Al Cervi

Alfred Nicholas Cervi (February 12, 1917 – November 9, 2009) was an American professional basketball player and coach in the National Basketball League (NBL) and National Basketball Association (NBA). One of the strongest backcourt players of the 1940s and 1950s, he was always assigned to defend against the opposing team's best scoring threat. He earned the nickname Digger because of his hard-nosed style of defense.[1]

Al Cervi
Personal information
BornFebruary 12, 1917
Buffalo, New York
DiedNovember 9, 2009 (aged 92)
Rochester, New York
Listed height5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Listed weight170 lb (77 kg)
Career information
High schoolEast (Buffalo, New York)
Playing career1937–1953
PositionForward / Guard
Career history
As player:
1937–1938Buffalo Bisons
1945–1947Rochester Royals
1947Trenton Tigers
1947–1948Rochester Royals
1948–1953Syracuse Nationals
As coach:
1948–1958Syracuse Nationals
1958–1959Philadelphia Warriors
Career highlights and awards
As Player:

As Coach:

Career NBA statistics
Points1,591 (7.9 ppg)
Rebounds261 (1.8 rpg)
Assists648 (3.2 apg)
Stats at
Basketball Hall of Fame as player

Early life

Born in Buffalo, New York, Cervi attended East High School in his hometown, where he captained the baseball and basketball teams and achieved All-City honors in both sports. He dropped out of school after his junior year when he was recruited by the Buffalo Bisons of the newly formed NBL.[2] He played in all of the Bisons' nine games in 1937–38, the franchise's only season of existence.[3]

He never attended college. Instead, he served five years in the United States Army Air Forces from 1940 through 1945.[1][4]

Rochester Royals (1945–1948)

After the conclusion of World War II, he joined the Rochester Royals, another NBL franchise entering its first year of operations. He immediately experienced success as the team captured the 1945–46 league title after sweeping the best-of-five championship series from the Sheboygan Red Skins. The Royals returned to the finals the following two seasons, but lost to the Chicago American Gears and Minneapolis Lakers in four games each.[3] Cervi made the All-NBL First Team in 1947 and 1948.[5] In the first of those two campaigns, he was the leading scorer with 632 points.[1][3]

His time with the Royals lasted only three seasons.[3] After discovering that other teammates were being paid more than his $7,500 annual salary, he requested a $3,500 raise, which was denied by team owner Les Harrison. As a result, instead of moving with the Royals to the Basketball Association of America (BAA) after the 1948 campaign, Cervi stayed in the NBL and joined the Syracuse Nationals, who met his salary demands and appointed him player-coach.[1][3]

Syracuse Nationals (1948–1957)

Besides being named to the All-NBL First Team for a third straight year in 1949, he also earned Coach of the Year honors. After the BAA-NBL merger to form the NBA prior to the 1949–50 campaign, he continued to serve in the dual capacity role until his retirement as an active player in 1953.[5]

The Syracuse teams he piloted took on his relentlessly competitive nature. He played a major role in the development of Dolph Schayes.[6]

The Nationals qualified for the playoffs in eight of the nine seasons that he coached the ballclub, including three trips to the NBA Finals. They were twice defeated by the Lakers, first in six games in 1950 and then in seven in 1954. The pinnacle of Cervi's coaching career was leading his squad to the NBA Championship over the Fort Wayne Pistons in seven games in 1955.[5]

When the Nationals began the 1956–57 campaign at 4–8, he was replaced by team captain Paul Seymour.[7]

NBA career statistics

  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field goal percentage  3P%  3-point field goal percentage  FT%  Free throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  Bold  Career high

Regular season

1949–50 Syracuse 56 .332 .829 4.7 10.2
1950–51 Syracuse 53 .382 .819 2.9 3.9 8.6
1951–52 Syracuse 55 15.5 .354 .883 1.6 2.7 7.6
1952–53 Syracuse 38 7.9 .437 .810 0.6 0.7 3.8
Career 202 12.4 .359 .839 1.8 3.2 7.9


