Before their was Lew Alcindor at Power Memorial High School there was John Ezersky.  In fact before Cousy, Russell, Chamberlain, Dr J, Larry Bird, Jordan, Duncan and LeBron, there was John Ezersky.  Do any of the aforementioned players actually know who John was?  Unlikely.  But as a pioneer of the game of basketball, they should.

John was born in 1921 and after playing at the University of Rhode Island was drafted by the Celtics in the Basketball Association of America (BAA) draft in 1947.  A couple things to note here: Ezersky was 26 which was older for a rookie and what the hell was the BAA?  The BAA was the precursor to the NBA and in 1949 merged with the NBL to form the NBA [Tangent time: look at the original list of rules by Dr. James Naismith.  Do you think he rolls over in his grave when LeBron does #3?  What about Anthony Mason and John Starks with #5?  Why was he so adamant about the ball not being "hit by a fist?"  I like how play should've consisted of two 15 minute halves with a 5 minute rest in between.  I bet James never envisioned idiotic halftime shows with Stuart Scott and Jon Barry talking about their "expert" predictions and providing their "expert" insight into games dragging the halftime out further than it has to be.  Or expansion into 30 cities.  Thanks David Stern].

John wound up playing for the Celtics in the BAA in 1949 and for the Celtics in the NBA in 1950.  He wore #'s 10 and 16, both of which have long since been retired.  In 1949 he averaged 10.3 ppg for the Celts, the highest ppg of his career.  It's amazing if you look back at the stats of players from those decades just how poor the field goal shooting percentages were.  Between 28-38% were pretty consistent.  It'd be like watching a five on five game today with Nate Robinson taking all the shots ;-)

1950 would be John's last season playing in the NBA.  He also had played for the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA and the Providence Steamrollers of the BAA.

The coach of the Celtics during Ezersky's stay was the intimidating Alvin "Doggie" Julian.  Julian would say to his players "You always have to play hard.  You have to love the game.  If you don't, you'll find yourself out driving a cab somewhere."  When former Celtic John Bach (and former Bulls' assistant coach) was stopped in NYC by a cab honking its horn, it was John Ezersky who lowered the window and said "Tell that SOB Julian that his prediction came true."

John wound up driving a taxi-cab in both NY and San Francisco- for at least 48 years after playing.  At the age of 76 he was still driving a cab in San Francisco and working 12 hour shifts.  In the utmost-Otis Birdsong like style, he was extremely upset about the lack of benefits extended to NBA players who played a minimum of 3 seasons.  His testament, includes this:

I was born and raised in the lower end of Manhattan. I truly believe that God put me on this earth to play basketball. My soul centered on nothing but the game. It is still a life sustaining memory. Now - at 76 years of age - still driving a taxi in San Francisco in the 48th year. Those memories of the game I love has been tainted. Tainted by decree of probably the most powerful sports head in the world - that would be David Stern - Commissioner of the mega-billion dollar professional basketball business - the National Basketball Association.

Obviously some people will love the anti-David Stern comment.  But people will love to hear that Ezersky wound up getting that pension in 2007.  That year, Stern finally extended it to NBA players with 3 years of experience.

The 40 or so players (and widowed spouses) received back pay dating to 2005 -- a lump sum of more than $20,000. Players with three years' experience, such as Ezersky, were awarded $10,800 per year, or $900 per month.

"Believe me when I tell you I was so grateful," he said, adding that the league could have given more. "This thing is just in time. It leaves me with money for her
(Elaine, his wife) in a savings account. So when I pass away, she can go back East with something, plus the Social Security. ... Now I can relax. I'm no longer going into debt. I'll have nothing left over. But at least I'll have enough for a nice cremation, plus I can get her back with something."
Too bad someone like John had to wait so long to receive what was rightfully his.  When you see jackasses like Bean scowling on every play and berating the refs or DeMarcus Cousins trying to punch his own teammate after a game or Ron Artest's classy performance in Detroit a few years back, stop for a second and think of John Ezersky, and what he had to endure for something that was rightfully his.  He set the table for those to follow him.

For a list of all the "What the Hell Happened To" Series please click here.  

tb727 3/27/2011 12:01:00 AM Edit
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9 Responses so far.

  1. cfam wordaapp says:

    Lol to the beginning rules and related stuff. Sweet article. Awesome that stern finally helped them out. An especially interesting episode of wthht

  2. cfam wordaapp says:

    But i coulda done w.o. the nate rob backhand #wordaapp!

  3. Jenda says:

    Well, let's be honest, I don't see the point of giving money to guys that stayed in the league for such a short time. And sure, he got paid in peanuts but he wasn't on a TV every other day, was he? Especially since he got drafted at the age of 26 and drove taxi at the age of 28 or so. Today's league is totally different. Back then an afroamericans almost couldn't ride a bus. Times have changed, get over it. #beleedat

  4. Norman D says:

    It's called respecting your elders, Janda, ever hear of that? The game wouldn't be where it is today without the trendsetters from the early day. I personally know John Ezersky, and I can't believe you have the nerve to rip him like that. Not surprisingly, this article does a lousy job of talking about what a wonderful human being he is. He deserved more than what he got.

    He should be irritated with all the fame and fortune that goes in to today's game and how he was neglected. John is a most humble person, and wouldn't think that way though. But he was still short-changed BIG TIME by the league he helped create.

    It'd be similar to Jimmy Hoffa receiving no love from the Teamsters Union. In other words, preposterous.

    Why don't you all just shut it and get a clue.

  5. Jenda says:

    Jeez Norman, take a chill pill. I wasn't disrespectful to him and sure the guys who helped spreading the game of basketball and developing the league deserve credit. I'm just saying today's players have different issues.
    And their pay is mostly coming of these huge endorsements the players are part of by wearing the shoes and drinking the Gatorade and stuff. What percent of league's or team's finance comes off the tickets? 5? 10% tops?

  6. tb727 says:

    Norman there's no way you know Ezersky. He's lived in MA, NY and CA- you live in Maine. I don't buy it.

  7. TB727....How can you say that? You know its only an hour drive from Maine to Boston so its quite possible they met each other at some point.

    I'm currently writing a book on the Celtics and this was invaluable information on Ezersky considering I was going to leave him out of it due to lack of information. Thanks to whoever posted it, much appreciated

  8. tb727 says:

    KHayes666, I guess you knocked me and praised me in the same comment, since I am the author.

    And nobody liked Norman here, he was always causing trouble.

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