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Teams of the Past

Toronto Huskies. Vancouver Grizzlies. Edmonton Grads and much more

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The First Game
By Sam Goldaper

As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, the NBA is tipping off the 1996-97 season with the New York Knicks against the Toronto Raptors at Toronto's SkyDome. Toronto was

If you were taller than the tallest Husky (6-8),
you got in free!

also the site of the league's very first game on Nov. 1, 1946, with the Huskies hosting the New York Knickerbockers at Maple Leaf Gardens. The contest drew 7,090, a good crowd considering that virtually every youngster in Canada grew up playing hockey and basketball was hardly a well-known sport at the time.

Forget for now that the game the Knicks won that night, 68-66, bore little resemblance to the leaping, balletic version of today's NBA. That game was from a different era of low-scoring basketball, a time when hoops as a pro spectacle was just coming out of the dance halls. Players did not routinely double-pump or slam-dunk. The fact of the matter was that the players did not and could not jump very well. Nor was there a 24-second clock; teams had unlimited time to shoot. The jump shot was a radical notion, and those who took it defied the belief of many coaches that nothing but trouble occurred when a player left his feet for a shot.

The group of owners who met on June 6, 1946, at the Hotel Commodore in New York to talk about a league they would name the Basketball Association of America couldn't have imagined today's NBA. They were composed primarily of members of the Arena Association of America, men who controlled the arenas in the major United States cities. Their experience was with hockey, ice shows, circuses and rodeos. Except for Madison Square Garden's Ned Irish, who popularized college doubleheaders in the 1930s and 1940s, they had little feeling for the game of basketball.

But they were aware that with World War II having recently ended, the conversion to peacetime life meant many dollars were waiting to be spent on products and entertainment. They looked at the success of college basketball at Madison Square Garden and in cities like Philadelphia and Buffalo and felt a professional league, which could continue to display college stars whose reputations were just peaking when it was time to graduate, ought to succeed.

So, on that Thursday in June, 11 franchises were formed to compete in two divisions. The East consisted of the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia Warriors, Providence Steamrollers and Washington Capitols, as well as New York and Toronto. In the West were the Pittsburgh Ironmen, Chicago Stags, Detroit Falcons, St. Louis Bombers and Cleveland Rebels.

Each team paid a $10,000 franchise fee, the money going for league operating expenses including a salary for Maurice Podoloff, who like the arena owners who hired him was a hockey man first. Podoloff, a New Haven, CT lawyer who was President of the American Hockey League, agreed to also take on the duties of President of the new Basketball Association of America, which three seasons later, in a merger with the midwest-based National Basketball League, became the NBA.

With only five months to get ready for the targeted Nov. 1 season opener, the playing rules and style of operation were based as closely as possible on the successful college game. However, rather than play 40 minutes divided into two halves, the BAA game was eight minutes longer and played in four 12-minute quarters so as to bring an evening's entertainment up to the two-hour period owners felt the ticket buyers expected. Also, although zone defenses were permitted in college play, it was agreed during that first season that no zones be permitted, since they tended to slow the game down.

Geography figured heavily in the makeup of the 11 franchises. The Providence Steamrollers relied heavily on former Rhode Island College players, while Pittsburgh chose its squad from within a 100-mile radius of the Steel City. The Knick players came primarily from New York area colleges. Even Neil Cohalan, the first Knick coach, was plucked from Manhattan College. But all of Toronto's players were American, with the exception of Hank Biasatti, a forward, who was a native Canadian.
    Salaries were modest, mostly around $5,000 for the season. As a result, players had to rely on offseason jobs for supplemental income.

By today's standards, the first training camps were primitive, often a day-to-day proposition. The Warriors, for instance, shuttled between a number of Philadelphia-area gymnasiums, usually on the condition that they scrimmage the team whose home floor it was. This brought about the curious spectacle one afternoon of a BAA team playing against

A luxury was the Knicks' outdoor court at the Nevele Country Club, a Catskills resort in Ellenville, NY.

