Call him professional basketball’s ‘Forgotten Man.’ but as of today, he’s remembered … One day soon, perhaps, Basketball’s Shrine will honor him, too.
Leo Ferris’ meteoric pro basketball career was short-lived, but these truths remain self-evident:
He’ll always be regarded as a co-founder of the National Basketball Association … a creative marketing man who did the math and peddled Syracuse Nats’ owner Danny Biasone’s idea that led to a 24-second clock, saving the NBA.
Leo was a schoolboy hoop star in Elmira who — after his military stint — ran an advertising firm with Ben Kerner. As General Manager of the National Basketball League’s Buffalo Bisons, he was a pioneer signing African-American players. He and partner Kerner moved the team to Moline, Illinois - this franchise later moved to Milwaukee, and then St. Louis and is today’s Atlanta Hawks.
As NBL President, still in his 20’s, Ferris signed Kentucky’s NCAA champion ‘Fabulous 5’ to contracts, basically giving the league a new Indianapolis franchise. That keyed a merger with the rival, more-established BAA, resulting in formation of the NBA on August 3, 1949.
Leo came to Syracuse as the Nats’ GM, raising money to save the franchise and building a fast break team in need of a shot clock. Biasone wanted to eliminate the boredom of time during which a team with a lead froze the ball. Leo was also instrumental in signing Dolph Schayes to a contract that brought the basketball legend to Syracuse to play for the Nationals.
Math-loving Ferris, sitting at Biasone’s Eastwood Bowling Center, wrote on a napkin the seconds in a 48-minute game (2,880), dividing that by average shots in a game (120). Quick as you say Dolph Schayes, Ferris was presenting ‘The Clock’ at the NBA Rules Committee meeting. In the first year of ‘The Clock,’ NBA scoring increased by 13.6 points per game.
During the Nats’ Championship Season, a disagreement caused Leo to suddenly leave the team, and never return. It was 1955, he was 38 years old, a 9-year pro basketball career behind him.
He became a successful realtor here in Syracuse, fought a 25-year battle with Huntington’s chorea and died in 1993 at 76. Wife Beverly, who passed away in 2010, tried to keep her husband’s basketball name alive. Then daughter Jamie did so, until she died of Huntington’s in 2014. Now, Leo’s great-nephew, Christian Figueroa, is the one seeking Leo’s enshrinement in Springfield.
He’s been twice nominated, not yet elected.
Forgotten no more, Leo Ferris becomes a member of the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 2017.