In basketball terms, the decades between Depression-era hoops and the early NBA were like dog years. The game seemed to grow and evolve visibly from season to season. Stars and strategies came and went. Big men were everything, then nothing, and then everything again. Leagues started, teams folded, and paychecks—when they cleared—were two or three figures, not five, six or seven like today. The lone constant in pro hoops during this time was Buddy Jeannette, a 5-11 ball-handling genius who had a knack for winning games, championships, and MVP awards. Buddy played the point and read the floor like no one else in basketball, and he had that special talent for turning good teams into great ones. If there was a way to beat an opponent, Buddy would find it.

Harry Edward Jeannette was born on September 15, 1917 in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) As a boy growing up in Western Pennsylvania, the kid everyone called “Buddy” was fascinated by basketball. As far back as he could remember, he had a ball in his hands and was shooting it at a hoop. At first, it was a homemade ball, fashioned out of rags and old socks in a bag. Later his mother bought him a proper lace-up basketball for a half-dollar. He shot so much with that ball that the seams started to give. Eventually, the ball ballooned up so big that it sometimes wouldn’t slip through the net.

Buddy’s basketball career took a few years to get off the ground. He dearly loved the game, but he was too short and skinny to convince his high school coach to give him a spot on the varsity. Instead, Buddy joined the school band and played the clarinet during games. More important, he accompanied the team on road trips. It was the best way to get a seat close to the action. As a freshman, Buddy had been told bluntly, “Go home and grow up.” That he did. By his senior year, Buddy's intelligence, leadership and nose for the basket made him one of the top players in Pennsylvania.

When it came time for the next step in his career, Buddy stayed in state and enrolled at Washington & Jefferson College, in 1934. His game continued to evolve. He could dribble, pass and score with either hand. Like most players of his era, Buddy made about a third of his shots from the field, but that percentage soared when the game was on the line. He rarely shot from more than 15 feet, figuring there had to be someone else on the team who had a better look at the basket. In the days before the shot clock, he patiently worked the ball until he found that teammate. If Buddy saw an opportunity to drive to the basket, he took it. He was relentless in this way throughout his career. No team could ever leave the hoop unguarded when Buddy had the ball.

Buddy could also get off the floor. He was a tenacious rebounder who often won out over taller players. In a game against Long Island University, he won a center tap against a 6-9 opponent.

Buddy averaged 12 points during his varsity career for the Presidents. In his senior season, he gained honorable mention on a couple of All-America squads. After graduating in 1938, Buddy’s post-collegiate basketball plans involved coaching. He was trained to be a history teacher and figured his hardcourt prowess would make him more marketable to a high school.

Jobs were not easy to come by during the Depression. Buddy thought he had a teaching position locked up in the fall of 1938, only to be informed at the last minute that it had fallen through. He had been living for free in his old college room, but now the incoming students were due back, and he’d have to get out. To make matters worse, he was broke.

Buddy learned from an old teammate, Bill Laughlin, that there was a pro team up in Warren, Pennsylvania looking for players. Buddy had never seriously considered pro basketball. It was an unstable business at best, with grim travel conditions and low pay. But that was looking good given his current circumstances, so he took what he assumed would be a short-term job with the Warren Penns of the National Basketball League for $25 a game.

The team owner, coach and occasional player was 30-year-old Gerry Archibald. One year earlier, his National Basketball League team went by the name Hyvis Oils and was sponsored by the local refinery in Warren. The Oils were mostly a barnstorming club, but they took part in the NBL’s 12-game schedule, finishing 3–9. When Hyvis withdrew its support in 1938, Archibald and his father, Lyman —who owned a successful fox-breeding business—decided to fund the club and renamed it the Penns.

Archibald’s love of basketball was genetic. His father was part of the original gym class in 1891 that learned the game from its creator, James Naismith, at the Springfield YMCA school.