"The first two weeks we were at the Nevele by ourselves," remembered Sonny Hertzberg, the Knicks' first captain and a slick two-handed set-shooter. "The meals were great, but the coach wasn't satisfied. We did a lot of road work and were in great condition but Cohalan didn't like the way we were progressing.

"Looking back, I'm still thrilled that I was at that first training camp and that I signed with the Knicks. I wanted to play in New York. It was a new major league. It was a game of speed with no 24-second clock when we played. I didn't know if it was going to be a full-time thing."

While the Knicks were getting ready for the opener, college basketball was still king in New York, where teams like CCNY, LIU and NYU were revered. It was not until the Knicks scrimmaged the collegians and the successes got some newspaper notoriety that they started to gain some respect before they left New York on Oct. 31 for the train ride to Toronto.

Picture the scene that cold autumn night when the Knicks had to stop for customs and immigration inspection at the Canadian border. The story goes that the customs inspector, noting the physiques of Knick players like Ozzie Schectman, Ralph Kaplowitz, Hertzberg, Nat Militzok and Tommy Byrnes, asked, "What are you?"

"We're the New York Knicks," said Cohalan, who did the talking for the team.

From the inspector's reaction, it was evident that he had never heard of the Knicks and probably not even of pro basketball. The notion was strengthened when he added: "We're familiar with the New York Rangers. Are you anything like that?"

Deflated but unyeilding, Cohalan replied, "They play hockey, we play basketball."

Before letting them through, the inspector added: "I don't imagine you'll find many people up this way who'll understand your game--or have an interest in it."

Little did he or the players know that the NBA would grow into a multi-million dollar business with 29 franchises, including two in Canada (although the Huskies folded after just one season).

With the Maple Leafs' image to contend with and only one Canadian player on its roster, Toronto tried hard to promote the game. They ran three-column newspaper ads bearing a photo of 6-8 George Nostrand, Toronto's tallest player, that asked, "Can You Top This?" Any fan taller than Nostrand would be granted free admission to the season opener; regular tickets were priced from 75 cents to $2.50.

"It was interesting playing before Canadians," recalled Hertzberg. "The fans really didn't understand the game at first. To them, a jump ball was like a face-off in hockey. But they started to catch on and seemed to like the action."

Schectman, who starred at LIU, scored the first basket of the game as the Knicks jumped to a 6-0 lead. New York led 16-12 at the quarter and widened the margin to 33-18 in the second period before Ed Sadowski, Toronto's 6-5, 240-pound player-coach, rallied his team to cut the gap to 37-29 at halftime. But Sadowski committed his fifth personal foul three minutes into the second half and the rule then, as it still is in the collegiate ranks, was that a player fouled out on five fouls. The NBA limit was not increased to six fouls until years later.

Nostrand replaced Sadowski and put the Huskies ahead for the first time 44-43, and they expanded the margin to 48-44 after three periods. The final quarter was ragged as well as rugged, but a pair of field goals by Dick Murphy and a free throw by Tommy Byrnes in the final 2 1/2 minutes provided the Knicks with the two-point victory. Sadowski, with 18 points, and New York's Leo Gottlieb, with 14, led their respective teams.

During that first regular season, the Washington Capitols, coached by Red Auerbach, ran away with the Eastern Division championship, finishing with a 49-11 record, 14 victories more than Philadelphia and 10 more than Chicago, the West leader. However, it was the Warriors, owned and coached by Eddie Gottlieb, who won the first championship, beating Chicago 4-1 in the best-of-7 title round.

Joe Fulks of Philadelphia was the league's first scoring champion with a 23.2 average, finishing far ahead of runner-up Bob Feerick, 16.8. Feerick, however, was the league's most accurate shooter, hitting .401 from the field--a far cry from the .576 mark which Cedric Ceballos posted to lead the league in 1992-93.



