“The world of sports harbors a million memories,” as WBAX sports editor Jones Evans used to say every evening on his radio show.
The obituary of Ted Hanauer, long-time local insurance executive and former player for the Wilkes-Barre Barons, the valley’s long-time pro basketball team, brought back memories of millions of such moments. Hanauer was 89 when he died Oct. 1, in his home state of Indiana.
The legendary Eddie White, owner, manager, coach and prime promoter of professional basketball in Northeastern Pennsylvania, put together a series of teams that dominated its league for more than a dozen years and put Wyoming Valley on the national sports map.
Along with Hanauer, the team at its peak consisted of all natives of this region. They were brothers Bill and Steve Chanecka, Caz Ostroski, Herky Baltimore and Bells Cologne. They led the Barons to several league championships, both regular seasons and in the playoffs, and filled the 109th Field Artillery Armory with thousands of fans for each game.
The rivalry with the nearby Scranton Miners filled the bleachers and upper deck almost to the rafters. Some championship and playoff games with the “hated” Up-Valley upstarts put 5,000 fans in the building. At times, guys would be standing on the upstairs window sillls to view the action, hanging on to the chains that opened and closed the glass panels. (My brother Dick, of West Nanticoke, was one of them.)
Eddie White brought in major league teams for exhibition games. Almost every year, coach Al Cervi would bring his Syracuse Nats to the armory for a pre-season game. It was a win-win situation for both coaches. If the Barons won, which happened often, the fans would love it and Cervi would take his team home telling them: “Now will you listen to me!” And if the home team lost, Eddie would tell his team: “Now will you listen to me!”
Oher regular visitors included the Philadelphia Warriors and New York Knicks, of the Basketball Association of America. The BAA later merged with the National Basketball League to form the NBA.
Some of the players who came in with other Eastern League teams included such upcoming stars as Whitey Von Neida, son of a famous coach and later a coach himself after his playing career. (It was Whitey who let a teenager, your correspondent, who lacked 50 cents for a ticket, carry his gym bag into the armory to see a big game.)
And Eddie brought in young players on their way up and old players on their way down to bolster the squad. They included Red Erickson, a dribbling artist, who could move around the front court for minutes to kill time as the leading home team ran out the clock. He and some other “ball killers” were responsible for basketball adopting the 24-second clock. And with the clock, the Barons became one of the first teams to score a 100-point game.
From the Warriors, Eddie brought in an aging Pete Pasco, a pivot magician, whose hook shots and fakes drove defenders wild. The fans loved it when he would bounce the ball, catch it between his knees, and fake a hook to take the defender out of position for an easy layup. Pasco was one of the reasons the pros adopted the five seconds in the slot rule.
Someone had the idea for an eight-team “World Series of Basketball” and invited the Barons to compete against the top teams in the pro leagues and the still popular Harlem Globetrotters. The series was played in Chicago and the Barons were eliminated by a wide margin against the world champion Minneapolis Lakers, then led by giant all-time star George Mikan.