My memories of growing up during the Great Depression were not overly harsh due to the hard work of our father, who sometimes held down three jobs to support us. My two older brothers, Jack and Frank, as well as my older sister Dorothy, were married and living on their own during that time. Just Bobby, Milton, Billy, my sister Emily and I were living at home. We rarely saw our father expect on weekends. On Saturdays, the boys in the family and our Pop would go to Olympia Field, where teams were chosen from whoever was on sight for a game of baseball. IT was the custom of that day to make sure that all the McDermotts wound up on one side so the opposing side could claim and brag they had at last vanquished us. Unfortunately for them, it never happened. And pop was our star performer, pitching double headers.
Bobby was handsome in a masculine way, with the body of an ancient Green marathon runner; lithe, pleasantly muscular, and without event a molecule of visible fat. He was just 5-foot-11, but he was a scrapper, and you had better not get in his way on or off the court.
Bobby’s basketball reputation quickly spread and soon he was playing for the Long Island Pro Imps. this happened during his second year of high school, and from that point on, his formal education ended. I’m fairly certain that contracts were not involved for he seemed to go from one team to another with ease. The expression of the day was ‘He signed up with ——.’ My guess is that Bobby moved on to other teams simply because they offered more money. In the beginning, he played a game for as little as $5. That’s when that amount of money would buy something — when $30 a week supported a family. Nevertheless, star players would eventually ear up to $30,000 in those Depression years.
When Bobby initially broke into the professional game in the 1930s, in those desperate years, he posed a definite threat to the older players and their livelihoods. The older players did not want this kid replacing one of them, and they would deliberately not pass the ball to him. But Bobby was a fighter and would steal the ball from his teammates until they got into their thick heads that they could not intimidate him. Bobby probably could have been a prize fighter, he was that good. Occasionally, he would have to engage in on-and-off basketball court fights with his teammates, as well as opposition players. He never lost a battle. Eventually, over the span of many games, Bobby finally earned his teammates’ and rivals’ attention and respect.
Another thing to consider, basketball was played quite differently back then. It was a much slower paced game with lower scoring due to rules such as the requirement to have a center tip-off after every basket scored. Tip-offs were also required after held balls, and since there was no shot clock, a team would ‘freeze’ the ball without attempted a shot for minutes at a time. Understandably, score rarely exceeded 40 points a game. Yet Bobby, at times, scored 50 or more. Fans today may remember the talents of smaller players like Bob Cousy and Bob Petit, great ball handlers and shooters. Players today are upwards of seven feet and weight as much as pro football tackles. They muscle their way down the lane and slam dunk balls over the rim. it might make some sense today to raise the basket a couple of feet to make basketball more a game of skill.
Although Bobby was only 5-11, he was not considered overly small at that time. His scrappy style of play was fierce aggressiveness, on both offense and defense made him a threat all over the court. Many times during a game, he’d launch a successful shot from his own foul line to make the opposing teams defend him the entire length of the court. It is my belief that the players of that era had to develop more kills because they were not so tall and brawny that they could muscle their way to the basket and drop the ball in the hoop.