Stories from Bobby McDermott’s pro basketball career

To supplement his income, Bobby McDermott would get into ‘nickle-and-dime’ games.

‘An interesting fact about basketball (back then) was that no two basketball counts in the country (seemed) uniform, and the players had to constantly adjust to new surroundings in every other town they played in,’ Jim McDermott wrote. ‘It is also my contention that the players of hold had to be more skillful for they were not as tall as today’s giants who can drop the ball in the basket without their feet leaving the floor. The old time players had to develop sharp-shooting skills to get the ball through the hoop. In addition, the only tall players on the various teams were the centers. Tall guys were considered gangly, awkward, uncoordinated, slow and fit only to play the center positions in the fast and furious game of basketball.’

Bobby McDermott suffered two major injuries before his career took hold: a burn to his leg from a scalding teapot and an arm injury that came from an incident with a neighbor tarring his driveway.

When Bobby broke into the pro ranks in the 1930s, it was difficult to earn playing time amid more established players.

‘The older players did not want this kid replacing one of them, and they would deliberatley not pass the ball to him,’ Jim wrote. ‘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. Occassionally, he would have to enagege in on-and-off-basketball court fights with his teammates, as well as opposition players.’

Basketball was known as a rougher sport back then, anyway.

‘He (once) pointed to (another) player and told him, ‘One more (elbow) and you’re through.’ Well, the guy gave Bobby an else the very next time down the court and Bobby turned and knocked him out with one punch. The ref claimed he didn’t see the foul,’ Jim wrote.

But Bobby McDermott was like other great players from basketball’s infancy and able to use ball-handling and shooting to overcome obstacles, even the ball-freezing techniques popular back then.

After playing for teams in Brooklyn and Baltimore, he joined Fort Wayne, which would later move to Detroit. Despite his success with the Zollner Pistons, Bobby McDermott was traded to the Chicago American Gears.

‘On a railroad trip, he got into a fight with a 6-5 teammates and Bobby messed him up pretty badly. The Pistons, most reluctantly, were forced to trade him to the last place Chicago Gears,’ Jim wrote. ‘The primary reason the Gears were in last place was that their star center, George Mikan, one of the first truly big men in basketball, was sitting out due to a contract dispute.’

According to Jim McDermott, it was Mikan who, years later, was instrumental in making sure Bobby McDermott was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame after decades of his name being left out.

‘Today’s college basketball and football programs are corrupted by the vast amounts of money generated by these sports, and the adminstrations of the schools are all too happy to turn blind eyes on the abuses of the athletic programs,’ Jim wrote. ‘In Bobby’s day, at the height of the Depression and the onset of World War II, you did what you had to to survive. In his case, it was drop out of school and earn a living doing what he did best.’

And Bobby McDermott played basketball better than almost anyone to have walked the earth.”