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BARNEY SEDRAN AND MARTY FRIEDMAN: THE HEAVENLY TWINS

Basketball's first two superstars, this duo dominated pro hoops in the earliest years of the sport

By Chuck Miller

Originally published in Basketball Digest

If their names don't ring a bell, it's because they played basketball in a different time. There were no United Centers or Boston Gardens in their time - they played in state armories, Masonic temples, high school auditoriums. There was no NBA Inside Stuff to display their highlight reels - only newspaper columns and a few photographs to chronicle their basketball existence. Their courts were fenced-in cages, where skill, timing and deliberate ball control (as well as fan intimidation) was the key to success. And from their start as teenagers on the same youth squad, to teammates on dozens of small-town pro teams, to their final enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame, Barney Sedran and Marty Friedman were the greatest scoring combination of their time.

The partnership began in 1905, when a 14-year old Bernard Sedran signed up for the East Side University Settlement team, a New York youth basketball circuit and the first of the early "playground" leagues. Many of the players looked at the 5'4", 100-pound forward and laughed - until he dribbled the ball around them and scored some baskets. "Sedran was strictly a shooter," remembered Al Sloman, a semipro basketball player who played against Barney Sedran in the 1920's. "He was running just to impede the progress of opponents so his man can get away. And he kept running back and forth, in and out, in and out."

In 1906, Sedran moved up to the 115-pound division and played alongside another kid from the lower East Side, Max "Marty" Friedman. Their squad, nicknamed the "Dizzy Izzies," won the University Settlement championship.

Friedman was not a scorer, but he knew how to set up a play, and was one of the first guards to define his position in early basketball - get the ball first, and intimidate the other team so that their carefully-crafted passing routines would fail. While Sedran spent his teenage years as captain of the CCNY basketball squad, becoming one of the earliest college basketball stars and laying the foundation for CCNY's early basketball prominence, Friedman tested the professional waters, entering the cage with the semipro New York Roosevelts.

"Entering the cage" is accurate. To keep the ball in play, early basketball games were held inside enclosed cages; chicken wire fences or rope nets along the edge of the court. Defensive players could "check" ballhandlers into the nets, and by the end of the game, players' bodies were covered with rope burns or scratches. Each basketball hoop was held by a single pole, and rowdy fans sometimes reached through the cage links and pounded or jiggled the post, causing a perfect two-point shot to ricochet off the hoop. "If you were mad at a team coming in from out of town," remembered Sloman, "the nets were open, so you could put your hand through, or you could throw something in there. Or you could stick your foot through the net and trip somebody coming down the lane."

After every tipoff, the center took the ball, passed it to a guard, who got it to one of the forwards, who lofted a two-handed set shot toward the hoop. There were no backboards in the cage; only arcing shots that passed through the hoop with no ricochet counted for scores. There was no 24-second clock, no hand check fouls - heck, the pivot play wasn't even invented yet.

In 1913, Sedran and Friedman were teammates for the Utica Indians, a team in the Hudson River League. The Indians were cellar-dwellers in the HRL for the past two seasons; when Friedman and Sedran joined, Utica compiled a 46-17 record, won the Hudson River League title, then the professional title against the Eastern League's Camden Alphas. On February 11, 1914, in a 74-44 victory over Cohoes, Barney Sedran scored a personal best 34 points. This was 17 field goals - almost all of them 25-30 feet away from the basket, clear NBA 3-pointers - through a backboardless hoop, inside a wire cage. And many of those points were assisted by Marty Friedman, through steals and careful passing.

That next year, the duo were contacted by Bill Hepinstall, a factory worker and part-time sports promoter, to play for his Carbondale Pioneers team in the Pennsylvania League. Between 1914 and 1916, Friedman and Sedran helped the Worker Wonders compile a 57-25 record and a national championship. In a game at Wilkes-Barre, Pa., one team thought they had a solution to beat the superstars - a forward and a guard would wait until Friedman moved the ball up the court between them, then the Wilkes-Barre forward gave Friedman have an "accidental" elbow to the jaw. The second time Friedman had the ball and was moving down the court between the Wilkes-Barre players, the forward raised his elbow again - but Friedman ducked at the last moment, and the forward accidentally clobbered his own teammate!!

