A legend of the game, Sonny Hertzberg was a member of the New York Knicks in the first season of the Basketball Association of America (the predecessor of the NBA). The Knicks' first captain and a slick two-handed set-shooter, Hertzberg died in July 2005 at the age of 82, only four days shy of his 83rd birthday. Teammate and fellow NBA alumnus, Ralph Kaplowitz said upon Hertzberg's death, "He was a top guy, no question. He never gave anybody any trouble. He was always helpful on the court. We've been friends since 1945 and would talk every day." Carl Braun, a member of the 1947 Knicks team, said, "The thing I remember is that he was a very fine person. He had a good set shot and adequate defense, but more important than ball-playing, he was a gentleman."
Hertzberg often spoke of his days with the Knicks and said, "Looking back, I'm still thrilled that I was at that first training camp and that I signed with the Knicks. I wanted to play in New York. It was a new major league. It was a game of speed with no 24-second clock when we played. I didn't know if it was going to be a full-time thing."
While the Knicks were getting ready for the opener, college basketball still dominated New York, where teams like CCNY (City College of New York), LIU (Long Island University, and NYU (New York University) were revered. The Knicks gained newspaper notoriety only after they had success scrimmaging the local college teams. With this new-found respect, the Knicks took the train for Toronto to play in what is considered the first game in NBA history. "It was interesting playing before Canadians," recalled Hertzberg. "The fans really didn't understand the game at first. To them, a jump ball was like a face-off in hockey. But they started to catch on and seemed to like the action." The Knicks won the game, 68-66.
After his pro career, Sonny worked as a scout and assistant coach for the Knicks, then became an analyst for NBC and WPIX television stations. He also worked as Managing Director of Bear Stearns, Inc., a leading New York brokerage firm and watched pro games whenever he could. "I love the sport. Always have," he told Frederick C. Klein of The Wall Street Journal in an interview on January 12, 2001. "If there's ever been a better one, it's escaped my notice." He regards today's game with mixed feelings. "Players today get to the basket better than we did, but we took better care of the ball," he said. "I think we moved it better, too. Before the 24-second clock came in (in 1954), it wasn't uncommon for everyone on the team to handle the ball before a shot was taken. Today, there's one or two touches, and up it goes."
Into his 80's, Hertzberg maintained his ties to the game and counselled NBAers on investing and on their post-basketball careers. He was also often asked for autographs, "by youngsters sometimes," he told Klein. "But when that happens I always look around to see where the kid's grandfather is hiding."
Birth and Death Dates:
b. July 29, 1922 - d. July 25, 2005
An all-city star at Samuel J. Tilden High in Brooklyn, New York, Sonny played for the great Nat Holman at City College of New York in the early 1940s. After spending the 1940 season on the City College JV, Sonny started and starred for the Beavers in 1941. Described by Holman as "one of the five best players I ever coached," Hertzberg teamed with classmate Red Holzman to lead the 1940-41 CCNY team to a record of 15-4 regular season record, including a 47-43 victory over arch-rival NYU in the final game of the season. The victory gave CCNY the mythological metropolitan title and propelled them in the NIT (National Invitational Tournament), the most prestigious postseason tournament at the time.
In the NIT, Hertzberg helped lead the Beavers defeat Virginia in the first round by a score of 64-35. In the semifinals, Hertzberg was held to three points as CCNY lost to Ohio, 45-43. He then scored two points in the third-place game against Seton Hall, which City won 42-27.
During the 1941-42 season, Hertzberg was outstanding as he was named first team All-Metropolitan and finished 18th in the Met area in scoring with 143 points. That season, he led the Beavers to a 16-2 record and a second consecutive appearance in the NIT. In the first round, he was held to eight points as the Beavers were upset by Western Kentucky, 49-46. Following the NIT, CCNY played city rival LIU (Long Island University) in an exhibition game and won 42-34.
After graduating, Hertzberg turned professional and played in the only major pro league in the East at the time, the ABL (American Basketball League). A semi-pro league, the ABL had some of the top players in the country and the competition was fierce. For four seasons, Sonny played for the New York team (called the Jewels, Americans, and Gothams during his tenure with the squad) and was the team's captain and high scorer. He once scored 38 points in a 40-minute game -- this in an era when teams averaged slightly more than 40 points for an entire game! During the 1943-44 season, he led the team in scoring with 9.2 points per game; two years later, he again was the leading scorer with 11.8 points per game.
Prior to the 1946-47 season, Hertzberg joined a new franchise, the New York Knicks, in a new league called the BAA (Basketball Association of America). The precursor of the NBA, the BAA was the first attempt at a national league and the New York franchise stocked itself with homegrown talent like Hertzberg who fans knew from his exploits at CCNY. The team captain that first season, he helped the Knicks finish with a record of 33-27. In the playoffs, they lost in the semifinals to the eventual NBA champion Philadelphia Warriors, 2-0.
After being sent to the Washington Capitols the following season, Sonny played in all 60 regular season games, averaged 7.4 points per game, and helped the Capitols win the Eastern Division in 1948-49, with a record of 38-22. In the NBA Finals that year, Sonny and the Capitols lost to the George Mikan-led Minneapolis Lakers, 4-2. In 1949-50, Sonny joined the lowly Boston Celtics, which finished last in the Eastern Division with a record of 22-46. In 1950-51, Hertzberg finished tenth in the league in assists per game (3.8 -- a career high), and seventh in free throw percentage (223-270 for 82.3%). The Celtics vastly improved and finished second in the Eastern Division with a record of 39-30. They were swept in the Conference semifinals by the New York Knicks, 2-0. Hertzberg retired following the 1950-51 season after playing in 293 career NBA games.
Sonny is a member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, the Old-Timers Basketball Hall of Fame, the City College Hall of Fame, and the National Jewish-American Hall of Fame.
New York City
Sonny played guard at CCNY, 1940-1942. He played with New York in the ABL, 1943-1946.
He played in the NBA with the New York Knicks in 1946-47, the Washington Capitols in 1947-49, and the Boston Celtics in 1949-51.
6'0", 175 pounds
In the NBA:
Points Per Game: 5.9
Field Goals Made: 946
Field Goals Attempted: 3,166
Field Goal Percentage: .299
Free Throws Made: 671
Free Throws Attempted: 847
Free Throw Percentage: .792
Rebounds: not available
Assists Per Game: 2.1
Personal Fouls: 619
Disqualifications: 4 (incomplete record)
Points Per Game: 9.1
Field Goals Made: 57
Field Goals Attempted: 194
Field Goal Percentage: .294
Free Throws Made: 50
Free Throws Attempted: 60
Free Throw Percentage: .833
Rebounds: not available
Assists Per Game: 1.9
Personal Fouls: 55
Disqualifications: 1 (incomplete record)