Born: April 11, 1914
Died: August 25, 1971
US Tires (Midwest Basketball Conference)
Indianapolis Kautskys (Midwest Basketball Conference)
Oshkosh All Stars (NBL): 1937 – 1949
Some people called him “Cowboy”, others called him “Lefty”. But it is rather shameful he can’t be called “Hall of Famer”. It’s a designation that hasn’t been bestowed to him by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but it’s one he deserves from them and any other basketball institution.
Given his tremendous importance, I can’t pretend to write everything there is to know about Edwards – Big Blue History does an admirable job – but here we go…
Edwards hailed from Indianapolis but briefly played college ball at the University of Kentucky. The 6’5″ center was stronger and more athletic than most of his contemporaries and had a dreadnought hook shot with either hand. His one year of varsity ball was so dominating that the NCAA instituted the three-second rule for offensive players in the key.
But Edwards did indeed play just that one varsity year with the Wildcats. He left college ball in 1935 to get a paycheck from professional teams. During 1935, ’36, and ’37, Edwards returned home to Indianapolis playing for U.S. Tires and the Indianapolis Kautskys, both members of the Midwest Basketball Conference. In 1937, the league reorganized itself as the National Basketball League (NBL) and Edwards headed north to the Oshkosh All-Stars where he’d perform his greatest work.
When he got his big frame moving, Edwards was often described as a Mack Truck barreling to the basket. Based on this description by the Wisconsin State Journal in 1937, after an exhibition game against the New York Rens, it’s hard to disagree:
“That Smith sure was riding me,” [Edwards] observed. “I had to sort of halfback my way into the basket.”
Well, Edwards is big enough and tough enough to “halfback” his way in if occasion demands, but he also is nifty and clever enough to gain the same end by finesse if the opposition abides by the rules.
In regular league play, Edwards sternly “halfbacked” to the NBL in scoring title in the 1937-38 season and did so again in the 1938-39 season… and again in the 1939-40 season. He was also named the inaugural MVP of the NBL in 1937-38 and was named MVP again in 1938-39… and again in 1939-40.
All three of those seasons the Oshkosh All-Stars made the NBL Finals, but were defeated each time. Not that Edwards was any less dominant in these series than he usually was. For example, in Game 1 of the 1938 Finals he dropped 13 of Oshkosh’s 28 points in a 29-28 loss to the Akron Wingfoots. In Game 2, Oshkosh won 39 to 31 thanks Edwards’ 16 points. But in the deciding Game 3, future teammate Charley Shipp flummoxed Edwards into just 9 points and Akron took the title.
Finally, in 1941, the All-Stars made up for their disappointments and took home the NBL title defeating the in-state rivals, Sheboygan Redskins. Edwards averaged a scintillating 14 points for the series – keep in mind that the average team score was 40 points that year. In 1942, the All-Stars repeated as NBL champs in perhaps the finest moment in Edwards’ great career.
In Game 1, he got into a scoring duel with the sharp-shooting Bob McDermott of the Fort Wayne Pistons. McDermott netted 20 points while Edwards mustered a game-high 22, but the Pistons wiped the floor with Oshkosh by a final score of 61 – 43. In Game 2, Edwards went bonkers destroying the Pistons by setting an NBL record of 35 points. The All-Stars walked away with a 68-60 win.
The decisive Game 3 saw Edwards score just a single point, but his huge impact was still felt. The Pistons, frightened he might uncork another monstrous 35-point game, double-teamed him constantly every time down the court and that opened up the avenues for his teammates to carve up Fort Wayne. To boot, defensive ace Charley Shipp, now on the side of the All-Stars, hounded McDermott into a miserable performance as Oshkosh prevailed 52 – 46.
Edwards would play with the All-Stars through 1949 and the team was always successful but would never again win, or appear, in another NBL Final. But Edwards kept on mack truckin’.
When George Mikan came onto the NBL scene in 1946, the now grizzled veteran Leroy Edwards gave him a lesson he’d never forget in how the pros were a lot rougher than the college ranks. In one of his final great games, the 32-year old Edwards scored 24 points on Mikan and left an indelible mark:
“The guy was about 6-foot-9 (sic), 280 pounds, arms like my thighs,” [Mikan] said of Edwards. “It was one of the first games I ever played and – bang – he hit me so hard, four teeth came flying out of my mouth and onto the floor. But you know something ? He was a helluva nice guy. Just tough is all.”
Sure Mikan grossly overestimated Lefty’s height (perhaps to ironically save face). After all, our memories do tend to exaggerate circumstances of the past. But memories usually get the essence of the story right. When it comes to Leroy Edwards the essential story is one of destructive offensive force, a pair of sharp elbows, three-time MVP, two-time champion, and unfortunately, one of pro basketball’s overlooked titans.
2x Champion (1941-’42)
3x MVP (1938-’40)
6x All-NBL 1st Team (1938-’42, 1945)
2x All-NBL 2nd Team (1943, 1946)
Regular Season Averages: 322 Games
10.0 PPG, 65.5% FT
3x PPG Leader (1938-’40)