Buddy Jeannette

Buddy was one of several accomplished ex-collegians to join the NBL in its formative years. Others included Paul Nowak, Floyd Ebaugh, Al Cervi, Johnny Sines, Johnny Wooden and Lou Boudreau, who would soon go on to bigger and better things as a major league baseball player. The league competed for talent with the Amateur Athletic Union, which featured Hank Luisetti, and the older American Basketball League, where the Philadelphia Sphas had been drawing healthy crowds and top players since before the Depression.

Buddy joined a team in the Penns that featured several veteran stars, including Walt Stankey and Frank Maury. The only other player under 25 was forward Bill Laughlin, Buddy’s teammate at Washington & Jefferson. The NBL had just abolished the center-jump after every basket, which diminished the contributions of centers and put a greater premium on floor generals like Buddy. Although the expression has become something of a cliché in today’s NBA, Buddy was a player who truly understood how to make his teammates better. Back in the days when scores were half of what they are now, that was twice as important.

The Penns played in the NBL’S four-team Eastern Division. Buddy distinguished himself as a solid all-around player, averaging just under seven points a game. (The NBL scoring champ averaged 11 ppg.) His ball handling and Laughlin’s shooting made the club dangerous, but financial problems forced the team to make an unusual decision. Archibald moved the Penns to Cleveland and renamed them the White Horses after his new sponsor, White Horse Motors. At the same time, he joined the New York-Pennsylvania League, representing Elmira as the Colonels. The White Horses’ first home game in Cleveland drew more than 7,000 fans—a far cry from the 700 or so that attended their games in Warren. To promote their arrival, the players rode through Cleveland on white horses.

With two schedules guaranteeing playing dates—and exhibition matches with the barnstorming New York Rens and Original Celtics—the club muddled through. For the rest of the season, Buddy and his teammates swapped uniforms twice a week and shuttled back and forth between the two leagues in a hulking 1928 Pierce Arrow that the entire team managed to squeeze into.

The players made about $100 a month. That was decent money for the Depression, but as the traveling conditions suggested, most played for the love of the game. The White Horses finished tied for second in the NBL’s Eastern Division with the Akron team sponsored by Goodyear. Cleveland fared better than Elmira, winning the championship.

Conditions were rarely ideal, especially for those games that fell in between league contests. One of the contests in the New York–Penn League was played in a bar in Hazelton, PA. When the Colonels arrived, the tables were cleared, a center circle and foul lines were chalked onto the floor, and baskets were lowered from the ceiling. Buddy recalled playing games on courts surrounded by chicken-wire cages—the origin of the term “cagers.” By the 1930s, these cages—built to protect fans who sat close to the court—were mostly out of style, but in some towns they were still used for the players’ protection. Indeed, Buddy and his teammates would sometimes have objects thrown at them while playing the hometown team. At one stop, miners tossed hot nails at the players through the holes in the screen.

In 1939–40, Archibald moved his team again, this time to Detroit and renamed it the Eagles. Buddy was one of the few players to make the move. Archibald had opened his wallet to pay a slew of former college stars, including Laddie Gale, Irv Torgoff, Bernie Opper and Slim Wintermute. Buddy got a raise commensurate with his talent and was now making $300 a month. He later discovered that some of his All-American teammates were making more than three times that amount. Still, he thought his salary was enough for him to propose to Bonnie Bidwill. They were married that winter. For years after, Bonnie joked that Buddy only married her because she had a car and he couldn’t afford one.

With Buddy running the show, the Eagles finished second, a game behind Akron’s other team, the Non-Skids, who were sponsored by Goodyear’s main competitor, Firestone. The Eagles and Non-Skids met in the division playoffs. Akron won Game 1 on its home court, 48–35. Back in Detroit, the Eagles won Game 2, 49–37. The deciding contest was scheduled for Akron. The Non-Skids, who introduced air travel to pro basketball, flew back home to rest up. The Eagles piled onto their old bus for the long ride to Akron. They lost 46–35.

