Adapted from jewsinsports.org
Max H. "Marty" Friedman was a basketball player in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. He was born in New York City on July 12, 1889 and died January 1, 1986. At 5'7", 138lbs., Friedman did not rely on physical strength to win games.
Regarded as the greatest defensive guard in his era of professional basketball, Friedman is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Friedman, who played professionally from 1910-1927, competed in almost every league in the East, and on some of the greatest teams of all time, including the New York Whirlwinds with Hall of Famers Barney Sedran and Nat Holman. Marty, who helped pioneer the game of basketball in Europe following World War I, also helped usher in a new style of basketball during his 17-year playing career. He then became a coach in professional leagues across the East.
During the 1910s, Friedman and Sedran were two of the most sought-after professional players in the game. Nicknamed the "Heavenly Twins," Friedman said, "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 scheduling conflict that day. The inference was that we preferred to play with another team even though we were booked with the phony’s club. The newspapers picked up the story and called us the ‘Heavenly Twins.’ It was meant 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…"
Born on the Lower East Side, Friedman learned the game of basketball on the streets and playgrounds of the Jewish ghetto. In 1906, he began to play on the midget team (under 106-pounds) at the University Settlement House under the tutelage of Harry Baum, an Austrian immigrant. Nicknamed the "Busy Izzies," the University Settlement team learned a new style of basketball of man-to-man defense and an offense based on speed, quickness, and intelligence that emphasized short passes, backdoor cuts, and the ability to move with or without the ball. That year, the "Busy Izzies" won the Inter-Settlement House championship.
Among the players on the team were Friedman, Barney Sedran, Lou Sugarman, Ira Streusand, and Harry Brill, all of whom would make a name for themselves in either college or the pros. The year after winning the championship at the University Settlement, Friedman turned professional at the age of 16. The first of the "Busy Izzies" to do so, he also attended the Hebrew Technical Institute and graduated in 1908. Two years later he “officially” turned pro when the Hudson River League in New York formed.
In 1911-12, Friedman played for Newburgh in the Hudson River League and brought many of his Jewish friends into the league, including Barney Sedran, Ira Streusand, Jake Fuller, Joe Girsdansky, and Bill Cone. At this time, the professional game was played in a "cage" of chicken wire or rope, the baskets often did not have backboards and visiting players were abused by home fans who occasionally stuck cigars and hat pins in the cage. Jewish players were not common in the pro game at this time, but the success of Friedman and his teammates changed the dynamic of the professional game.
In 1911-12, these Jewish players led Newburgh to the Hudson River League championship. The following year, Friedman and Sedran moved to the Utica Indians in the New York State League. In 1913-14, they led the Indians, along with Jewish teammates Jack Fox, Harry Franckle, and Bill Cone, to the league title over four-time champs Troy Trojans, and then secured the "world" championship by defeating Camden of the Eastern Basket Ball League.
The game they brought to the professional ranks was based on the combination of speed, deception, and skill over brute strength. Yet, the Jewish players could also play the rough game most professionals were accustomed. Friedman told the authors of The Encyclopedia of Jews in Sports, "The game was rough in those days but I gave as good as I got. I remember once, in a mining town, my pal Barney [Sedran] was getting worked over good. I told Barney to run at full speed past me and as the bully-boy came alongside me, I stepped in front of him and down he went. Well, that was it. He lay stretched out cold. That infuriated the hometown spectators and they rushed onto the court to avenge the local hero…had to wait until the miners went to work before we were able leave town."
During the 1910s, the pro game was loosely organized and teams often folded in the middle of a season. Players, in the meantime, found themselves forced to play as many ten games a week to make a living. Friedman played in every professional league in the East and sometimes for three or four teams over the course of a season. In 1914-15, Friedman played for Utica in the New York State League and finished seventh in the league in scoring with 5.4 points per game (139 points in 26 games). The league soon folded, however, so Friedman, Sedran, and Jack Fox moved to Carbondale, where they won 35 straight games and the Pennsylvania State League championship. Over the next two seasons, Friedman played with Jasper of the Eastern League and helped them win the league title in 1916-17.
World War I
When the United States entered World War I, Friedman enlisted, went to Officers Training School, and qualified as a pilot. He never saw combat, however.