 A very important team in the early part of Womens Basketball History was a team called the Edmonton Grads. And it was by accident the this team was ever formed. In 1912 Percy Page arrived in Edmonton Alberta at the age of 25 and taught classes in the city high schools. He also coached a relatively new game, basketball. In 1914 he was put in charge of classes at a new school called McDougal Commerical High school. He continued coaching basketball as a physically good activity for the body (many, including Dr. James Naismith still had major concerns about the effects of tournament play, especially by girls and women). Page could only coach one of the team, either the boys or girls. He let his assistant choose which he preferred. Ernest Hyde then made the Babe Ruth trade of womens basketball in the early days. He chose to coach the boys, thus leaving the ladies with Percy. Coach Page's high school team was so successful they won the provincial championships and decided to stay together after graduation. Hence, The Edmonton Grads are now born. His team became so successful, he developed a 'farm team system" for girls still in high school.

While the Grads got some local attention, other then playing an occasional game from Camrose or Calgary, they attracted little outside attention. That was until 1922. The team above was invited to Play the London Shamrocks in the first East - West final. This presented a problem for the Grads. The London sponsors could only guarantee 600 dollars for travel expenses. Coach Page figured it would cost $1,000. Each girl contributed $25.00 of her own and some local merchants kicked in the rest. Only 6 girls could make the trip. The Shamrocks were the "World Champions". Not much was put into the Grads chances. They played one game with girls rules and one with boys rules. The Grads lost the first, but then overwhelmed London 41-8 in the second game. They quickly became a household word, similar to that of the New York Yankees of baseball in the U.S.

In 1923 a typewriter company (Underwood) came up with the idea of sponsoring an international competition for girls basketball. Hence the Underwood trophy series was born. This was the equivilant of the Stanley Cup. The first series had the Cleveland Favorite Knits playing the Grads in the Edmonton Arena. The Cleveland Favorite knits wore their form-fitting jerseys and short shorts with the words "World Champs stamped across them, against the long woollen stocking and billowing bloomers that the Grads wore. The Grads let their play speak for them and they whipped the Knits in 2 straight games.
Shown above is what to believe a watch fob that belonged to one of the members, maybe even the coach of the Favorite Knits. This team went 54-6 that year (it is a bit hard to read the back). From then on, the Grads were recognized as World Champs. During the next 17 years, the Grads would play in 120 games in the Underwood series. They would end up with a 114-6 record

Regarding John Molina's work...."It is one of the finest collections on women's basketball," said Michael Brooslin, museum curator at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. Hartford Courant May 20, 2002.

Shown above is the 1932 Grads team that would travel to Los Angeles Ca. Basketball was still considered an exhibition at the Olympics during this era, yet that didnt prevent the Grads from bringing teams with such captains as Winnie Martin (24 - Paris), Elsie Bennie (28 - Amsterdam), Margaret MacBurney (32 - Los Angeles), and Gladys Fry (36 - Berlin). During this span, the Grads would play 27 games in all. Their record was an amazing 27-0. They would outscore their opponents from other countries 1,863 to a mere 297 (for every 6 points the grads would score, their opposition would score 1. This would include beating Lille 61-1, Paris 109-20 and London 100-2. Even though this sport was still in an exhibition stage, countries would still send their best.

The Grads were so popular that actual merchandise items were made and sold. This includes a offical Grads record book and a Christmas postcard from 1935 (as shown above).

The Grads would go on to dominate up until 1940. Coach Page always remained in the background, but it was quite obvious, that while the ladies were the ones that took the court each time, his presence was a driving force. He always said they were to be "Ladies first, basketball players second". He did expect dedication as he would tell them "You must play basketball, think basketball and dream basketball". As the team became more successful the city gave the coach a brand new Chevrolet Coupe. Up until that point, he traveled by pedaling his bicycle around.

The Grads would end up playing the famous Des Moines A.I.B's for the Underwood Trophy (shown above in 1939). There were many famous AAU teams during this time and members from these AAU teams have gone on to the Womens basketball hof.

The AIB's would win the AAU championhip in 1942. However when they played the Grads in 1939 the famous ladies of Edmonton would sweep all 3 games against Des Moines by a total score of 171-78. This team was just that dominating. One of the All American Red Heads Purkey Mlaska would play on a Chicago team against the Grads before traveling the U.S. with "Ole" Olson.

