The National Hellenic Invitational Basketball Tournament or NHIBT, formerly known also as the “Londos Invitational” is the longest running ethnic basketball tournament in the country. In 1931, twelve teams from Chicago and the surrounding states competed at the DePaul University gymnasium in a single elimination event over two days. The Centaurs, coached by one of the founders of the NHIBT, Philip J. Collias won the inaugural tournament, followed by two other Chicago teams, Ypsilanti and Lord Byron.
The first out of town team to capture the Londos Trophy was the Akron, Ohio squad called the Goodfellows, winning the tournament in 1939 and 1942, with a starting front court all over 6’4″. In search of a permanent location the venue for the NHIBT moved from DePaul University to the University of Chicago to Loyola University to the gymnasium at Lane Tech High School.
During WWII, between 1943-1946, the tournament was suspended for four years and resumed in 1947 when 1000’s of Greek Americans returned home from the Armed Services. Led by University of Detroit star, George Fefles, and Loyola University’s All-America Nick Kladis, the quintet from Ypsilanti seized a hold of the Londos Trophy 11 years out of 14. The first serious rivalry in the NHIBT was created as the Akron, Ohio squad came up short to Ypsilanti in four straight Championship games through 1950 and two more times up to 1954.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s the road to the Championship was a grueling one. The two day tourney featured half the games on Saturday night and the rest of the opening round on Sunday morning. It became a feat of skill and endurance to win all four games and claim the 1 st Place Trophy.
The Queen Coronation and Reception was an exciting highlight of the NHIBT weekend. It was introduced in 1947 and held at the Aragon Ballroom or at the Knickerbocker Ballroom. This dance was in honor of the participating Hellenic teams. On Sunday evening, the Queen was presented with her prize at Cicero Stadium.
Cicero Stadium was the Madison Square Garden for Hellenic basketball in the USA and had the honor of hosting the NHIBT from the late 1940’s through1998. Part of the magic of Cicero Stadium was in the way it said welcome as you entered its glass doors on Laramie Avenue. The sounds of gym shoes squeaking, the gym floor pounding and the sight of the stairs leading up to the gym meant the excitement of an NHIBT weekend.
The first 20 years of the tournament were referred to as the glory years of the NHIBT. Upward of 1000 fans each night was the norm with the Men’s Semifinal game on Sunday. Fans stayed from morning to late evening watching thrilling High School and Men’s games followed by a rousing awards presentation to the Champions and 2nd Place Finalists. Teams and fans would meet on the court as the lights were slowly being turned off to relive the intoxicating weekend knowing all too well they would have to wait another 12 long months before new memories could be cherished.
In the 1960’s the explosion of out of town teams solidified the NHIBT as the finest
National Amateur Basketball Tournament in the land. Teams from Minneapolis,
Milwaukee, Detroit, Flint, East Chicago, and others enjoyed competing in the NHIBT from the 1950’s. Now with a New York squad’s presence in 1964, eight years after winning the tourney in 1956, followed by the entrance of Peabody, Boston, Cleveland, and Brooklyn, the NHIBT had such a strong field that the quarter final games were as hotly contested as the finals on Sunday. This was evidenced in a Saturday evening quarter final game in 1972 between Peabody, Mass. led by the Hall of Famer John Galaris and the Brooklyn squad starring the tough Leondis brothers who eventually won the tournament.
The Jim Londos Permanent Trophy is the coveted “Stanley Cup” of Hellenic basketball. This cup was donated by Jim Londos, former heavyweight champion wrestler, primarily to foster the spirit of athletic fellowship among Hellenic Americans in the United States. This trophy stands as a symbol of the highest achievement that can be attained in the realm of National Greek competition, and is a permanent award remaining within the tournament. Each year the National Champions are honored by having the team name inscribed on the silver band for having attained this goal. The Jim Londos Permanent Trophy is currently on display at the National Hellenic Museum in Greektown, Chicago.
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