1950 Syracuse 11 .338 .826 4.7 7.6
1951 Syracuse 7 .304 .880 4.7 5.4 11.1
1952 Syracuse 7 12.6 .223 .957 1.4 2.1 5.1
1953 Syracuse 2 14.0 .600 .800 0.0 0.5 9.0
Career 27 12.9 .314 .866 2.7 3.9 8.0

Later years

Cervi succeeded George Senesky as coach of the Philadelphia Warriors in 1958,[8] but left after one season to accept a more lucrative job in the trucking business as an area manager for Eastern Freightways, Inc. in Rochester, New York. In 1960 he declined to accept a two-year offer to coach the Lakers in its first campaign in Los Angeles because his wife was reluctant to leave the Rochester area. He lived in the suburb of Brighton for the last 58 years of his life.[1]

Cervi was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985.[9] He received similar honors from the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.[10]

He died on November 9, 2009 in Rochester, New York at the age of 92.[4]

Cervi was featured in the book, Basketball History in Syracuse, Hoops Roots by author Mark Allen Baker published by The History Press in 2010. The book is an introduction to professional basketball in Syracuse and includes teams like (Vic Hanson's) All-Americans, the Syracuse Reds and the Syracuse Nationals (1946–1963).

Coaching record

Season Team Season Record Playoff Record Playoff Result
1948–49 Syracuse Nationals (NBL) 40–23 3–3 Eastern Division Finals
1949–50 Syracuse Nationals 51–13 6–5 NBA Finals
1950–51 Syracuse Nationals 32–34 4–3 Eastern Division Finals
1951–52 Syracuse Nationals 40–26 3–4 Eastern Division Finals
1952–53 Syracuse Nationals 47–24 0–2 Eastern Division Semifinals
1953–54 Syracuse Nationals 42–30 9–4 NBA Finals
1954–55 Syracuse Nationals 43–29 7–4 NBA Champions
1955–56 Syracuse Nationals 35–37 5–4 Eastern Division Finals
1956–57 Syracuse Nationals 4–8
1958–59 Philadelphia Warriors 32–40
Totals 10 seasons 366–264 37–29


  1. ^ a b c d e Matthews, Bob. "Basketball Hall of Famer Cervi dies at 92," Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, Tuesday, November 10, 2009.
  2. ^ Northrop, Milt. "Basketball Hall of Famer Al Cervi dies at age 92," The Buffalo News, Tuesday, November 10, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e Shouler, Ken; Ryan, Bob; Smith, Sam; Koppett, Leonard & Bellotti, Bob. Total Basketball: The Ultimate Basketball Encyclopedia. Toronto, ON: Sport Media Publishing, Inc., 2003.
  4. ^ a b Litsky, Frank (November 11, 2009), "Al Cervi, Hall of Fame N.B.A. Player-Coach, Dies at 92", The New York Times
  5. ^ a b c Official NBA Register. 2003–04 Edition. St. Louis, Missouri: The Sporting News, 2003.
  6. ^ Kirst, Sean. "Relentless: The passing of Al Cervi," The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), Tuesday, November 10, 2009.
  7. ^ Official NBA Guide. 2003–04 Edition. St. Louis, Missouri: The Sporting News, 2003.
  8. ^ Golden State Warriors Franchise Index –
  9. ^ Alfred N. "Al" Cervi (biography) – Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Archived 2012-09-08 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Al Cervi (Class of 2003), Buffalo Bisons Basketball Player – Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Archived 2009-02-02 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Peterson, Robert W. (2002). "The Infancy of the NBA". Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball's Early Years. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 166–183. ISBN 0-8032-8772-0.

External links

1945–46 Rochester Royals season

The 1945–46 Rochester Royals season was the franchise's first season in the National Basketball League.

1946–47 Rochester Royals season

The 1946–47 Rochester Royals season was the franchise's second season in the National Basketball League (NBL). The team finished with the best record in the league.

1947–48 Rochester Royals season

The 1947–48 Rochester Royals season was the franchise's third season in the National Basketball League (NBL). The team finished with a 44-16 record, the best record in the league. The team lost the NBL Championship for the second straight year.

