Banks, Davey "Pretzel" : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Banks, Davey "Pretzel"

David Banks

Banks -- who received his nickname because he was the son of a pretzel baker -- was a member of the Original Celtics, one of the great early professional barnstorming teams (along with the New York Rens, Philadelphia Sphas, and Harlem Globetrotters). The impact of those Celtics on basketball is profound: they began the use of zone defenses, switching on man-to-man defense, and using the center as an offensive hub. In one year, they had a record of 193-11-1 as they travelled the country.

The Celtic players were also the first to be paid by the season, not the game, which meant they remained together and did not switch teams or leagues for a better payday. In 1927, the Original Celtics were coerced into the American Basketball League (the first attempt to have a national basketball league) when the league banned any ABL team from playing the Celtics in exhibition games. They dominated the league and their reputation grew. In 1959, the Original Celtics -- with Banks as a member -- were enshrined as a team in the Basketball Hall of Fame .

Birth and Death Dates:
b. 1901 - d. Aug. 24, 1952

Career Highlights:
One of the most prolific scorers of the 1920s, Banks began his professional career in 1920 at the age of 19, playing with the Armory Big Five in Mt. Vernon, NY. With the formation of the Metropolitan League, Banks joined the Brooklyn Visitations for the second half of the 1922-23 season, and finished fifth in the league in scoring for the second half of the season.

In 1923, Davey began playing with the Philadelphia Sphas (the nickname stood for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) in the Philadelphia League. Hall of Famer Harry Litwack called Banks (whose most common nickname was "Flash" because of his speed on the court), "a very outstanding shooter...and very speedy." That season, Banks played in only 14 of 41 games, but had the highest points per game average in the league (9.5); he also helped the Sphas win the league title. "Pretzel" continued to play for Brooklyn in the Metropolitan League, finishing third in the league in scoring. He played for both teams over the next few years, and was among the leading scorers in both leagues.

At the end of the 1925-26 season, the Sphas -- competing as independents because of the failure of the Philadelphia League -- played the Original Celtics in a three-game series. In the first game, Banks scored the final basket of the game with 15 seconds left for a 26-25 Sphas victory. During the next game, "Pretzel" was the star again as he "would race down the floor through the Celtics' famous defense to receive a pass from ("Stretch") Meehan for a goal." The Sphas also defeated the New York Rens, and were recognized as the world champions. The Celtics, however, got their revenge the next year when they signed Banks to an exclusive contract.

Banks joined the great Nat Holman as the only Jews on the Celtics, and Davey began the 1926-27 season as the team's sixth man (first substitute off the bench). It was immediately apparent that "Flash" was the fastest member of the team, and it was said that although Banks was "no bigger than an eighth grader, he made any player who opposed him look like a beginner." Davey played for the Celtics in the American Basketball League, helping them win the league title his first two seasons with the team. During the 1927-28 season, Banks was the leading scorer in the ABL with an 8.4 points per game average. He played in 173 ABL games and finished as the 13th all-time scorer in ABL history (with 1217 total points, and an 8.5 points-per-game average).

When the Celtics disbanded in 1929 (after their owner went to jail), Banks and Nat Holman continued to play in the ABL with the New York Hakoahs, an all-Jewish team. That team folded after the season, and Banks toured with the new Original Celtics in the 1930s. He also began to coach: for Kingston and Troy from 1939-1941, the Chicago Gears in the mid-1940s, and the Troy Celtics of the ABL in 1946-47. In August 1952, Banks died in an auto accident while returning from a race track in Saratoga Springs, New York. Newspaper accounts indicated he had been in in negotiations with the University of Notre Dame to take over the head coaching position for the their 1952-53 season. He was 50 years old.

New York City

Physical description:
5'5", 155 pounds

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Official NBA Encyclopedia: Third Edition, edited by Jan Hubbard (New York: Doubleday, 2000)
The Originals: The New York Celtics Invent Modern Basketball, by Murray Nelson (Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Press, 1999)