American Basketball League owners meeting during the summer of 1926 were generally pleased by the results of the league’s inaugural session. Only Buffalo had not signed up for the second season. League President Joe Carr had signed three new members in Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia. The latter two were of particular importance to the league’s credibility. Two Philadelphia boxing promoters, Jules Aronson and Max Hoff were recruited by Carr to finance the team and Eddie Gottlieb was hired to run the team. The situation in New York was considerably less clear. The Original Celtics signed to represent New York, but they were reluctant recruits at best. After last season, Carr had banned any ABL team from playing games against the Celtics, drying up some of their most lucrative exhibition dates. In the past, such a tactic would not have intimidated the Celtics, but they were already under financial stress due to the June indictment of owner Jim Furry for embezzling $190,000 from a New York business.
Then, in early October, just a month before the ABL season was to get underway, the Celtics bolted to the newly organized National Basketball League. The new league operated solely in and around the metropolitan New York City, but despite its geographical limitations was stocked with some of the best players in the country. After pulling off a coup by signing the Original Celtics, the NBL brashly raided ABL rosters for additional players.
The Brooklyn Arcadians were particularly hard hit, losing stars Red Conaty and Rody Cooney, while Washington lost starters Teddy Kearns and Bob Grody. Washington owner George Preston Marshall completed the destruction of the Arcadians by luring Elmer Ripley and Tillie Voss away from the Brooklyn club to fill the gaps in his lineup left by the National League raids. The newcomers joined Rusty Saunders, Ray Kennedy and George Glasco to restore Marshall’s Palace Five club to its place among the ABL pre-season favorites. Cleveland returned with championship squad intact and further strengthened by the addition of Ohio State rookie Cookie Cunningham and valuable swingman Gil Ely. With Brooklyn out of the picture, Gottleib’s new Philadelphia entry became the third contender. The Quakers (later known as the Warriors) showcased a Who’s Who of former Eastern League stars including George Artus, Tom Barlow, Stretch Meehan, Soup Campbell, and Chickie Passon.
Three weeks into the new season, the favorites were all performing up to expectations, but the league had serious problems at the other end of the standings. Brooklyn, Detroit and Baltimore were all winless and showing few signs of improvement. President Carr acted quickly and ruthlessly to solve the dilemma. First, he moved to destroy the foundation of the upstart National League, by secretly negotiating with the Celtics to jump to the ABL. As anticipated, the Celtics’ departure triggered an immediate collapse of the rival league. Next, Carr expelled the Detroit and Brooklyn clubs from the ABL, and then awarded the latter franchise to the incoming Celtics. Finally, he bolstered the Baltimore franchise with players from the suddenly defunct NBL. In a single stroke, Carr had signed basketball’s most famous team, thwarted the upstart NBL, and provided his league with an additional pool of dozens of top players.
The Original Celtics quickly waded into the race for first-half honors of the ABL, winning 13 of 16 games, but the 0-5 record they were forced to inherit from the Arcadians was impossible to overcome. Cleveland captured first place by one game over Washington with Philadelphia in third and the Celtics in fourth place. Starting with a fresh slate, the Celtics quickly took charge of the second half of the season with nine straight victories. Fort Wayne, which had been a major beneficiary at mid-season of National League players, finished second. The most important addition to the Indiana club was Benny Borgmann, who quickly established him as the league’s premier offensive star. Washington and Philadelphia followed in third and fourth place, while first-half winner Cleveland slumped badly to fifth place. Cleveland’s fall was precipitated by the hasty mid-season departure of star Honey Russell, who was exiled to Chicago after a disagreement with team owner Max Rosenblum. The Celtics easily disposed of the weakened Cleveland team in three straight games to take the ABL championship.