Legendary Northampton basketball lands in Hall of Fame

  • George Symborski, right, hands the basketball celebrating his YMCA basketball team’s 1954 championship win to Matt Zeysing, curator at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. The basketball is now part of the Hall’s collection. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The 1954 Northampton-based YMCA championship basketball team. Members include, top row, from left, Don Cadette, Ed Musina, George Symborski, Jack Herrick, Gene McCarthy and Mike Lyons. Bottom row, from left, Al Wong, Tom Walsh, Jim Keating, Steve Zabawa and Joe Usaforest. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Joe Usaforest holds the ball with his and his 1954 teammates’ names painted on it in December 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • George Symborski and Joe Usaforest hold a basketball that the two got as a trophy in 1954 after being on a team at the YMCA that won the championship game that year. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/1/2021 1:01:53 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A basketball steeped in local lore has been accepted as a donation by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

“It’s in their possession now,” said George Symborski, 84, of Southampton. “The ball is in the Hall of Fame.”

Symborski is one of the surviving members of a legendary Northampton-based YMCA basketball team, which won a YMCA championship in 1954.

Symborski said that after the team won, the Northampton YMCA’s weightlifters learned that they hadn’t received a trophy for their accomplishment. The weightlifters then proceeded to paint a basketball silver and presented it to the teammates.

“That meant a lot to us,” he recalled.

The teammates then each painted their names on the ball, which has more of a golden hue currently due to the passage of time.

For years, the ball resided at Joe’s Cafe on Market Street in Northampton, before it disappeared in the late 1950s. It was then rediscovered in Joe’s basement in 1986, only to be lost again years later. Finally, in 2019, Joe’s owner Meaghan Sullivan located the legendary ball once more.

Following the ball’s most recent discovery, Symborski began an ultimately successful campaign to get it accepted into the Hall of Fame.

“George is great,” said Matt Zeysing, curator at the Hall, who went on to describe Symborski as a character in the “absolute best sense of the word.”

Zeysing said that the ball was accepted by the Hall of Fame in October, as part of an effort to collect local basketball stories and artifacts.

“We don’t currently have specific plans for it,” said Zeysing, although he did say that the Hall is looking to highlight local basketball stories in the future.

The ball is not currently on display, although Zeysing noted that the Hall of Fame has about 100,000 objects in its collection, with only about 1,000 currently on display.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame holds artifacts from the likes of Michael Jordan and George Mikan, Symborski’s favorite player whose number 99 he wore on the YMCA team.

Asked how it feels for the team’s ball to be in the Hall of Fame, Symborski said, “It’s a big achievement for us.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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