Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Baldwyn's Basketball Rivals: The Celtics

By Larry Johnson

1936 was the middle of the depression and hard times were everywhere. My Dad got out of high school after being a star basketball player for the only high school (at that time) in San Diego, California. He briefly went to Southern Cal to play basketball, but there was not enough money to survive. Leaving there he went to work for a bank, with his job mostly being playing basketball in the bank league. Alas, the bank fails and he's at loose ends again.

He starts to travel with a California barnstorming pro team that would arrive at different towns to play the local all stars and get paid with a portion of the gate. For the next several years this is how he survived, playing all over the country with different teams. In later years he remarked that he had played basketball in every state in the union plus Canada and Mexico. Two of the teams that he played with relate to the rest of the story. "Olsen's Terrible Swedes" were well known throughout the country at that time, and from them he got his nickname of "Swede" Johnson. The Pasadena Majors, with whom he played for a short time, were very popular in the West and with them he met a fellow player from Baldwyn, Forrest Grisham.

So, sometime in 1936, through correspondence with Forrest Grisham, Dad found out that a new highway, US 45, was being built from Corinth south through Baldwyn, and that the Baldwyn Athletics needed him as a player. If he could come, a job with the construction company building the highway could be had.

So this is how I came into existence. He came, met my Mother, worked on the highway, and played for the Baldwyn Athletics. He came sometime in 1936, and I think the two clippings are from early 1937. At that time colleges played semi-pro teams and playing Ole Miss was special to the Athletics because B.E. (Country) Graham, in later years the Ole Miss coach, and at the time the leading scorer in the SEC, was from Baldwyn. He was held to 4 points as the A's won. Other Ole Miss players of note are "Buster" Poole and "Bruiser" Kinard. From the Baldwyn roster, the full names I recognize are Milton Steele, my dad, and Tom Gordon.

The other clipping just serves as evidence that, yes, the Celtics did come to Baldwyn and play in the original gym that was owned by the merchants of the town and later burned. (Remember that there were no organized professional leagues and the Celtics, though famous, were barnstormers too). The local Baldwyn Athletics was an economic force, drawing people in from all around transported by the myriad of yellow school buses.

Click on images to enlarge.


  1. Wonderful memorabilia, Larry. I have always heard about those teams and especially the NY Celtics coming in. Doc Vandiver used to talk about it. I can imagine Swede as an outstanding player but Forrest Grisham must have been a shooter as he didn't look the part.

  2. What a story, Larry... I too have heard something about it but this is the detail I guess we all didn't hear.
    I"ll bet that if you asked any Celtics player these days "where is Baldwyn and Water Valley, Miss." he would a dumb stare only!

  3. Where was the first gym? The one in the story? I only knew of the gym at the school that was built about 1949. That one is now gone.
    Did you know that the football field in 1945 was directly in front of and parrallel to the school building? It was moved to the south and had the visitor end near the highway then.
    Thanks for the Athletics story - very good!

  4. I heard the Celtic story as many times as earlier generations must have heard about Forrest and Sturgis coming through.

  5. I was told by a man who played with Forrest from Little Rock, Ark that Forrest invented the jump shot or perfected it one..He played with Forrest and said he was one heck of a ball player..


  6. My dad always liked football better than basketball. However, he told me that he went to see the Athletics play because of Swede and Forrest.

    He said that Forrest was the fastest and strongest shooter for his size anyone had ever seen. Swede was a towering hulk of tricks and deceptions, I believe he also said.

    Wish I could have seen some of those games. Thanks for the story and clippings, Larry. Good job.