the Sixers even playing occasional games there before the Spectrum opened. It was best known, however, as a boxing venue. Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Frazier, and Gene Tunney all fought there through the years.
By 1980 it had fallen into disrepair, as the Spectrum made it somewhat superfluous. But Stewart convinced Lavin to buy it for $100 k, and then convinced him to purchase the Lancaster Red Roses of the Continental Basketball Association and move them into his new arena. In an effort to generate local goodwill, they named the Arena Martin Luther King, Jr. Arena and named the team the Kings.
Stewart hired former Sixer great Hal Greer to coach the team and signed former NBA star Cazzie Russell to lead them on the court. Russell was as advertised, scoring 19 ppg, but that didn’t seem to excite the local populace…two months into their inaugural season, they were averaging about 150 fans per game. After the season, the team was sent back to Lancaster.
Now without a team, the storied Philadelphia Arena was essentially worthless. Stewart tried bringing in roller derby. As you might suspect, that went over like a lead balloon in an all-black neighborhood. Desperate to bring in anybody, the Arena was then booked with dubious preachers, including one who claimed to raise people from the dead. Lavin stopped giving money to Stewart, who was now on the hook for a worthless, dilapidated building. So Stewart did what any right thinking criminal would do. He had the place burned down. But the job was incomplete, and only the roof, the roof, the roof caught on fire. Stewart tried to claim his insurance, but his insurance company, seeing that the fire was highly suspicious, declined the claim. In 1983, the building was set on fire again, and this time burned to the ground.
The FBI and IRS had begun studying Stewart, and it was while investigating him that they came across a dentist named Larry Lavin. Stewart was charged with tax fraud and sentenced to 4 years in prison. Lavin would be arrested in 1984, skip town while on bail, and live under an assumed identity in Virginia Beach for two years before being found, arrested, and sentenced to 42 years in prison. He made parole several years ago, and currently lives in Tampa, FL.
So while the cocaine funded Philadelphia Kings were but a blip on the local sports radar, the cocaine funded Philadelphia Arena was destroyed after an illustrious 63 year career. And in a somewhat ironic twist, a google search of “Philadelphia Arena” and “fire” turns up this little gem: the Doors playing Light My Fire at the Philadelphia Arena in 1968, 13 years before Mark Stewart took their advice.