Baum, Harry : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Baum, Harry

Baum, a volunteer settlement worker on the Lower East Side became one of basketball's greatest coaches during the early decades of the 20th Century. He is considered the father of fundamental basketball tactics. Credited with developing the Eastern style of play, which dominated the game until the 1940s, Baum placed emphasis on speed and short passes, and was among the first to initiate switching men on defense.

Early basketball great Ira Streusand, and Hall-of-Famers Barney Sedran and Marty Friedman, praised Baum for teaching them the game at an early age. Sedran said: "He really taught us kids all we knew about basketball. He was the greatest coach of basketball's early years. He taught us a style of play which we carried with us during our entire careers. In fact, his style of basketball was followed by most of the pro teams."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. July 18, 1882 - d. June 8, 1959

Career Highlights:
Born in Austria, Baum emigrated to the United States and settled in New York City. A graduate of CCNY (City College of New York) in 1902, Harry's sole athletic experience prior to coaching basketball was as a lacrosse player for one season at City College, and three seasons at Columbia University (from which he received an engineering degree in 1908). In 1906, while a student at Columbia, Baum was doing volunteer work at the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side, and agreed to coach the midget team (kids weighing 100 pounds or less). Although he had no prior experience in the game invented only 15 years before, Harry was dedicated to his kids, and soon influenced the game more than he had ever imagined he would.

Because Baum's only previous athletic experience was in lacrosse, he based his teaching of basketball on that game. Starting from scratch, Harry devised a strategy of short passes and man-to-man defense based on the principle of switching. Because his players were so small, he developed tactics based on speed and deception rather than brawn. Harry also found that signals and pre-arranged plays were unnecessary in this fast-paced game. This was revolutionary, as many players of that era simply bullied their way to the basket to score. These innovations were seen by Baum as simple common-sense tactics and fundamental principles that should have been apparent to any student of the game.

Considered a "slave-driving" coach, Baum drilled his players incessantly, and taught them the skills that allowed many of them to flourish in the game as college and professional star athletes. He preferred to coach the midgets, because they had not developed bad habits, and were able to easily learn his principles. He taught his players to move with and without the ball and to always keep their heads up, looking for the open man. For five seasons, Harry coached at the University Settlement House. During this period, he won five intersettlement championships. Among his proteges were Hall of Famers Barney Sedran and Marty Friedman, along with other early greats, such as Ira Streusand, Lou Sugarman, Harry Brill, and Jake Fuller.

For Baum, the most important coaching took place prior to the game. He told the New York Evening Post in a 1934 interview that "...the coach is not indispensable in any sport. Once an intelligent player learns the principles and fundamentals of his game, he can get along better thereafter without any help. After the coach lays down these principles on a scientific and common sense basis, it's all a question of the player getting the most out of himself...a man should be told of the possibilities at his command and then should be left alone. I never made a comment during a game. If a boy could not overcome obstacles of his own initiative, he would never be much good anyway."

In 1910, Baum stepped down as midget coach and devoted his time to engineering. Six years later, he became a teacher at CCNY. Then, from 1919-24, he was in charge of rehabilitation work for disabled soldiers before becoming a full professor at City College. Although his time in the game of basketball was relatively brief, his methods and tactics were carried on by his pupils, many of whom became the greatest professionals in basketball's early days. His ideas of quick, short passing, switching defense, and constant action on the offense are still with us. Harry Baum deserves recognition as the father of fundamental basketball tactics.

Cracow, Austria

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
New York Evening Post, December 12, 1934