Following the war he helped to organize a 600-team basketball tournament for the American troops stationed in France that created some interest among Europeans in a game then still little known in Europe.
Friedman was part of the Inter-Allied Games held in Paris in 1919 (the Inter-Allied Games are considered the predecessor of the World Championships and Olympic basketball). The captain and star of the American team, Friedman led the U.S. to the tournament championship with a 93-8 drubbing of the French squad. Among those in attendance at the championship were General John J. Pershing and James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
Return to the States
Upon his return to the U.S., Friedman stepped right back onto the professional basketball court. In 1919-20, he was reunited with Sedran on Albany of the New York State League and was the league’s third-leading scorer (6.1 points per game) while leading the team to the league championship. That same season, he played with other professional teams in Turners Falls and Passaic and began to play with Sedran and another great Jewish player Nat Holman on the New York Whirlwinds, an independent team considered by many to the best of the era.
The following year, he played for East Hampton in the Interstate League and was the fifth leading scorer (Sedran was third) while leading them to the league title. He also remained with Albany in the New York State League and led them to their second straight championship. It was with the Whirlwinds, however, that Friedman made the most impact. The success of the Whirlwinds on the court and their popularity with the Jewish crowds made the team the logical opponent of another great independent team of the era, the Original Celtics.
In April 1921, the two teams were scheduled to play a three-game series in New York City. The first game was played before a record crowd of 10,000 people as the Whirlwinds won, 40-24. The second game was won by the Celtics, 26-24. The third game was never played, and although there seems to be disagreement among historians as to why, the most accepted story is that Chris Leonard and Holman signed exclusive contracts with the Celtics prior to the deciding game of the series. After Leonard and Holman left the Whirlwinds, the team disbanded.
Although the series did not produce a champion, it did prove to promoters, owners, coaches, and players that professional basketball could attract crowds and make money. The game moved off the back pages of the sports page and while it would be decades before basketball became the most popular spectator sport in the United States, it finally gained respect.
After knee and shoulder injuries kept Friedman on the sidelines over the next couple of seasons, he returned to the court in 1925-26 as player/coach of the Cleveland Rosenblums in the newly formed ABL (American Basketball League), the first attempt at a national professional league.
The ABL was started by promoters and football owners such as George Halas of the Chicago Bears and George Marshall of the Washington Redskins who saw the potential money to be made in pro ball following the 1921 Whirlwind-Celtic series. That first season, Friedman led the Rosenblums (named after the team’s owner, Cleveland department store magnate Max Rosenblum) to the league championship. Friedman remained with the Rosenblums until 1927, when they lost the ABL title to the Original Celtics.
After his playing days (he was 37 when he retired), Friedman went into coaching and stayed in that field until 1939 when he coached the Troy Haymakers of the ABL, a regional league that began in the early 1930s after the original ABL folded due to the Depression. Friedman said, "I guess my biggest contribution to basketball was developing young players who eventually became great professionals."
Following his basketball career, Friedman went into the garage business with Sedran until 1959, when he retired.
- New York Roosevelts (Independent), 1908-09
- Newburgh Bizzy Izzies (Hudson River League), 1909-10, 1911-12
- Hudson Company F (New York State League, NYSL), 1910-11
- Utica Utes (NYSL), 1912-15
- Carbondale (Pennsylvania Inter-County League), 1914-15
- Philadelphia Jasper Jewels (Eastern Basket Ball League, EL), 1915-17, 1922-23
- Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers (Interstate Basket Ball League, IBL), 1915-16
- New York Whirlwinds (Independent), 1920-21
- Passaic Athletic Association (IBL), 1919-20
- Turners Falls Athletics (Interstate League IL), 1919-20
- Trenton Tigers (EL), 1920-21
- New York Giants (EL), 1921-23
- Brooklyn Dodgers (Metropolitan Basketball League), 1921-23
- Easthampton Hampers (IL), 1920-22
- Albany Senators (NYSL), 1919-23
- Bridgeport Blue Ribbons (Connecticut League), 1920-21
- Mohawk Indians (NYSL), 1921-22
- Gloversville Wonder Workers (NYSL), 1923-24
- Cleveland Rosenblums (American Basketball League, ABL), 1925-27 (player-coach)
- Troy Haymakers (ABL), 1938-39 (coach)
A member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, Friedman was named to the All-Time Pro Second Team in 1941.