1949–50 Syracuse Nationals season

The 1949–50 Syracuse Nationals season was the first season for the franchise in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Nationals played their previous three seasons in the National Basketball League, which merged with the Basketball Association of America to form the NBA. Al Cervi, nicknamed "Digger" for his superior defensive skills, guided the team with his competitive nature while serving as a player-coach. As the Syracuse Post-Standard describes, "The Nationals shot poorly but succeeded because they played Cervi-style basketball: nasty, with an emphasis on defense." The Nationals went to the NBA Finals after beating the Philadelphia Warriors and New York Knicks, but lost to the Minneapolis Lakers in six games.

1952 NBA All-Star Game

The 1952 NBA All-Star Game was an exhibition basketball game played on February 11, 1952, at Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, home of the Boston Celtics. The game was the second edition of the National Basketball Association (NBA) All-Star Game and was played during the 1951–52 NBA season. The Eastern All-Stars team defeated the Western All-Stars team 108–91. This was the East's second successive win over the West. Philadelphia Warriors' Paul Arizin, who led the East with 26 points, was named as the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player.

1954–55 Syracuse Nationals season

During the 1954-55 Syracuse Nationals season the National Basketball Association (NBA) was struggling financially and down to just 8 teams, Nationals owner Danny Biasone suggested that the league limit the amount of time taken for a shot. Biasone was upset with the stalling tactics of opposing teams. During the summer of 1954, Biasone had gotten together some of his pros and a group of high school players and timed them with a stopwatch. Most shots were taken within 12 seconds, Biasone discovered. Biasone calculated that a 24-second shot clock would allow at least 30 shots per quarter and assist in increasing scoring. The result would speed up a game that often ended with long periods of teams just holding the ball. Quickness and athletic ability became prized as they never had been before. Excessive fouling didn't disappear completely, but just about everyone concluded that the clock was good for the game. The shot clock was a success with the result that scoring was up 14 points per game league wide. In the first season of the shot clock, the Nats would take first place in the Eastern Division with a 43–29 record.

1956–57 NBA season

The 1956–57 NBA season was the 11th season of the National Basketball Association. The season ended with the Boston Celtics winning the NBA Championship (which would be the first of their 17 NBA titles), beating the St. Louis Hawks 4 games to 3 in the NBA Finals.

1958–59 Philadelphia Warriors season

The 1958–59 NBA season was the Warriors' 13th season in the NBA.

1959–60 NBA season

The 1959–60 NBA season was the 14th season of the National Basketball Association. The season ended with the Boston Celtics winning their 2nd straight NBA Championship, beating the St. Louis Hawks 4 games to 3 in the NBA Finals.

Digger (nickname)

Digger is a nickname for:

John Barnes (footballer) (born 1963), Jamaican-born English former footballer and manager

Arthur Brown (footballer, born 1859) (1859–1909), English footballer

Duane G. Carey (born 1957), former NASA astronaut and retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel

Al Cervi (1917–2009), American National Basketball League and National Basketball Association player and coach

Digger Dawson (1905–?), English footballer

Dale DeGray (born 1963), former National Hockey League player

Paul Diggin (born 1985), English rugby union player

William James (general) (1930–2015), Australian Army major general

Digger Kettle (1922–1999), English footballer

Peter Martin (cricketer) (born 1968), English former cricketer

Rupert Murdoch, media baron, so named by Private Eye

Billy O'Dell (born 1833), former Major League Baseball pitcher

Ken Phelps (born 1954), former Major League Baseball player

Digger Phelps (born 1941), American basketball coach and sportscaster

Digger Robertson (William Robertson, 1861–1938), Australian cricketer

Digger Stanley (1876–1919), English boxer

William "Digger" Thomas (1890–1953), Australian rules footballer

Les Harrison (basketball)

Lester Harrison (August 20, 1904 – December 23, 1997) was an American professional basketball player, coach, and team owner and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

List of 1958–59 NBA season transactions

This is a list of all personnel changes for the 1958 NBA off-season and 1958-59 NBA season.

