Kaplowitz, Ralph : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Kaplowitz, Ralph

One of the greatest Jewish players in the history of basketball, Kaplowitz played in the NBA's inaugural contest when the league began in 1946. Ralph was the younger brother of Long Island University’s All-America, Dan Kaplowitz. A collegian at New York University, Ralph was an All-America his first varsity season, and was then named captain of the NYU basketball team for the 1941-42 campaign. Prior to that season, Kaplowitz served in the U.S. Army. During the war, he led the Chanute Field team that went undefeated in a league of service teams.

Discharged in 1946, Ralph returned to NYU and graduated with a degree in education. Kaplowitz then played professionally in the American Basketball League before joining the New York Knicks in 1946 -- the year the Basketball Association of America, which became the NBA, was formed. Ralph played in the league's first-ever game in November, 1946, won by the Knicks, 68-66. Later that season, he moved to the Philadelphia Warriors and was a member of the club when they captured the league's first Championship.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. May 18, 1919

Career Highlights:
Before becoming a star in the NBA, Kaplowitz led DeWitt Clinton High School to the New York PSAL championship, earning himself a spot in Clinton's Hall of Fame. Kaplowitz attended NYU and joined the Violet varsity in 1939-40 as a sophomore, starting at guard. Early in the season, Ralph displayed his on-court potential, and was billed by Hall of Fame promoter Ned Irish as "the best I've ever seen."

That year, Kaplowitz finished second on the team in scoring with 183 points. Ralph was named Collier's Magazine first team All-America, and second team All-Metropolitan. Along with first team All-Met selections, senior captain Bobby Lewis and junior guard Ben Auerbach, Kaplowitz helped NYU win its first 18 games of the season. Considered one of the top teams in the country (official polls did not begin until the late 1940s), NYU entered the season finale against archrival CCNY (City College of New York) with confidence.

In the final game, the Violets were shocked, 36-24, in front of more than 15,000 fans at Madison Square Garden. Following the loss, NYU was still expected to play in a postseason tournament on the strength of its 18-1 record, but the school’s athletic board declined bids to either the NIT or NCAA tournaments. The Board justified its decision by referring to the strenuous schedule of the team, and the added pressure placed on the players during the winning streak. (New York Times, March 7, 1940)

The following season (1941), Kaplowitz returned as a starting guard and was the team’s leading scorer with 193 points (seventh in the Met area). Named first team All-Metropolitan by the New York City Basketball Writers, Kaplowitz helped lead NYU to a record of 13-6, but the Violets were not invited to play in the postseason. In 1941-42, Ralph was named team captain; but he was drafted into the U.S. Army as an Aviation Cadet. He returned to NYU after the war to finish his degree, then turned to professional basketball.

In 1946, Ralph signed with the Philadelphia Sphas (the nickname stood for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) of the American Basketball League. Kaplowitz played 20 games during the 1945-46 season. He scored 212 points, and had the third highest scoring average on the team at 10.6. The Sphas finished second that year with a 21-13 record, but lost the championship to the Baltimore Bullets.

The following season, Kaplowitz joined the New York Knicks of the newly formed Basketball Association of America. The BAA -- which became the NBA -- had plans for a national league (pro leagues in the 1930s through 1946 were regional, rather than national). While few anticipated the league’s future as a major international attraction, the BAA was able to draw many of the best players because its teams were located in major cities -- including Washington, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia. At this time, college basketball was still dominated by New York City teams, and Knicks owner Ned Irish wanted to take advantage of the popularity of former college stars from the Metropolitan area to stock the Knicks. Kaplowitz was one of the most celebrated and respected players in New York in the 1940s, and was therefore a particularly attractive choice for Irish to target.

Kaplowitz began the 1946-47 season with the Knicks (along with four other Jewish players); but midway through the season, he was sold to the Philadelphia Warriors (coached and owned by Sphas founder Eddie Gottlieb). Ralph played in a total of 57 games that year, averaging 7.1 points per game. The Warriors finished the season with a record of 35-25 and swept the Knicks in the semifinals, 2-0, to reach the Finals. The Warriors then defeated the Max Zaslofsky-led Chicago Stags, 4-1, to win the first league championship. [A side note to the Finals: the first two games were played in Philadelphia and then the series moved to Chicago. The Warriors' plane began to smoke after takeoff, and the team had to return to the airport to change planes, causing one player to immediately retire! The rest of the team flew to Chicago to become champions.]

In 1947-48, Kaplowitz again played for the Warriors, who finished first in the Eastern Division with a record of 27-21 and returned to the Finals, where they lost to the Baltimore Bullets, 4-2. Following the 1947-48 season, Kaplowitz retired from the BAA, but his basketball career was not over. In 1948-49, he returned to the ABL with the Hartford Hurricanes and finished eighth in the league in scoring (first on the team) with 570 points, a 13.9 average. Still, the Hurricanes finished 13-26 and missed the playoffs. Kaplowitz played two more seasons in the ABL, leading his team in scoring and leading the league in free-throw percentage in both years. Ralph's final season was 1950-51. He played in 30 games (averaging 12.4 points per game) for the Bridgeport Aer-A-Sols, which finished 17-15 and in fourth place.

In October, 2000, Kaplowitz was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame. He was already a member of both the NYU and Jewish Sports Halls of Fame. In 1998, Ralph and five other Jewish players (Sonny Hertzberg, Nat Militzok, Leo Gottlieb, 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.

Bronx, New York

Career Dates:
Kaplowitz played guard at NYU from 1939-41. He then played professionally in the ABL and BAA (NBA) with the Philadelphia Sphas in 1945-46, the New York Knicks in 1946-47; for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1947-48, Hartford in 1948-50, and with Bridgeport in 1950-51.

Physical description:
6'2", 170 pounds

Career Statistics:
In the NBA:
Games: 105
Points: 592
Points Per Game: 5.6

Field Goals Made: 217
Field Goals Attempted: 824
Field Goal Percentage: .263

Free Throws Made: 158
Free Throws Attempted: 211
Free Throw Percentage: .749

Rebounds: not available
Assists: 57
Assists Per Game: 0.5
Personal Fouls: 222

NBA playoffs:
Games: 23
Points: 152
Points Per Game: 6.6

Field Goals Made: 54
Field Goals Attempted: 191
Field Goal Percentage: .283

Free Throws Made: 44
Free Throws Attempted: 56
Free Throw Percentage: .786

Rebounds: not available
Assists: 13
Assists Per Game: 0.6
Personal Fouls: 47

Use links below to navigate through the basketball section of Jews In Sports.

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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)
Ronald Encyclopedia of Basketball, edited by William G. Mokray (Ronald Press: 1962)
The Modern Encyclopedia of Basketball, edited by Zander Hollander (New York: Doubleday, 1979)
Newsweek, December 25, 1939
New York Times, March 11, 1940
New York Times, March 17, 1941