Every now and then our region gets a visit from basketball show teams such as the Harlem Globetrotters. In recent years, no one can say he saw NBA-caliber teams play in Oneonta. In late 1948 and in early 1953, however, Oneonta could boast of watching both levels of basketball talent play on what was their premier hometown court.
The Oneonta Athletic Club, according to Oneonta Star sports editor Steve Shields, was “newly organized” in 1948 and apparently was out to make an impression on the community.
A few eyebrows were probably raised when it was reported on Friday, Dec. 3, that the Syracuse Nationals of the National Basketball League would play an exhibition game on Dec. 8 against the Glens Falls Commodores of the New York State League at Oneonta’s state armory. The NYSL was a short-lived professional league in the late 1940s. Other nearby teams included Utica, Mohawk and Gloversville.
For Syracuse, this was its last season in the NBL, as it joined the National Basketball Association in 1949. Newcomers to the team when it visited Oneonta were Al Cervi and Dolph Schayes.
The Glens Falls team had some Oneonta influence. George (Zeke) Zelie was a mainstay of the Hartwick College cagers in 1947-48. Steve Salata, an Oneonta Red Sox catcher was formerly “prominent in New England professional cage circles before he became a pro baseballer.”
Not only did the OAC organize and promote this event, several members suited up and played a warm-up contest before the big show. The Walton American Legion quintet downed Oneonta, 44-39.
Nearly 800 attended the 9 p.m. feature. As described the next morning in the Star, “When the ball sailed toward the Commodores hoop, more often than not it was plucked out of the air by the court giants of the Nationals, Ed Peterson or Adolph Schayes, and hustled back down the boards.” This duo was six-foot-nine and six-foot-seven, respectively. The Nats won, 77-64.