After the season, Archibald sold the Eagles to a cigar company in Detroit and got out of basketball. He was simply losing too much money. In retrospect, he might have done better sticking it out with pro hoops; fox-hunting in postwar America wasn’t exactly a growth industry. As for Buddy, he augmented his basketball income by working in a Ford plant, both during and after the season.

The Eagles cut loose some of their high-priced talent and went into the 1940–41 season with Buddy leading a club that co-starred 6-6 Ed Sadowski, one of the first truly mobile big men in the pros. The abolition of the center jump meant that the old toothpick-thin centers were almost worthless. Some critics claimed after the rule changed that basketball would never be a tall man’s game. But the coming of coordinated brutes like Sadowski seemed to suggest otherwise. Under coach Dutch Dehnert—a legendary member of the Original Celtics—the rebuilt Eagles finished 12–12. This was good enough for fourth place and a playoff berth, but Detroit fell in three games again, this time to the Sheboygan Redskins.

Lou Boudreau,
1947 Sports Illustrated

The season was hardly a total loss. Afterwards, the Eagles were invited to compete in the World Professional Basketball Tournament in Chicago. They beat the Indianapolis Kautskys, 58–43, and then edged the Harlem Globetrotters, 37–36, in a wild quarterfinal game. The Eagles scored another one-point victory over an African-American club, the New York Rens, to reach the finals. There they met the Oshkosh All-Stars, the NBL’s Western champions, who had lost to Akron in the league finals.

Buddy was masterful against the All-Stars, setting up his teammates for easy buckets. When Oshkosh tried to close in around Sadowski, Buddy put the ball in the hands of fellow guard Jake Ahearn and forward Bob Calihan. When Oshkosh laid off Buddy, he drove down their throats, scoring three baskets and adding a pair of free throws for a total of eight points. The Eagles won 39–37. It was a major surprise to basketball insiders, who had underestimated Buddy’s astute floor leadership. No one could argue when he was named the tournament’s MVP.

The Eagles decided to capitalize on their celebrity by pulling out of the NBL and becoming strictly a barnstorming team. They entered 1941–42 minus Sadowski, who signed with an ABL team, but they managed to keep their other key players, including guard Jerry Bush, who had joined them for the Chicago tournament the previous spring.

The Eagles picked an unfortunate time to hit the road. Early in the season, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and suddenly basketball was about the farthest thing from people’s minds. Detroit was fortunate to have Buddy as a drawing card. The Eagles played plenty of games against their former NBL foes and met them again in Chicago at the end of the season for the World Tournament. Detroit defeated the Toledo White Huts, a squad from the Aberdeen Army Ordnance Camp and  the Long Island Grumman Flyers to reach the finals. The Eagles met the All-Stars again. This time Oshkosh prevailed 43–41. Buddy led the Eagles with 14 points and was one of the best players on the floor throughout the tournament.

Buddy stayed with the Eagles in 1942–43, taking a wartime industry job instead of joining the military. Star athletes like Buddy rarely saw action when they enlisted. They were snapped up by training camps as physical fitness instructors and pressed into service for the base sports teams. If he was going to be playing basketball, Buddy wanted to get paid for it—and also contribute to the war effort in a more tangible way.

Late in the season, the Sheboygan Redskins contacted Buddy and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They signed him for the final four games of the regular season and for as far as he could take them in the playoffs. The Redskins were essentially a .500 team, with a solid front line of Eddie Dancker, Rube Lautenschlager and Ken Buheler. Buddy would have to fill the shoes of Buehler, who was drafted and had to report for duty before the postseason began.

The Redskins beat Oshkosh, an opponent very familiar to Buddy, in the opening round to earn a berth in the finals against the Ft. Wayne Pistons. The Pistons had the better team on paper—Bobby McDermott was the greatest shooter in the pro game, while Buddy’s old teammates Jake Pelkington and Jerry Bush were key contributors to the Ft. Wayne cause.

