At a ceremony held yesterday morning at the Arnot Mall, the Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame unveiled a new display dedicated to an Elmira native who was one of the founding fathers of the National Basketball Association ( NBA ).
Leo Ferris was born in Elmira on May 31, 1917. He was a star forward on the Elmira Catholic School basketball team. After high school and serving in the Army, he, along with partners Ben Kerner and B.W. Grafton founded the Buffalo Bisons franchise in the National Basketball League in 1946.
Ferris also integrated the game of basketball. In October 1946 he signed Leo “Pop Gates” to the Buffalo Bisons, about 7 months before Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers. “Pop Gates” and William “Dolly” King, also signed by Ferris, were the first 2 Black players in the National Basketball League.
Along with Danny Biasone, Ferris also created the 24 second clock, an innovation that completely changed the NBA. As president of the National Basketball League, Leo Ferris was the driving force behind the merger of the NBL and the rival Basketball Association of America that formed the NBA on Aug. 3, 1949.
Leo Ferris died in Syracuse on June 4, 1993 due to complications from Huntington’s Disease. He was inducted into the Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame two years ago. He was inducted in to the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass in 2016.
The unveiling was attended by family who traveled to the area for the event as well as Elmira Mayor Dan Mandell.