Fans in those early years could be just as vicious as the players. Ticketholders would leave lit cigars in the cage webbing, so that an opposing player could get burned if he got too close. Other fans threw things inside the cage - heated nails from Pennsylvania coal miners, for example. One night, Friedman and Sedran were vexed by the antics of a fan of the opposing squad, "Dashaway" Maloney. At one point, Dashaway tried to motivate his squad by taking off his clothes and tossing them - shirt, shoes, socks - into the cage. He then ran around the cage, screaming and hollering and threatening to toss his trousers into the cage - until two policemen escorted him out of the building.

This was the rough-and-tumble beginnings of basketball. The early pro leagues of the time - the Eastern League, the Pennsylvania League, the New York State League - all centered around Northeastern towns, whose central location kept travel costs at a minimum. It also kept player salaries low, and some athletes played in two or more leagues in the same season, earning barely $125 a month.

It also earned Sedran and Friedman a nickname, originally designed as an insult, but later became a badge of honor. "We got the name by accident," Friedman said in a 1963 print interview. "Barney and I were playing in a couple of different leagues one year and the clubs worked out their schedules to accommodate us. Anyway, an unscrupulous promoter advertised that we were going to play with his team. We weren't supposed to and didn't know about it, so we didn't show up. Well, the promoter lied and said that we didn't show because of a schedule conflict that day. The inference was that we preferred to play with another team even though we were booked with the phoney's club. The newspapers picked up the story and called us the 'Heavenly Twins.' It was supposed to be sarcastic and indicated that we could do no wrong. Anyway, the name stuck and the way it eventually was used was completely different from the original intention."

When World War I came, Marty Friedman enlisted and was sent to France, where a commanding officer once asked if 2nd Lieut. Max Friedman was any relation to that great basketball star from New York's East Side. After the war ended, Friedman organized a basketball tournament for American troops in Europe. The athletic program became the Inter-Allied Games (which later evolved into the World Championships and Olympic basketball). In 1919, at the Inter-Allied games in Paris, 12,000 fans gathered at Pershing Stadium to watch Friedman's team decimate a French squad 93-8 to capture the Inter-Allied basketball title. Among the spectators at the game was General John J. Pershing, who gave Friedman the championship trophy, and basketball inventor Dr. James Naismith, who congratulated Friedman after the game.

Friedman reunited with Sedran in 1920, as part of Bill Hepinstall's new team, the Albany Senators. Not only did they bring the Senators two championships, but they also played for other teams in rival leagues at the same time - hop on a train, land in Turner's Falls or Easthampton or Passaic - lace up the Converse and get to the game.

For the 1920-21 season, Sedran and Friedman were the starters for the New York Whirlwinds, a basketball team owned by promoter Tex Rickard. They played at many of the armories and auditoriums in New York City, and were almost impossible to beat. In one of the greatest series in early basketball history, the Whirlwinds, with the "Heavenly Twins," faced another pro basketball powerhouse, the New York "Original" Celtics, in a critical postseason series. On April 10, 1921, 11,000 people, at that time the largest attendance for a professional basketball game, squeezed into New York's 71st Regimental Armory to see the Whirlwinds won the first game 40-27 (Sedran scored ten points, Friedman held Celtic high-scorer Johnny Beckman to only one basket). Three days later, the Celtics evened the series with a 26-24 win. A third game was scheduled, but was called off when Sedran and Friedman informed their coaches that professional gamblers had approached them to fix the series.

Teams in the 1920's were still built around racial and ethnic lines - the Buffalo Germans, the mostly-Irish New York Celtics, the all-black New York Renaissance - and many anti-Semitic slurs were aimed at Sedran and Friedman. According to teammate John (Honey) Russell, the Heavenly Twins were often singled out for racial abuse. "Coffins and hangmen's nooses would sometimes be painted on a hometown floor to mark their spots," according to John (Honey) Russell, who played in the 1920's with the Heavenly Twins, "and in one hall the team was greeted with signs around the balconies saying, 'Kill the Christ-killers.' The Jew-baiters got there early - they'd have stones inside the snowballs and it was hell getting inside the hall, much less playing the game."

Actually, Sedran and Friedman were heroes to other Jewish athletes and Jewish sports fans, who watched the Heavenly Twins win games - and later, the respect and acceptance of the audience. Thanks to the "Heavenly Twins," more than half the pro basketball players in the 1920's and 1930's were Jewish, and the Philadelphia SPHAs (South Philadelphia Hebrew All-Stars) were an unbeatable pro team in the 1930's. "I officially turned professional in 1910," said Friedman, "when the Hudson River League in New York was formed. I got $5 a game and paved the way for a lot of my Jewish teammates at the settlement houses to join me. When the others turned pro the newspapers nicknamed them 'Clark University alumni.' The allusion was to Clark House and the University Settlement [in New York's East Side]."