The Redskins ambushed the Pistons on their home court in the opener of the best-of-three series, 55–50. In Game 2 in Sheboygan, Buddy made a long shot to tie the score at the buzzer, but Ft. Wayne prevailed in overtime, 50-45 to regain homecourt advantage.

Back in Ft. Wayne for the finale, the Pistons eked out a one-point lead in a fierce defensive battle. With the Redskins trailing 28–27 in the final seconds, Buddy got the ball and raced upcourt. All of his teammates were covered except for Dancker, who was standing 25 feet from the hoop. Buddy passed him the ball and then expected either a return pass or that Dancker would find an open man. Instead Dancker waited until there was just a single tick on the clock and heaved a hook shot toward the rim. The noisy arena fell quiet as the ball floated through the air—and banked right into the basket! It was the first (and last) time in history a pro championship was won on the final shot. The Pistons, sitting on the bench just inches away from the gangly Dancker, later told Buddy that his teammate never even looked at the basket. Despite Dancker’s historic shot, Buddy was named the MVP of the finals.

Buddy Jeanneatte,
Basketball Hall of Fame photo

During his time away from the league—and his triumphant return—Buddy had distinguished himself as the game’s most accomplished guard. That made him a prime target for Fred Zollner, whose Pistons were the class of organized ball despite losing to Sheboygan the previous spring. Zollner was convinced that Buddy was the missing piece to his team’schampionship puzzle.

And Zollner was correct. Buddy teamed with the sharp-shooting McDermott to form what was, at the time, probably the most formidable backcourt in the history of pro hoops. The Pistons tore through the 22-game NBL schedule—the league by this time had contracted to four teams—with an 18–4 record and demolished countless teams in exhibition games that winter. They beat the Cleveland Chase Brass club in the opening round of the playoffs and then swept the Redskins in the finals. The only close game was the first one, which was won by McDermott with a long two-handed set shot as time ran out.

After the finals, all four NBL teams moved to Chicago for a crack at the World Tournament. The Pistons were without Buddy’s services for this competition. He hated to miss games, even with busted ribs and a fractured toe. But he felt the club could win without him, and he was right. As it turned out, the Pistons hardly missed him.

After a first-round bye, Ft. Wayne beat the Dayton Aviators and the Rens in succession to reach the finals. There the Pistons faced the formidable Brooklyn Eagles, who were led by a high-scoring forward named Bob Tough and Buddy’s old teammate Bernie Opper. Brooklyn’s center was an angular young man who would go on to play baseball for the Chicago Cubs, smash the NBA’s first basket with the Boston Celtics, and become TV’s "Rifleman." His name was Chuck Connors. The firepower belonged to the Pistons, however, as a crowd of more than 14,000 at Chicago Stadium watched them dismantle the Eagles, 50–33.

As the owner of a factory that made pistons for military aircraft, Zollner was making buckets of money during the war. He could afford to pay his players well and keep them together, while also giving them defense-plant jobs that exempted them from service. The Pistons showed they were worth every penny in 1944–45, winning 16 of their 17 games and making a shambles of the NBL’s re-formed Eastern Division. Buddy was named the NBL’s MVP at the end of the year.

Ft. Wayne finished 25–5 and once again crushed Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs. The Redskins proved more troublesome in the finals. They won the first two games of the best-of-five series, but the Pistons fought back to take the next three. Their secret weapon was Ed Sadowski, who had returned from the service just in time to energize Ft. Wayne on its playoff quest.

Once again, the Pistons were the favorites in the World Tournament. They received another first-round bye, after which they cruised past their old nemesis Oshkosh, 63–52. Buddy was on fire throughout the tournament. He led Ft. Wayne to a 68–45 romp over the Rens in the semifinals. In the championship game, Buddy was in control again, scoring 18 to lead the Pistons over the Dayton Acmes, 78–52. For the second time, Buddy was named the top player in the tournament.

