Oh, they were outraged.
Back in 1959, the old Wilkes-Barre Barons basketball team traded away Larry Hennessey, who was an Eastern League player of the year, the league’s scoring champion and led the Barons to the Eastern League championship during the previous season.
And basketball fans around the Wyoming Valley voiced their frustrations with fury.
This is the kind of loyalty Hennessey inspired, with his play and with his infectious personality.
Hennessey, whose illustrious basketball career included a stint of local stardom with the Barons, passed away recently in Williamsburg, Va., at the age of 79.
But area fans who had the privilege of cheering while he played for the Barons are sure to remember his feats.
Hennessey once scored 63 points in a 120-108 victory over the Wilmington Jets at the West Side Armory in 1958, setting a Eastern League record for regulation play. The mark fell just three shy of the league’s overall record of 66 points – accomplished by Easton’s Hal “King” Lear in a four-overtime game in 1957.
Hennessey scored 841 points while averaging 32.3 per game in 1958, capturing the league scoring title with a 49-point performance on the final day of the season to end Wilkes-Barre’s long drought without a scoring champ. Behind Hennessey, the Barons also blazed to the Eastern Conference crown that season.
But the next season, “Red” Wallace replaced Eddie White as Wilkes-Barre’s head coach and brought a new system with him. Hennessey apparently didn’t fit into it.
His playing time dwindled, and he was finally placed on the inactive list – which upset many Barons fans, judging by letters published in the old Wilkes-Barre Record and Times Leader Evening News.
Hennessey didn’t take the demotion sitting down. After filing a grievance with the league over being placed on the inactive list, Hennessey forced a trade that took him from Wilkes-Barre to Allentown.
That’s the kind of fight that made him a basketball success story.
Hennessey scored 1,737 points and was an All-American during his college career at Villanova University before graduating in 1953.
He finished 11th on the school’s all-time scoring list and had his No. 14 jersey retired after averaging 23.2 points in 75 games.
Villanova coach Jay Wright issued a statement expressing sadness over Hennessey’s passing on behalf of the Wildcat program.
Hennessey went on to play two NBA seasons for the Philadelphia Warriors and was a member of their 1955-56 championship team.
After leaving Wilkes-Barre, Hennessey coached an Eastern League team in Asbury Park, and guided high school and community college programs.