After their playing careers were over, the "Heavenly Twins" became coaches in the new American Basketball League, which later evolved into the NBA. Marty Friedman was a player-coach for the ABL's Cleveland Rosenblums, winning two regular season titles and a league championship. Barney Sedran coached the Wilmington Blue Bombers from 1940 to 1944, winning two ABL championships. During the 1940-41 season, Sederan's Bombers even scored a victory over the unbeatable Harlem Globetrotters!

In 1962, Barney Sedran was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Although he appreciated the honor and accepted it graciously, he felt his induction would not be complete without the induction of his "Heavenly Twin." In a 1965 letter to the Hall of Fame, Sedran wrote: "Would appreciate your effort to finally have a great player, Marty Friedman, added to the list of greats in this Hall of Fame. - Barney."

Sedran passed away in 1969, and newspapers from Utica to Carbondale to Wilmington mourned his passing. Before his death, Sedran learned his final wish was nearing completion - Marty Friedman had been nominated for enshrinement. In 1971, Friedman finally joined his "Heavenly Twin" in the Hall of Fame.

Teammates together. Teammates forever.

 

BARNEY SEDRAN PLAYING CAREER

Year
1907-08 CCNY
1908-09 CCNY
1909-10 CCNY
1910-11 CCNY
1911-12 Newburgh, N.Y. (HRL)
1912-13 Utica, N.Y. (NYSL)
1913-14 Utica, N.Y. (NYSL)
1914-15 Carbondale, Pa. (PL)
1915-16 Philadelphia Jaspers (EL)
1916-17 Philadelphia Jaspers (EL)
1917-18 Bridgeport, Conn. (IND), New York Shipbuilding (IND)
1918-19 Scranton, Pa. (EL)
1919-20 Albany Senators (NYSL), Turner's Falls, Mass. (IS)
1920-21 Albany Senators (NYSL), Easthampton, Mass. (IS), New York Whirlwinds (IND)
1921-22 Albany Senators (IND), Easthampton, Mass. (IS)
1922-23 Albany Senators (NYSL), Northampton, Mass. (IS)
1923-24 Fort Wayne K of C (IND)
1924-25 Cleveland Rosenblums (IND)
1925-26 Cleveland Rosenblums (ABL)
1930 Ohrbach's AAU Metropolitan Champs [C]
1932-36 Brooklyn Jewels [C]
1936-38 New York Whirlwinds [C]
1938-39 Kate Smith Celtics (ABL) [C]
1939-40 Troy Celtics (ABL) [C]
1940-44 Wilmington Bombers (ABL) [C]
1944-46 New York Gothams (ABL) [C]
C = Coach
EL = Eastern League
HRL = Hudson River League
IND = Independent League
IS = Inter-State League
NYSL = New York State League
PC = Playing Coach
PL = Pennsylvania League

 

MARTY FRIEDMAN PLAYING CAREER

Year
1908-09 New York City Roosevelts
1910-11 Newburgh, N.Y. (HRL)
1911-12 Newburgh, N.Y. (HRL)
1912-13 Utica, N.Y. (NYSL)
1913-14 Utica, N.Y. (NYSL)
1914-15 Carbondale, Pa. (PL)
1915-16 Philadelphia Jaspers (EL)
1916-17 Philadelphia Jaspers (EL)
1917-18 in military service
1918-19 Allied Exped. Forces team (PC)
1919-20 Albany Senators (NYSL), Turner's Falls, Mass. (IS)
1920-21 Albany Senators (NYSL), Easthampton, Mass. (IS), New York Whirlwinds (IND)
1921-22 Albany Senators (IND), Easthampton, Mass. (IS)
1923-24 Cleveland Rosenblums (IND/PC)
1924-25 Cleveland Rosenblums (IND/PC)
1925-26 Cleveland Rosenblums (ABL/PC)
1926-27 Cleveland Rosenblums (ABL/PC)
1938-39 Troy Haymakers [C]
C = Coach
EL = Eastern League
HRL = Hudson River League
IND = Independent League
IS = Inter-State League
NYSL = New York State League
PC = Playing Coach
PL = Pennsylvania League










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