Sedran, Barney : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Sedran, Barney

Barney Sedransky

A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Sedran was one of the game’s greatest players in the first half of the 20th century. The shortest player in the Hall of Fame, the 5'4" forward was known as "Mighty Mite." One half of the famed “Heavenly Twins” with Marty Friedman, Sedran played professionally for over 15 years and was one of the highest paid players of his era. He helped popularize the game in the Jewish ghetto of the Lower East Side and was one of the first collegiate players to successfully make the transition to the pro game. Following his playing career, Sedran turned to coaching and helped the next generation of Jewish college stars become successful professionals. His influence on the game of basketball cannot be overlooked.

Fellow Jewish Hall of Famer Nat Holman, considered by many experts to be the greatest player of the 1920s, said, “Barney Sedran, in my humble opinion, was the greatest little man who ever played the game. He could do everything. A great outside and inside shooter, smart passer, great ball handler, and very fast. He was always in motion, setting up play situations which resulted in baskets. He used his mind at all times and for a little man withstood the punishment that was characteristic of the rough and tumble contact game of the pros in the early days of the sport. He could do everything. He was the most complete player of his time. He was afraid of none and dared all."

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Jan. 28, 1891 - d. Jan. 14, 1969

Career Highlights:
Born on the Lower East Side of New York to Russian immigrant parents, Sedran began playing basketball because, "…it was the only sport I could play with little trouble. And it wasn’t because of my size. Basketball was played in schoolyards, settlement houses and churches. It was difficult for an East Side youngster like myself to play baseball because there was no diamonds close by. I believe that was the reason so many East Side boys became proficient in basketball."

Sedran learned the game of basketball at Hamilton Fish Park with many other Jewish youngsters, but refined his game at the University Settlement House under the tutelage of Austrian immigrant, Harry Baum. In 1906, Baum became the coach of the midget squad (under 106-pounds) and turned Sedran and his teammates into champions. They won the Inter-Settlement House championship as they learned a new style of the game that was destined to dominate the East for the next four decades. Nicknamed the "Busy Izzies," Sedran, Marty Friedman, Lou Sugarman, Ira Streusand, Harry Brill, and others learned to play a man-to-man defense and a new style of offense. Baum taught his players to move with and without the ball, to always look for the open man, to use their intelligence to their advantage, and most importantly, "to be expert in all parts of the game."

Sedran went to DeWitt Clinton High School, but because he was considered too small to play basketball, was not even given a try-out by the coach. He then attended CCNY (City College of New York), joined the basketball team, and became a star. As a freshman, along with teammates Ira Streusand, Harry Brill, and Jake Fuller (all former "Busy Izzies"), he helped the Beaver freshman team defeat every team they played, including the CCNY varsity. He then played three seasons with the varsity and helped City become one of the best basketball teams in the East.

A New York Evening Post article wrote of Sedran’s exploits, "Sedran, drifting around the court like the ghost of anemic tubercular, was the sensational midget of a team which defeated Yale, Penn, Princeton, Harvard, Navy, and Columbia [and Army]…" Along with the other "Busy Izzies," Sedran played the new style of basketball they had learned from Baum at the University Settlement. These players used their speed, quickness, intelligence, and teamwork to usher in a new era of the game. No longer would only big men dominate the court game. Sedran and his teammates proved that little men could not only hold their own, but also thrive.

After graduating from City College, Sedran's basketball career appeared over. Just like today, size was considered important in the professional game and Sedran's 5'4" height was seen as a serious handicap. Coaches and players alike laughed when he wanted to try out. His old friend from the Lower East Side, Marty Friedman, summoned him to the town of Newburgh to play on its basketball team. Friedman brought many of the University Settlement "Busy Izzies" to Newburgh, where they used their natural talents and the skills they had learned so well to capture the championship of the Hudson River League in 1911-12. Sedran led the league in field goals.

During the 1910s, professional basketball was loosely organized and leagues had a difficult time holding onto players as teams often folded in the middle of a season. Players, in the meantime, found themselves forced to play often to make a living. Sedran played in every professional league in the East and sometimes for three or four teams over the course of a season. He said, "I was the smallest man in pro basketball and before I quit, I was the highest paid. I once received $12,000 a season, but I had to play every night of the week and sometimes two and three times a day. I played in three different leagues at one time…"

After his initial success with Newburgh, Sedran and the other Jewish players had little difficulty finding promoters and owners willing to pay for their services on the basketball court or cage. In those days, the game was rougher and as Sedran explained in the encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, "…we played in cages made of chicken wire eight feet tall. Some cages were made of rope. There were no backboards behind the baskets. There were no substitutions. If a man left the game, he did not return…there was considerably more body contact than today because fouls were called infrequently. The ball was constantly in play because of the cage and that made the game faster."