Bobby McDermott postcard

Thanks to charismatic stars like Buddy, pro basketball was beginning to find purchase in the hearts of American sports fans. In November of 1945, more than 23,000 fans paid to se the Pistons play a team of college all-stars. They were eager to watch the sport’s super team—a club with so much talent that two top players, Herm Schafer and Jake Pelkington, started most games on the bench.

The Pistons won the NBL’s Eastern crown again in 1945–46 with an eight-man rotation averaging more than 30-years-old, which was absolutely ancient by the standards of the day. Buddy was the baby at 28. Experience got the Pistons through the regular season, but they looked creaky in the playoffs against the league’s newest team, the Rochester Royals. Ft. Wayne won the opener but then lost three straight. The Pistons were run ragged by the Royals’ little men—Cervi, Bob Davies and Red Holzman.

Even so, it was the big man who would soon be making guards like Buddy obsolete. And he knew it. Buddy was an extraordinary leaper and rebounder for a man his size, but as forwards and centers grew strong and more agile, he realized that his rebounding days would soon be over. His effectiveness as a penetrating guard would also be diminished. To stay in the game he loved, Buddy would have to count on his fertile mind more and more and his body less and less.

So it came to pass that Buddy accepted a lucrative job as player-coach with the Baltimore Bullets of the American Basketball League in 1946–47. The ABL had operated as a rival to the NBL for many years. Whereas the NBL’s teams tended to be located in the upper Midwest, the ABL stationed franchises along the East Coast in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Buddy received a handsome salary to keep him away from the newly formed Basketball Association of America. The BAA, forerunner of the NBA,  had established franchises in the big arenas of several major cities but was desperately thin on talent. Buddy would have been a huge drawing card for the fledgling league.

As a player-coach, Buddy gave the Bullets exactly what they paid for. He was the best player in the league and a superb coach. His background as a teacher came in handy with the Baltimore players, as he tried to impart to them all he had learned in his years as a championship-caliber pro. Basketball back then was play-oriented. With no shot clock, teams had a limitless amount of time to dart around the court, setting picks and screens to create layups or open shots from the floor. Buddy gave the Bullets a new playbook and led them to a 12–13 record. In the best-of-five ABL championship, Baltimore defeated the Philadelphia Sphas in four games.

The BAA got Buddy in 1947–48, when the Bullets joined the league. Four of the original 11 clubs went belly-up over the summer, and commissioner Maurice Podoloff went searching for viable replacements. The Bullets were the only takers, giving the BAA an eight-team league in its second season. The BAA used its big arenas to convince several college stars and some NBL players to join their cause. Players from the disbanded teams also helped the quality of play.

The Bullets were slotted into the BAA’s Western Division with the St. Louis Bombers, Chicago Stags, and Washington Capitols. While the league featured a more wide-open style of play, Buddy had the Bullets continue to run a tight, ball-control offense. The result was a lot of low-scoring victories. At season’s end, Buddy had the league’s top shooting percentage. He probably played more minutes than he had originally intended, partly because the team needed him but also because many floors in the BAA were laid directly on top of hockey rinks in the days before insulation was clearly understood. Buddy preferred to go 48 minutes than sit on the bench and shiver.

The four-team BAA West featured the closest race in the history of team sports. One win separated the division top to bottom, with St. Louis going 29–19 and the remaining teams winning 28 games. The Bullets probably would have won but for a leg injury to their star rookie, Paul Hoffman. To untangle the mess, the Bullets played the Stags, who were the winners of a playoff game against the Caps. Baltimore won 75–72 in Chicago to claim second place. With the West sorted out, the playoffs began.

