The first international basketball tournament in Europe took place at the Inter-Allied Games, held in Paris in 1919.
At the urging of YMCA leader Elwood S. Brown, General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) in World War I, initiated the Inter-Allied Games in January 1919, less than two months after the end of "the Great War," by sending letters of invitation to 29 allied nations and territories. Eighteen accepted the invitation to compete in Pershing Stadium in Paris that was build for the games. The games apparently were well run and became an organizational example that was a precursor to modern Olympic Games organizations.
The basketball competition commenced on June 26, 1919. Only three countries fielded basketball teams: Italy, France and the United States. The tournament consisted of a round-robin, which the United States won easily.
The games were played outdoors, in Pershing Stadium, which had been specially constructed for the Inter-Allied Games. Dribbling the ball may have been challenging. The basketball court was on the baseball infield. The official history notes, "the floor of tightly stretched canvas and the movable, but firmly placed standards formed an excellent court. Good weather prevailed during all but the first game in which the second half was played in the rain."
While Brennan may have been the leading scorer for the Americans (he had six field goals in the opening game against Italy), the organizer of the team was its captain, Max Friedman. Friedman had played professional ball in the US for nearly ten years before joining the American Expeditionary Force. He would continue his professional career upon his return to the States, eventually becoming a coach. He is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Prior to the Games, two stages of competition took place among the American troops. First there was a "mass competition," apparently involving anyone and everyone stationed in France. From these players, the "A.E.F. Championships" teams were selected. This tournament may have been the 600-team tournament some sources erroneously cite as part of the Inter-Allied Games, giving credit to Max Friedman for organizing and winning it single-handedly. While Friedman may have been the most talented and experienced basketball player in Europe at the time, his role was not as great as some claim, at least according to the documentary evidence.
The detailed statistical report of the Games Committee claims that 1.6 million soldiers participated in basketball games in the first five months of 1919, while 2.3 million spectators watched. We can assume that the Committee was referring to units of person-games, since the entire A.E.F. numbered about 1.4 million.
The Committee report mentions nothing about the method of selecting the French and Italian teams. Very little is said about the American team. It was selected by Captain W. Austin Bennet and "Coach Zahn of the Y.M.C.A." from "the best players of the many teams which competed in the American Expeditionary Forces championship meet," according to the Committee report.
- George Ruddiger (Forward)
- W.S. Greene (Forward)
- J.R. Kewallis (Forward)
- Matthew Brennan (Center)
- J.A. Pelletier (Guard)
- Max Friedman (Guard)
- H.E. Clarke (Reserve)
- William May (Reserve)
- L.E. Brown (Reserve)
- R.T. Doing (Reserve)
- Guiseppe Sessa (Forward)
- Vito Baccarini (Forward)
- Arrigo Muggiani (Center)
- Marco Muggiani (Guard)
- Battista Pecelle or Battista Pecollo (Guard)
- ? Bagay (Forward)
- Francis Aube (Forward)
- Jean Chauvet (Center)
- Stephano Aguillaume (Guard)
- Georges Turaglie or Georges Turaglio (Guard)
- ? Maurier (Reserve)
Inter-Allied Games Committee. The Inter-Allied Games, Paris, 1919.