Despite these conditions, Sedran proved to be one of the toughest players and highest scorers in the professional game. Following his year with Newburgh, he moved to Utica in the New York State League, along with Friedman, where they teamed up with fellow Jewish players, Jack Fox, Harry Franckle, and Bill Cone. In 1913-14, Sedran set a professional record when he scored an incredible 17 field goals in a game against Cohoes. What made the feat more remarkable was the fact that he scored these points in a basket without backboards, and the majority of the baskets were from 20-25 feet out! That year, Utica won the New York State League by defeating the Troy Trojans and then beating Camden of the Eastern League to win the “world” championship.

During his professional career, Sedran helped a number of teams capture championships, including Newburgh in 1911-12 (Hudson River League); Utica (New York State League) in 1912-13 and 1913-14; Carbondale (Pennsylvania State League) in 1914-15 (they won 35 straight games); Jaspers (Philadelphia Eastern League) in 1916-17, Scranton (Pennsylvania League) in 1918-19, and Albany (New York State League) in 1919-20 and 1920-21.

In the 1910s, Sedran was not only a member of championship teams, he was also one of the leading scorers in every league he played in. With Newburgh in 1911-12, he was the Hudson River League’s seventh leading scorer. In the following years, he was among the top ten in scoring in the New York State League in 1912-13 with Utica (seventh – 6.1 points per game), 1913-14 with Utica (fourth – 7.4), 1914-15 with Utica (eighth – 5.8), 1920-21 with Albany (first – 8.4), and 1922-23 with Albany (sixth – 8.4). In the Eastern League, he was third in 1915-16 with Jasper (7.6), sixth in 1916-17 with Jasper (7.6); in the Inter-State League with Easthampton (1920-21), he was second with 9.8 points per game.

In 1920-21, Sedran also played for the New York Whirlwinds, an independent team he helped organized with Marty Friedman. On the Whirlwinds, they were joined by another great Jewish player, Nat Holman. Their success on the court and popularity with the Jewish masses made the Whirlwinds 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 "world championship" series in New York City. The first game was played before a record crowd of 10,000 people as Sedran led all scorers with 10 points and the Whirlwinds won, 40-24. The second game was won by the Celtics, 26-24. The third game was never played. Historians disagree on the reason, but the most accepted story is that Chris Leonard and Holman signed exclusive contracts with the Celtics prior to the deciding game of the series. Sedran was also offered a contract by the Celtics, but he declined.

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 acceptance. A national league would soon emerge and college players began to flock to the professional game. Prior to this, Sedran was one of a handful of college players who succeeded in the pros.

After Leonard and Holman left the Whirlwinds, the team disbanded. Friedman and Sedran continued to play with Albany in the New York State League and led the team to championships in 1921-22 and 1922-23. After a brief stint in the Midwest with an independent team in Fort Wayne (Indiana), he joined the Cleveland Rosenblums of the newly-organized ABL (American Basketball League) in 1925.

The ABL, founded by promoters and football owners (like George Halas of the Chicago Bears and George Marshall of the Washington Redskins), was the first attempt at a national professional league and had teams in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and Washington DC. With Friedman as player/coach and Sedran as one of the team’s top players, the Rosenblums (named after Cleveland department store owner Max Rosenblum) captured the ABL championship that first year. Following the season, Sedran retired at the age of 34.

Although Sedran had played professionally for 14 years, he was not through with the game of basketball. Instead, he turned to coaching and helped teach the style of basketball he learned from Harry Baum to a new generation. In 1932, Sedran began to coach the Brooklyn Jewels, a group of five men who had played together at St. John’s University and had turned professional as a team. One of the most successful college teams in history, the Jewels had been nicknamed the “Wonder Five” in college as they lost only four games in three years. Four of their players were Jewish (Rip Gerson, Max Kinsbrunner , Max Posnack, and Allie Schuckman – the fifth, Matty Begovich was Polish Catholic) and they turned to Sedran to help them make the transition from college to the pros.

Sedran coached the Jewels for four seasons and helped them become one of the best teams in the new ABL (a reincarnation of the American Basketball League after the original league folded due to the Depression. This ABL was strictly a regional league). After his stint with the Jewels, Sedran coached Kate Smith’s Celtics, the Wilmington Bombers, and the New York Gothams in the ABL. All three teams won the league championship under Sedran’s leadership. He finally ended his coaching career in 1946, the same year the NBA was founded (under the name, Basketball Association of America).

In the encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, Sedran said of his basketball career, "looking back, I believe basketball taught me the real importance of teamwork. I became friendly with men of all persuasions. I can truthfully say that I was on good terms with all the men I was fortunate enough to meet both in and one out of the game." Sedran is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, and the CCNY Athletic Hall of Fame.

New York City

Physical description:
5'4", 118 pounds

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

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Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
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)
New York Evening Post, December 10-11, 1934