“But it hardly seemed to bother the players at all,” Larry Needle writes in his children’s historical fiction book, Homecourt: The True Story of the Best Basketball Team You’ve Never Heard Of. “The louder the fans were yelling at them, the better they seemed to play.”
Needle, a resident of Merion, first heard about the SPHAS basketball team about 10 years ago and immediately was struck by their Hoosiers-like story.
A team faced with fans who hated them. A team playing in hostile environments. A team winning anyway. Needle saw all the essential elements for an inspiring story.
“I was just amazed by the history, that this happened right here in Philadelphia and the fact that there was an all-Jewish basketball team that was one of the best in the country,” said Needle, the executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress.
The book, which was published last month by Temple University Press, tells the story of Red Klotz, a South Philadelphia native who played for the SPHAS and went on to win an NBA championship with the Baltimore Bullets. He also founded the Washington Generals, a team that accumulated admirable losing streaks against the Harlem Globetrotters over several decades.
Needle said he was especially struck by Klotz, who overcame obstacles not only as a Jew but also as an undersized basketball player. He wanted some of Klotz’s perseverance to rub off on his two sons, both of whom play basketball, among other sports.
“There are a lot of great life lessons built into the story, about how the SPHAS overcame adversity and handled it with class and, at the end of the day, won multiple championships,” Needle said. “They helped blaze the trail not only for Jewish athletes going forward but also for other ethnicities.”