Fall Premier Auction 2019

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James Naismith may have invented the game in 1891, but basketball as we know and love today owes much of its strategy, flow and fundamentals to the sport’s first professional team: the “Original Celtics” of New York, without question the greatest and most influential roundball team of the early 20th century. This ancient garment represents a remarkable discovery for the hobby: legendary Hall of Famer Joe Lapchick’s Original Celtics game worn jersey, circa 1920s. Considering the virtual extinction of any early 1900s game-used basketball memorabilia, and the folklore reputation of this seemingly mythological team, we can legitimately call this the finest known pre-war basketball jersey.

No relation to the Boston Celtics, the “Original” Celtics were primarily a barnstorming squad formed out of the disbanded New York Celtics following WWI, although they did compete in the EBL (1921-22), MBL (1922-23) and ABL (1926-28), winning three league championships. America’s first attempts at pro basketball were largely unsuccessful, forcing this juggernaut group of hoops junkies to travel up to 150,000 miles a year and play a grueling 200-game schedule. The Original Celtics won an estimated 90% of their games during their 20+ years of existence and were the first to introduce zone defenses as well as innovate offensive post play. In 1922–23, they finished with an unfathomable 193–11–1 record. They were too good, in fact, and were essentially blackballed and dismantled by the ABL, sending them back on the road to barnstorm.

Basketball’s first superstars called Madison Square Garden home during their MBL and ABL glory days, featuring such pioneers as sturdy 6’ 1” forward Dutch Dehnert (inventor of the pivot), point guard and ballhandling wizard Nat Holman, sharpshooter John Beckman, and dominant center Joe Lapchick. At 6’ 5”, the rangy Lapchick was the game’s first agile big man and the greatest center of his generation. His height was especially valuable in an era when jump balls determined possession after every basket. The Original Celtics were inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a team in 1959, while Lapchick, Dehnert, Holman, and Beckman were also elected individually as players.

Born in 1900 in Yonkers, NY and raised by struggling Czech immigrants, Lapchick saw basketball as his way out of poverty. He quit school after the eighth grade and at 15 began playing in organized leagues for $5 per game. By 19 he was earning $100 a night. He joined the Original Celtics in 1923 and led them to back-to-back ABL Champions (1927-28) in their only two seasons in the league. After the Celtics were forced out of the ABL, Lapchick – along with teammates Dehnert and Pete Barry – joined the Cleveland Rosenblums where he added two more ABL titles to his resume in 1929 and ‘30. Lapchick later helped reform the Celtics and barnstormed five more years before taking over as head coach at St. John’s University in 1936. He would go on to coach the New York Knicks to three straight NBA Finals appearances (1951-53) before finishing up with a second coaching stint at St. John’s that ended in 1965. He passed away five years later.

The forest green wool jersey comes all-original and remains amazingly well-preserved for being nearly a century old, showing appropriate wear and aging. Manufactured by Reach Sporting Goods, it features a vintage shamrock Celtics logo on the front with Lapchick’s number “4” uniquely sandwiched between “NEW" and "YORK” on the reverse. Our research along with MEARS authentication dates this jersey to the early-mid 1920s. Originally gifted by Lapchick to his friend Harry Glynn, a fellow Yonkers resident and playwright who ran in the same circles as many New York celebrities and athletes. Fresh to the hobby, the jersey was eventually passed down to Glynn’s son where it remained with the family. It's a small miracle that a sports relic of such importance was found or even exists! Comes with a detailed letter of provenance and LOA from MEARS graded A9.

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