Anthony Lavelli, Jr. (July 11, 1926 – January 8, 1998) was an American Basketball player and musician. He averaged 6.9 points per game during his two year NBA career (1949-1951) while also providing Half-time entertainment with his Accordion performances.
A native of Somerville, Massachusetts, Lavelli attended Yale University as a music student and aspired to compose musical comedies after he graduated. He wrote over a dozen songs while in college, with titles like “I Want a Helicopter” and “You’re the Boppiest Bee-Bop”, and he also appeared as an accordion soloist for the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. As a senior, he applied to the Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the New England Conservatory of Music.
However, Lavelli’s musical talents were often overshadowed by his achievements on the basketball court. Lavelli claimed that he had only learned basketball as a teenager to impress his friends, who were mostly apathetic to his music . Nevertheless, he would become one of Yale's all-time greatest players. A 6’3” Forward (basketball) with an accurate one-handed Hook shot, he scored 1,964 points in four years and graduated as the fourth highest-scorer in college basketball history. He also earned four All-American team selections and one Player of the Year award during his college career. Upon graduating, he was selected as the first overall pick of the Boston Celtics in the 1949 NBA Draft .
Despite his athletic accomplishments, Lavelli’s first love was music, and he initially refused to sign with the Celtics so that he could enroll at Juilliard . Eventually, however, he proposed to join the team on the condition that they would pay him an extra $125 per game to play his accordion during half-time breaks at Boston Garden and certain visitors' arenas . The Celtics conceded to his demands.
Lavelli made his Celtics debut on November 24, 1949 in a game against the Fort Wayne Pistons. He tallied 20 points in his first game, and would average 8.8 points per game over the course of the 1949-50 NBA season. However, he received much more attention for his half-time accordion performances; indeed, some basketball historians have credited Lavelli's mini-concerts for saving the early Celtics franchise, which was in danger of folding due to lack of fans and money. In a typical performance, Lavelli would greet the fans and play “Granada (song),” “Lady of Spain,” and other musical pieces before dashing off to the Celtics' locker room. He usually played in his basketball jersey, as he had little time to change his clothes. The Celtics unfortunately finished last in their division that season, but one newspaper joked that the team "doubtless [found] his music soothing" .
Lavelli signed with the rival New York Knicks prior to the start of the 1950-51 NBA season. He averaged 3.3 points per game with the Knicks and participated in their playoff run, which ended in the 1951 NBA Finals at the hands of the Rochester Royals. However, Lavelli had joined the Knicks specifically so that he would be close to Juilliard, and he finally began taking courses there during his tenure with the team .
During the mid-1950s, Lavelli played with the College All-Stars, who primarily served as opponents to the Harlem Globetrotters, and his accordion performances became a fixture of the Globetrotters’ halftime shows .
After retiring from basketball in the late 1950s, Lavelli embarked on a long career as a songwriter and nightclub performer. He released two records during his life: All-American Accordionist and Accordion Classics. In 1998, he suffered a heart attack at his home in Laconia, New Hampshire and died shortly afterwards . .
- Lavelli was a member of the Yale-based secret society Skull and Bones .
- Lavelli twice appeared on the television program Toast of the Town, which was later renamed The Ed Sullivan Show .
- Lavelli’s cousin, Dante Lavelli, played for the Cleveland Browns in the 1940s and 1950s and was later inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame .
- Career statistics at databasebasketball.com
- Profile at IMDb
- "Tony Lavelli solos with New Haven Symphony", 1949 article from Accordion World (includes picture of Lavelli).
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