Bobby’s McDermott’s brother Jim McDermott wrote a special article for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in July 2015 detailing the career of his brother during the early days of professional basketball.
“I’m Jim McDermott, 95, brother of Bobby. I’m the last alive of five brothers and two sisters. Several members of our extended family have asked me to put in writing stories about the original family, for their progeny who haven’t any awareness of where it all began.
I will begin with the tales of my most celebrated brotherBobby, who on May 3, 1988, was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Also, at the close of the 1944-45 season, the National Basketball League (a forerunner of the NBA) coaches and managers named Bobby The Greatest Player of All-Time. Unfortunately, he was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1963, at age 49.
Bobby was a tremendously talented and intense player in the 1930s and 1940s at a time when basketball was really just beginning to come into its own as a popular spectator sport. Bobby McDermott had a lot to do with that outcome. Unfortunately for him monetarily, it was before television, which has made possible the big salaries for players. Nevertheless, he made a very respectable income then, considering it was during the Great Depression and theaftermath of World War II.
I would hope that Bobby’s story will bring fond recollections to old timers and enthusiasts of basketball history and, hopefully, be of interest to our current crop of youngsters engaged in this vibrant and much loved sport. Bobby’s story is not only the biography of one man but also encompasses the history of basketball’s development as a professional game.
Bobby was four years older than I, and one of my fondest memories is about the time when he was about 11. Bobby had an after-school job delivering prescriptions for the local pharmacy, Harpel’s Drugstore (still there today, in Whitestone, New York). He would dash home on his bike like lightening, first to tell me to deliver his basketball to the Warlow Club, the local American Legion Hall, about a half mile from our home. Then, he would race to deliver the prescriptions and head for the club.
There, he would practice for hours until his hunger alarm sounded. It was here at this club that he honed his unbelievable basketball skills. His shots were amazingly accurate, launched from beyond half court with a (seeming) 90 percent success. Bobby also made seemingly impossible overhead shots with deadly accuracy from the corners, too.
He was Mr. Basketball personified.
Bobby’s income working for Harpel’s Drugstore was naturally very meager, but he was able to supplement it many times over at the club. There were always a few players practicing there, and Bobby would get into nickel-and-dime contests and walk away with the winnings.
It seems noteworthy to describe the Warlow club, where Bobby spend an inordinate amount of time in his very early years, learning the game of basketball. It was a tall narrow brick building with a sign over its front door indicating ti was an American Legion Post. It was build on a 3-foot rise of land above the sidewalk, with stone steps and a concrete walk leading to the front door. upon entering the building there were a couple offices on each side and then two large wooden doors opening on an expansive floor area.
This floor area, no doubt, was used for marching drills, for recreations, and as an adequate practice basketball court. The high ceiling fixtures provided the necessary light for the interior. The sidewalks were wood paneled and had small recessed areas in the middle with wooden benches for spectators. Probably no more than 50 spectators could fit in each of these sections. The walls were just inches beyond the out-of-bounds lines for the basketball court, and during the hustle and bustle of a basketball game, many players would get crushed into these walls. No major injuries occurred, but these were plenty of bruises, aches and pains for many players to take home. Nevertheless, on these premises Bobby honed his incredible skills.
At that time, there were a number of regional professional teams around the county and the NBL was just getting started. Some teams of the NBL had strange names like The Detroit Clowns, who played in funny costumes and the House of David, whose players sported beards.
It’s truly a miracle that Bobby played basketball at all considering the two major traumas he suffered around the age of 10. One morning, he attempted to lift a boiling tea kettle of water off the kitchen coal stove. It was too heavy for him and he dropped it. The scalding hot water poured over the inside of his right upper led and left a deep, large lifetime scar.
Then, sometime later, he was with a group of youngsters who began tantalizing a neighbor who was applying hot tar to his driveway. At one point, the neighbor became sufficiently annoyed and threw a shovel of tar at the kids to chase them away. As fate would have it, it landed on the inside of Bobby’s right upper arm and once again, it left a large lifetime scar. Undaunted by these tragic events, Bobby went on to the highest heights of fame in the game of basketball.