Harrison, Les : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Harrison, Les

Lester Harrison

A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Harrison was a major contributor to the game as a coach, owner, and organizer. He was the owner-coach of the Rochester Royals in the NBL (National Basketball League, and in the BAA (Basketball Association of America, the forerunner of the NBA). His team won the NBA championship in 1951. In 1946, Harrison signed the first black professional player, helping to break the color barrier in basketball. He was also a member of the NBA Rules Committee and Board of Directors.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Aug. 20, 1904- d. Dec. 23, 1997

Career Highlights:
Harrison began playing basketball while in high school in Rochester, New York. In one game, he scored 16 of the points in his team's 20-16 victory, and he remained consumed by the game for the rest of his life. In college, he coached, organized, and promoted basketball in the state of New York for various teams, including the Rochester Seagrams, Ebers, and Pros. In 1944, Harrison formed a semi-professional team with his brother Jack. The following year, they changed the name of the team from the Pros to the Royals and joined the National Basketball League.

In three NBL seasons, Harrison coached the Royals to a 99-43 record; he was NBL Coach of the Year in 1946. The team played in the NBL finals all three seasons and won the championship in 1946 and 1947. In 1946, Harrison played an important role in breaking the game's color barrier by signing the first black professional player, Dolly King of Long Island University (he also originally signed African-American Hall of Famer William 'Pop' Gates).

In 1948, Harrison moved the Royals to the newly formed Basketball Association of America (predecessor of the NBA). He was instrumental in the merging of the NBL and BAA to form the NBA. In 1951, he led the Royals to the NBA title, defeating the Knicks 4 games to 3; this was the only season during the George Mikan era that the Minneapolis Lakers did not win the championship. The Royals re-located from Rochester to Cincinnati before the 1957-58 season, and Harrison sold the team the following year. In ten years as a coach, Harrison had a 394-220 record, and won five divisional titles.

After his retirement, Les stayed close to the game by organizing the Kodak Classic Collegiate Tournament in 1963 (now known as the Rochester Basketball Classic), and directing the tournament for 30 years. Harrison is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Rochester Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Rochester High School Athletes Hall of Fame, and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Rochester, New York

Physical description:
5'11", 172 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)

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