“A scowling brute of a man with close-cropped hair and a game face as belligerent as a clenched fist, Big Ed tallied most of his points with a sweeping right-handed hook shot that was virtually unstoppable. For sure he was virtually immobile and could shoot only with his right hand; the word was that if Sadowski ever had to feed himself with only his left hand, he’d starve to death.”
– Charley Rosen, The First Tip-Off
Ed Sadowski may have been completely unable to shoot any sort of shot left-handed, but when his right-handed hook was so devastating who needed a left hander? Especially considering by that point in Sadowski’s career he was an unmovable 6’5″ and 270 pounds. When the plodding and leviathan center planted himself, there was no way the opposition was going to move him.
Burgeoning obesity aside, Sadowski’s greatest claim to fame was his appearance in the first-ever BAA game on November 1, 1946. As player-coach, he led the Toronto Huskies against the New York Knicks. Big Ed paced all scorers with 18 points, but his Huskies lost 68-66. That defeat in Toronto was followed by another letdown in Cleveland at the hands of the Rebels. Thereafter the Huskies caught relative fire winning two of their next three games.
In the third match of that streak, a home crowd of 6500 fans saw Sadowski score 30 points as the Huskies rolled over the Providence Steamrollers, 85 to 68. The performance was the high-water mark of Big Ed’s Ontario tenure.
Just two weeks later in early December, Sadowski went AWOL and the Huskies suspended their high-priced big man. The disgruntled Sadowski complained he was overwhelmed by his duties as player and coach. He demanded that he – and his $10,000 salary – be traded to the Boston Celtics where he’d be reunited with his old college coach “Honey” Russell. Instead, Big Ed was traded to the Cleveland Rebels on December 16.
This gives Ed Sadowski the distinction of being the first player traded in the BAA’s history.
Although not very mobile on the court, Sadowski’s career was one of constant motion. Playing a truncated seven-year career, Sadwoski nonetheless suited up for seven different teams in the NBL, BAA, and NBA during the 1940s. The scowling Sadowski was a basketball mercenary and rode that mentality to a pretty successful career.
It all began in 1940 as Big Ed joined the Detroit Eagles of the NBL. That Eagles team finished 12-12 in league action with Sadowski leading the squad with 10.7 points per game. The team as a whole scored 40.5 points, so Ed was clearly the centerpiece of the offense with his swinging hook shot. Overall in the NBL, Sadowski finished 3rd in PPG and was 2nd in total points scored. He was the runaway selection for Rookie of the Year and was also named to the All-NBL 1st Team. In the playoffs, though, Sadowski, Buddy Jeannette, Robert Calihan and the Eagles ran into the superior Sheboygan Redskins. They lost their series 2-games-to-1.
Although ousted from the NBL playoffs, the Eagles did appear in an event just as noteworthy back in the 1940s: the World Professional Tournament (WPT). The NBL may have been the best pro league, but great pro teams still existed outside that association. The WPT brought together the best of the NBL, other leagues, and barnstormers to Chicago every spring. The Eagles stunned the tournament by upsetting the Harlem Globetrotters 37-36 (led by Sadowski’s 12 points) in the opening round. In the semi-finals, the Eagles again pulled a one-point upset, this time of the New York Rens, 43 to 42. Sadowski again led the way with 16 points. In the championship game against the Oshkosh All-Stars, Detroit knocked off the NBL champs 39-37 as Sadowski sparkled once more with 11 points.
Sadowski’s chance to repeat his big rookie season was nixed thanks to World War II. The big man served in the US Air Corps during those years and didn’t return to pro basketball until 1945.
The Fort Wayne Pistons signed Sadowski as a ringer before the lastgame of the 1944-45 regular season. Already possessing the NBL’s best record and the defending league champs, the Pistons wanted a guarantee they would score a repeat title performance. Sadowski proved to be quite the unnecessary insurance policy since this Pistons team might have been the greatest squad ever fielded in the NBL: Bob McDermott averaged an obscene 20 points a night alongside Buddy Jeannette, Jake Pelkington, Chick Reiser, and defensive madman Charley Shipp. As it turned out, the Pistons fell into an 0-2 series hole against Sheboygan in the Finals. Which is really bad when it was a best-of-5 series. Fortunately, Fort Wayne righted the ship and staged a comeback winning the next three games and the 1945 NBL title. And for the cherry on top, the Pistons won the 1945 WPT as well.
The next season, Fort Wayne returned all their principal players and Sadowski enjoyed his first full season of basketball since 1941. Big Ed averaged 9.6 PPG to finish second in scoring behind McDermott on the Pistons. The Indiana juggernaut again finished with the NBL’s best regular season record and looked to secure their third straight league title. There was to be no three-peat for the Pistons, though. The Rochester Royals spanked Sadowski’s team 3-games-to-1 in the semifinals.
For his part, Sadowski was easily Fort Wayne’s top performer scoring 14 points a game during the series, but McDermott went ice cold scoring just 6 points in the series as he was hounded by the defense of Rochester’s Al Cervi. As consolation, the Pistons did win the 1946 WPT, but Sadowski’s experience with the NBL was forever done. The next time he’d don a uniform would be for his ill-fated experience with the BAA’s Huskies.
After that situation blew up and he parachuted into Cleveland, Sadowski put together a fine campaign finishing 2nd in FG% and 3rd in PPG in the BAA’s first regular season. In the playoffs, he averaged 24 points on 39% shooting from the field and 79% shooting from the free throw line. Seems terrible today, but that kind of offensive efficiency was sterling in 1947. The runnin’ Rebels were no match for the New York Knicks, however, losing the series 2-games-to-1.
Suffering terrible finances and woeful attendance, the Rebels disbanded after the season and Sadowski finally landed in Boston thanks to the dispersal draft. Now at 30 years of age, Sadowski scored a career-high 19.4 PPG that season, led Boston to its first-ever playoff series, and was named to the All-BAA 1st Team. Sadowski had another big postseason with 20 points per game, but the Celtics were knocked off by the Chicago Stags.
The vagabond Sadowski moved on once more. The mercenary now traveled down the Atlantic Seaboard to play with the Philadelphia Warriors for the 1948-49 season. In this final year of the BAA, Big Ed teamed with “Jumpin'” Joe Fulks forming the highest scoring duo in that league’s short history. Sadowski averaged 15.3 points and Fulks 26. Any hopes for playoff success were dashed by an injury to Fulks and the Warriors were swept by the Washington Capitols.
In his final pro season, Sadowski split time between the Warriors and the Baltimore Bullets in the brand new NBA. The old heavy veteran still tossed up 12.5 points a night, but his days were numbered. Still, Sadowski could take comfort in the fact that during the 1940s, no other center (besides George Mikan) was better at scoring the basketball than he was. In fact, I’m sure he took comfort in that fact.
Years Played: 1940-41; 1945-1950
Rookie of the Year (1941)
All-NBL 1st Team (1941)
All-BAA 1st Team (1948)
World Professional Basketball Tournament Champion (1941, 1945, 1946)
NBL - 59 games
10.0 PPG, 67.9% FT
BAA - 160 games
16.9 PPG, 1.8 APG, 36.4% FG, 68.5% FT
NBA - 69 games
12.6 PPG, 2.0 APG, 32.4% FG, 73.5% FT
Contemporary BAA/NBA Ranks (1946-47 through 1949-50 season)
3rd Points, 4th PPG
3rd FGs Made, 18th FG%
4th FTs Made, 46th FT%
11th Assists, 35th APG
7th Games Played