Gottlieb, Leo 'Ace' : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Gottlieb, Leo 'Ace'

Playing for the New York Knicks, Gottlieb led his team in scoring with 14 points in the first-ever game in NBA history (Nov. 1, 1946 vs. the Toronto Huskies). The Knicks won the game, 68-66. Gottlieb was the uncle of Ron Rothstein, the first coach of the Miami Heat

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Nov. 28, 1920 - d. Aug. 1972

Career Highlights:
Before playing in the first-ever NBA game, Gottlieb -- who was a terrific set-shooter -- played in the American Basketball League. The ABL, although more of a semi-pro league, was one of the top professional leagues before the NBA existed. Gottlieb's ABL experience began during the 1939-40 season, when at the age of 19, he joined the Philadelphia Sphas (the nickname stood for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association). The Sphas, also referred to as the 'Hebrews' by newspapers, originally formed as a barnstorming team and dominated the ABL in the 1930s and early 1940s. Gottlieb appeared in four games for the Sphas in 1940 and scored four points as the team finished first in the regular season (20-13) and won the championship in a round-robin playoff.

In 1940-41, Gottlieb left the Sphas team and joined the New York Jewels. The team finished 14-14 and did not make the playoffs. Gottlieb appeared in 18 games and scored 50 points for the Jewels (sixth most on the team). He remained with the team as the 1941-42 season began, but played in only one game before the franchise folded (they had a record of 1-6).

According to statistics compiled by basketball historian Robert Bradley, Gottlieb missed the 1942-43 ABL season and played only six games in 1943-44 for a new New York franchise, the Americans. He missed the 1944-45 season, but then played for the Gothams, his third New York team, in 1945-46, appearing in every game of the season . Gottlieb finished fifth in the league in scoring with 366 points for the Gothams, which finished fourth in the league with a 18-16 record and lost to Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs.

In 1946-47, Gottlieb joined the New York Knicks of the newly formed NBA (then called the Basketball Association of America). That season, he played in 57 games for the Knicks and averaged 5.9 points per game. New York had a record of 33-27 and lost in the playoffs to the eventual NBA champion Philadelphia Warriors 2-0. In 1947-48, the Knicks finished in second place in the Eastern Division with a record of 26-22. In the playoffs, they lost again to the eventual NBA champion -- this time 2-1 to the Baltimore Bullets. Leo retired following the 1947-48 season after playing in 84 career NBA games.

In 1998, Gottlieb and five other Jewish players (Sonny Hertzberg, Nat Militzok, Ralph Kaplowitz, Hank Rosenstein, and Ossie Schectman) were inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (located in Commack, New York) as members of the 1946-47 New York Knicks, one of the original teams in the NBA.

New York

Career Dates:
Gottlieb played guard in the ABL with the Philadelphia Sphas in 1939-40, the New York Jewels from 1940-42, the New York Americans in 1943-44, and the New York Gothams in 1945-46. He then played in the NBA for the New York Knicks from 1946-1948.

Physical description:
5'11", 180 pounds

Career Statistics:
In the NBA:
Games: 84
Points: 465
Points Per Game: 5.5

Field Goals Made: 208
Field Goals Attempted: 722
Field Goal Percentage: .288

Free Throws Made: 49
Free Throws Attempted: 76
Free Throw Percentage: .645

Rebounds: not available
Assists: 36
Assists Per Game: 0.4
Personal Fouls: 107

NBA playoffs:
Games: 4
Points: 24
Points Per Game: 6.0

Field Goals Made: 10
Field Goals Attempted: 39
Field Goal Percentage: .256

Free Throws Made: 4
Free Throws Attempted: 6
Free Throw Percentage: .667

Rebounds: not available
Assists: 1
Assists Per Game: 0.3
Personal Fouls: 6

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Official NBA Encyclopedia: Third Edition, edited by Jan Hubbard (New York: Doubleday, 2000)
The Modern Encyclopedia of Basketball, edited by Zander Hollander (New York: Doubleday, 1979)