Jake Pelkington,
Basketball Illustrated

Buddy’s Bullets hosted the New York Knicks in Game 1 of a best-of-three series. They won 85–81, lost Game 2 by a point at Madison Square Garden, and then took the series with an 84-77 victory back in Baltimore. Next up were the Stags, who the Bullets beat again in Chicago and then finished off at home. Buddy was really clicking with Connie Simmons, whom the team had acquired in a late-season trade with the Celtics. The two would have to bring their A-games to the BAA finals, which were slated to be a seven-game affair.

The Bullets faced the defending champs, the Philadelphia Warriors, who were led by the league’s top scorer, Jumping Joe Fulks. At first, it looked as if the series would barely last four games. The Warriors destroyed the Bullets in Game 1 by 11 points. In Game 2, Buddy and his teammates found themselves floundering 41–20 at the half. In these situations, a player can only do so much to turn his team around. A coach can’t do much more. But a player-coach is uniquely positioned to direct the action in desperate times, and Buddy did just that. In a miraculous comeback for the pre-shot clock era, he led the Bullets to a 66–63 triumph.

The Warriors were a different team when they took the floor for Game 3 in Baltimore. Philadelphia folded in the final minutes, and the Bullets won 72–70. Baltimore closed out the Warriors in the fourth quarter of Game 4, too, winning 78–75. Philadelphia rebounded to win Game 5 but succumbed to the smart, highly disciplined Bullets when the teams returned to Baltimore.

Buddy had already made a name for himself as a dynamic, game-changing player. As a coach, however, he had determined that a dull, workmanlike approach would give his team a chance to beat the flashy Philadelphians. The 1948 Finals weren’t much to watch, but the series cemented Buddy’s reputation as a clever and resourceful basketball mind. He also went in the books as the first to win a pro hoops championship as a player-coach.

Buddy spent the next two seasons more as a coach and less as a player. In 1948–49, he split time at guard with Chick Reiser, and the Bullets failed to defend their title, falling to the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. The following season saw the BAA absorb the NBL to form a chaotic 17-team league that was rechristened the National Basketball Association. Buddy injured his knee and saw action in slightly more than half of Baltimore’s 68 games. The Bullets finished well off the pace with a 25–43 record.

At 32, it was time for Buddy to hang up his sneaks. He coached the Bullets to a 14–23 record in 1950–51 before he was let go and replaced at the helm by Walt Budko, the team’s young forward.

In 1952, Georgetown University reached out to Buddy to coach its basketball team. He had an immediate impact, leading the Hoyas to their first-ever NIT Tournament bid in 1952–53. Buddy, however, was unable to build on this success over the next three years. Injuries or academic problems kept key players off the court each season. He resigned after the 1955–56 campaign with a 49–49 record.

Buddy was out of basketball briefly before being hired by Baltimore’s franchise in the Eastern Basketball League in 1959.  He coached that club for two seasons while pursuing other business interests in the area. In 1964, a year after the NBA’s Chicago Zephyrs moved to Baltimore and became the Bullets, Buddy was hired to coach the club and give the team a local connection.

Connie Simmons, 1948 Bowman

The Bullets made a marvelous trade over the summer to acquire guard Don Ohl and forward Bailey Howell from the Detroit Pistons. They joined a trio of emerging stars— Gus Johnson, Walt Bellamy and Kevin Loughery—to give Baltimore an explosive starting five. Buddy guided the club to a third-place finish in the Western Division and a franchise-first playoff berth.

The second-place St. Louis Hawks had their eye on the division-winning Los Angeles Lakers, who they figured to meet in the second round to decide who would go to the NBA Finals. The Hawks simply assumed they would dispose of the Bullets. This was the kind of series Buddy relished. He gave his young stars a plan of attack, and they executed it to perfection. Baltimore won the best-of-five series in four games.

Next up were the Lakers, who were led by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. The series looked lopsided for about five minutes. Then Baylor injured his knee, and suddenly Los Angeles looked beatable. The Lakers were able to regroup and win the first two games. Buddy made some adjustments, and the Bullets took two of the next three. But West was simply too much for the Bullets. He shot his club to victory in Game 6 to advance. The loss was an agonizing one for Baltimore fans, who had visions of a championship series against the Celtics. The Bullets lost their four games by a total of 13 points.