List of Golden State Warriors head coaches

The Golden State Warriors are an American professional basketball team based in Oakland, California. The franchise had been known as the Philadelphia Warriors and the San Francisco Warriors, due to it previously being based in or near those cities. The team is a member of the Pacific Division of the Western Conference in the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Warriors initially joined the Basketball Association of America (BAA) as the Philadelphia Warriors in 1946, and won the first BAA championship title in the same year under coach Edward Gottlieb. The Warriors later joined the NBA at its foundation in 1949. The Warriors' record was 26–42 in their first NBA season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Syracuse Nationals. Franklin Mieuli and the Diners Club put together a group of 40 local investors to move the Warriors to San Francisco before the 1962–63 NBA season, with Mieuli eventually buying all the shares of the franchise to keep the team from collapsing and to keep it in the area. The team became the Golden State Warriors and moved to Oakland before the 1971–72 NBA season.There have been 25 head coaches for the Warriors franchise. The franchise won their first NBA championship as the Philadelphia Warriors in the 1956 NBA Finals, and were coached by George Senesky. Their second title was won as the Golden State Warriors in 1975, under coach Al Attles, who played with and coached the Warriors for 25 seasons. He is also the franchise's all-time leader in regular season games coached and wins. Steve Kerr leads the franchise in winning percentage for games coached.Frank McGuire is one of the members of the franchise that has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as coaches, while being the only one to do so that has spent his whole career with the franchise. Alex Hannum, Don Nelson, and Bill Sharman are the only other members of the franchise that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Hannum, Nelson, and Kerr have both received the NBA Coach of the Year award once. Nelson has also been named one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history. Four former players for the Warriors, Attles, Johnston, George Lee, and Senesky went on to coach for the franchise.

List of NBA champions

The National Basketball Association (NBA) (formerly Basketball Association of America (BAA) from 1946 to 1949) Finals is the championship series for the NBA and the conclusion of the NBA's postseason. All Finals have been played in a best-of-seven format, and are contested between the winners of the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference (formerly Divisions before 1970), except in 1950 when the Eastern Division champion faced the winner between the Western and Central Division champions. Prior to 1949, the playoffs were a three-stage tournament where the two semifinal winners played each other in the finals. The winning team of the series receives the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

The current home-and-away format in the NBA Finals is in a 2–2–1–1–1 format (the team with the better regular season record plays on their home court in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7), which has been used in 1947–1948, 1950–1952, 1957–1970, 1972–1974, 1976–1977, 1979–1984 and 2014–present. It was previously in a 2–3–2 format (the team with the better regular season record plays on their home court in Games 1, 2, 6 and 7) during 1949, 1953–1955 and 1985–2013, in a 1–1–1–1–1–1–1 format during 1956 and 1971 and in a 1–2–2–1–1 format during 1975 and 1978.The Eastern Conference/Division leads the Western Conference/Division in series won (38–33). The defunct Central Division, in existence during the 1949–50 NBA season when the NBA was divided into three divisions and different from the current Central Division created in 1970 when the then existing Eastern Division was upgraded as a conference, won one championship. The Boston Celtics and the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers alone own almost half of the titles, having won a combined 33 of 72 championships. As of 2018, the defending champions are the Golden State Warriors.

List of Philadelphia 76ers head coaches

The Philadelphia 76ers are an American professional basketball team based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They are a member of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Formerly known as the Syracuse Nationals, the 76ers joined the NBA when it was founded in 1949. The Nationals had a record of 51–13 in their first NBA season under coach Al Cervi and won the Eastern Division crown. The franchise were purchased by Philadelphian Irv Kosloff and Ike Richma in the spring of 1963; the NBA approved their franchise shift on May 22 and name change to the Philadelphia 76ers on August 6. This brought professional basketball back to the city, which had been without a team since the Golden State Warriors left Philadelphia in 1962. After coaching the 76ers since 2010, Doug Collins resigned as head coach on April 18, 2013 following the 2012–13 season. Brett Brown was hired to be the head coach of the 76ers on August 15, 2013 prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.There have been 24 head coaches for the Philadelphia 76ers franchise. The franchise won their first NBA championship as the Syracuse Nationals in the 1955 NBA Finals under coach Cervi. Their second title was won as the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967, coached by Alex Hannum, who has the highest career winning percentage for the 76ers. Billy Cunningham, who played and coached with the 76ers for 17 years, is the franchise's all-time leader in both regular season and playoff games coached and wins. He coached the team to their most recent title in 1983.Hannum, Jack Ramsay, and Larry Brown are the only members of the franchise to have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as coaches. Cervi, Paul Seymour, and Kevin Loughery served as a player-coaches, and Cervi, after retiring as a player, continued to coach the team for the rest of the season that he retired during and five additional seasons. Six other former players, Hannum, Dolph Schayes, Cunningham, Matt Guokas, Fred Carter, and Maurice Cheeks went on to coach for the franchise.

