Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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Jewish History of the Golden State Warriors

June 17, 2015
Posted by: Jeremy Russell, Communications Manager

A crowd will march through downtown Oakland this Friday. For once, it will be a victory rally. That’s because in a 105-97 game (that had my neighbors whooping at the television last night), the Golden State Warriors have taken home the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship. Yup, after a 40-year hiatus, the title is back in the Bay Area!

“Go Warriors!” Having demurred from attempting any phrases in Hebrew at the Jewish Heritage Month Celebration for the City and County of San Francisco last month, that's how Mayor Edwin M. Lee concluded his speech. He knew any crowd of proud San Franciscans would appreciate those two words, but it was an even more appropriate signoff than he probably realized. Not only have the Warriors held an annual Jewish Heritage Night with music, dancing and a pregame Menorah Lighting Ceremony for the last ten years, but it was Eddie Gottlieb, a Jewish-Ukrainian immigrant, who first built up the Warriors franchise and then helped the team transition from Philadelphia to the Bay Area.

Eddie, who is rightly in the Basketball Hall of Fame, was the Warriors very first coach in 1946 and came to the role with an already illustrious history. In the late 1910s, he had been the force behind the legendary Sphas. The Sphas, whose name was taken from the acronym for “South Philadelphia Hebrew Association,” is considered one of the greatest in early professional basketball. Eddie later got together with a few other sports promoters and organized the Basketball Association of America, which soon became the NBA.

After coaching the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors for eight years, Eddie bought the team. He owned it for a decade before selling for a record price. After the sale, he remained on as general manager, and was still running things when the Warriors headed out to San Francisco as part of basketball’s westward expansion. He remained with the team until 1964.

Naturally, Eddie’s contributions to the game go far beyond having brought the Warriors to the Golden State. He also served as chairman of the NBA Rules Committee for 25 years, and many of the sport’s existing rules can be attributed to him. To this day the NBA’s Rookie of the Year receives the “Eddie Gottlieb Trophy.” As well as the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is also remembered in the South Philadelphia School Sports Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. This latter institution describes him this way:

Eddie “The Mogul” Gottlieb was a founder of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and one of the innovative pioneers who promoted and held together pro basketball during its long and painful emerging decades. Gottlieb coached and managed the Philadelphia Warriors from 1947 to 1955, piloting them to the Basketball Association of America's (BAA) first league championship in 1947. (The BAA, organized after World War II, merged with the National Basketball League to become the NBA in 1949.) The Warriors won their first NBA title in 1956.

Eddie passed away in 1979, just a few years after the Warriors' previous championship win. But if he were alive today, he would certainly have been proud.

Mazel tov, Warriors!

PHOTO: GSW v. Utah 2007 by Bryce Edwards (Source: Flickr).