After the season, the Bullets were purchased by Abe Pollin, Earl Foreman and Arnie Heft. They promoted Buddy to GM and hired Paul Seymour as coach. When Johnson’s knees started to give out, the team had a hole to plug. Buddy took this opportunity to trade Bellamy to the Knicks for three role players. Bellamy had all the talent in the world, but his mind often seemed to be elsewhere. Two previous coaches, Jack McMahon and Slick Leonard, had benched and fined Bellamy with no response. He had driven Buddy crazy, and now Seymour was complaining. When the deal was done, Seymour wondered who should tell "Bells" that he had a new address.

“This one’s mine,” Buddy grinned. “I claim the privilege!”

Buddy stayed with the Bullets for several years and helped them build a tremendous team. Though he was thought of as an old-school player, he always understood that the game was evolving, and he had a keen eye for players on the leading edge. In 1967, he was instrumental in getting the club to draft Earl Monroe. Buddy actually drove the Pearl to the draft and lent him his sports jacket for the post-draft photo session.

Buddy left the Bullets and was soon snapped up by the Pittsburgh Pipers of the American Basketball Association. Within a few months, he appointed himself coach—probably because there was no money to hire a replacement to John Clark, whom he had fired after a sluggish start to the 1969–70 season.

Buddy’s wife was surprised he took the job. As a player, Buddy was respected as cool and level-headed in the most stressful circumstances. But as a coach, he found that the officials got under his skin in ways an opponent or teammate never could. Bonnie also knew that Buddy was appalled at the team’s lack of fundamentals and discipline. The Pipers were giving up nearly 120 points a game.

The main offender was John Brisker, a gifted 22-year-old forward who spent a lot of time thinking about offense, no time thinking about defense, and had a special talent for making enemies. So reviled was Brisker by opponents that one team actually placed a bounty on his head—$500 to the guy who knocked him out of the game. There were no takers. Brisker was known to carry a gun.

In the loony-bin atmosphere of the early ABA, Buddy’s tolerance for lousy officiating all but vanished, and he lost it on the sidelines several times. Once he nailed a ref in the head with the ball. Another time he made like the Incredible Hulk and flipped his entire bench backwards—with all the players on it. Despite his occasional histrionics, Buddy had no better luck with the Pipers than Clark, finishing out the year with a 15–30 record. The following season the team changed its names to Condors. By then, Buddy had flown the coop.

He was through with pro basketball.

Gus Johnson,
Black Book Partners archives

At his criminally overdue Hall of Fame induction in 1994, Buddy regaled the crowd with stories from pro basketball’s Stone Age. He also reminded those in attendance what it meant to be a playmaker, admitting that he never scored more than 25 points in a game in his entire life. That has to be a record for Hall of Famers.

Buddy suffered a stroke in early 1998 and slipped into a coma. He never regained consciousness. Buddy passed away at his home in Nashua, New Hampshire on March 11. He was survived by Bonnie, his wife of 60 years, and their daughter Toni.

Buddy was once asked which game made him proudest. With so many highlights to choose from, he responded that every game made him proud—and that he never had a bad game. His combination of skill, confidence and ego was still evident when he said that, during his era, “Nobody was as good as me.”

Jake Embry, who owned the Bullets in their first incarnation, said that of all the pro athletes he’d encountered, Buddy was the finest competitor of them all, stating that he “could always find a way to win.”

“Buddy was the guy who could beat you when the game counted,” agreed Red Holzman.

Red Auerbach, who played and coached against Buddy going back to the 1930s, summed up his friend and opponent best: “He knew the game. He knew it as a player and as a coach. He was a guy you always wanted on your team. Buddy was a team player all the way. A hell of a talent.”

Buddy Jeannette card


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