Mike Novak

Michael Donald Novak (April 23, 1915 – August 15, 1978) was an American professional basketball player. He played in the NBL, BAA, and NBA from 1939 to 1954. A 6'9" center from Loyola University Chicago, he was one of the first prominent "big men" to play professional basketball, averaging 8.5 points per game over the course of his career as a member of the Chicago Bruins, Chicago Studebaker Flyers, Sheboygan Red Skins, Syracuse Nationals, Rochester Royals, and Philadelphia Warriors.

Novak was the seventh-highest scorer in the history of the 12-season NBL. Some of his greatest seasons came during his middle years, with the Sheboygan Red Skins. He joined the team in 1943–44, played in all 22 games and helped Sheboygan to a 14-8 record, good for second place in the four-team league. He scored 92 points during the regular season. In the playoffs, Sheboygan advanced to the NBL finals opposite the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, who won the title.

In 1944–45, Novak teamed with 6-7 forward Eddie Dancker to form the league's best 1-2 punch in the middle. He increased his scoring to 233 points in 27 games, and Western Division champion Sheboygan (19-11) again advanced to the finals to play Fort Wayne. The Red Skins won the first two games of the best-of-five series, only to get swept in the next three.

The following season, Novak was named a second-team choice on the all-league team. He scored 310 points in 34 games for Hall of Famer Dutch Dehnert's Red Skins, who won the Western Division title with a 21-13 record and advanced to the NBL championship series against the powerful Rochester Royals, who included Hall of Famers Al Cervi, Bob Davies and Red Holzman. Rochester, which would win the NBA championship five years later, swept Sheboygan for the title.

After only three games in 1946–47, Novak was dealt to the Syracuse Nationals. Doxie Moore had replaced Dehnert as Sheboygan's head coach.

Novak scored 2,281 points in nine NBL seasons, 320 in one BAA season and 100 in two NBA seasons.

Mike Todorovich

Marko John Todorovich (June 11, 1923 – June 24, 2000) was an American basketball player and coach of Serbian descent born in St. Louis, Missouri. He played college basketball at the University of Wyoming. He also played college football at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Notre Dame.Todorovich began his professional career with the Sheboygan Red Skins of the National Basketball League (NBL). He was named NBL rookie of the year and chosen a first-team pick after a 1947–48 season in which he scored 777 points in 60 games. The other four first-team selections from that season—Jim Pollard, George Mikan, Red Holzman and Al Cervi—are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Sheboygan, however, suffered through a season of turmoil and finished with the second-worst record (23–37) in the franchise's 13-season history. The following season, Todorovich again led the Red Skins in scoring, with 648 points in 60 games, and Sheboygan finished with a 35–29 record. He was named to the NBL's second team.

Later, he played for the St. Louis Bombers and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. He later would coach the Blackhawks for several games.

NBA Conference Finals

The National Basketball Association Conference Finals are the Eastern and Western championship series of the National Basketball Association (NBA), a major professional basketball league in North America. The NBA was founded in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The NBA adopted its current name at the start of the 1949–50 season when the BAA merged with the National Basketball League (NBL). The league currently consists of 30 teams, of which 29 are located in the United States and 1 in Canada. Each team plays 82 games in the regular season. After the regular season, eight teams from each of the league's two conferences qualify for the playoffs. At the end of the playoffs, the top two teams play each other in the Conference Finals, to determine the Conference Champions from each side, who then proceed to play in the NBA Finals.

National Basketball League (United States)

The National Basketball League (NBL) was a professional men's basketball league in the United States established in 1937. After the 1948–49 season, its twelfth, it merged with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) to create the National Basketball Association (NBA).

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