The Grads disbanded in 1940. The Underwood series trophy would be retired and given to the Grads, in honor of their dominance over 2 decades of the series. Attendence had started dropping off a bit, as the Grads could not find good competition on a regular basis, and the only news they would generate was when they lost (sound familiar Geno and Pat?). World War II had begun and the Royal Canadian Air Force had taken over the Edmonton arena.

Some of the final stats for the grads: Leading all time scorer was Noel MacDonald with 1,874 points. Margaret MacBurney would play the longest with 12 years. The teams final record would be an outstanding 502-20 (Better then 96%). They would win a record 147 games in a row during one point that went across several seasons.

38 women would wear the Grads uniform. IN 1999, I heard 11 were still alive. As of the beginning of 2004 I think only 5-6 of this special historic team are still with us. Percy Page, who would end up in Politics in Canada, passed away in 1973. In the History of Womens Basketball this is one of the most amazing stories. I hope that someday Coach Page will end up in the Hall of Fame. If a whole team cannot be entered, at least Noel and probably Margaret MacBurney should go in with him.


Hoop dreams: The Windsor Ford V-8's and the Edmonton Grads

In this era of NBA Dream teams it's hard to believe that once Canada was an Olympic basketball power. In 1936, a hard-working team from Windsor, Ont. known as the Ford V-8's cruised through the competition at home and represented Canada at the Olympic Games in Berlin. Their silver is still the only medal Canada has ever won in men's basketball. As historic as the Ford V-8's performance was, the Olympic record of a women's basketball team was even more remarkable. The Edmonton Grads participated in four straight Games between 1924 and 1936, never losing a single match. Oddly enough, the Grads never won an Olympic medal.

The Boys of Windsor

The Windsor Ford V-8's
In 1936 the Windsor Ford V-8's became the first, and last, Canadian men's basketball to win an Olympic medal.
The story of the Ford V-8's opens in Windsor,a proud border town where the main industry is car manufacturing. The boys that would form Canada's most successful men's basketball team began as a bunch of friends who played hoops together on a team they called the Windsor Alumni.

As the team became more competitive they sought a sponsor. They found one in the local Ford plant. The Windsor Ford V-8's were born.

In 1936, The Ford V-8's notched a victory over Toronto to win the Eastern Canadian championship, and beat British Columbia to capture the national title. The victory over B.C. earned the V-8's the right to represent Canada at the Olympic games in Berlin.

The Windsor Ford V-8's
The V-8's faced a much taller American squad in the Olympic final.
Norm Dawson was a member of the V-8's. He says his team's success was due in part to geography.

"What made Windsor such a basketball power was its proximity to Detroit. A lot of the players played in American colleges, and the quality of play is better. That's how Windsor became the best basketball city in Canada," explains Dawson.

Canada's 1936 Olympic team traveled to Europe by boat. Team members described the voyage as something of a holiday, a cruise. Beautiful weather, calm seas. When the Ford V-8's arrived in Berlin, they were equally impressed by how well prepared the Germans were to host the games.

"The place was very clean, and very organized, but there were people in uniform all over the place. It gave me the impression that the Germans were warlike," recalls Dawson.

Besides the ever-present soldiers, there where other signs of what lay ahead under Hitler and his Nazis. V-8 Stanley Nantais says that while at a reception attended by the team, two Austrian diplomats told him that German forces would soon mount an offensive against Austria.

"They said they felt Hitler would attack in two years. 1938. When it happened we weren't too surprised, they seemed so serious about it,' says Nantais.

The Canadians were also aware of the Nazi attitude toward Jews. While in Europe, Irving "Toots" Meretsky, a Jewish team member, discussed the potential for problems with a fellow Jewish traveler.

"While on the train heading from France to Germany I met a Jewish salesman. I asked him What was going on there? He said he really didn't know, but things where quite now. He warned me not to go out at night and not to go chasing German girls," says Meretsky.

From the swastikas hung through the streets to the salute at the opening ceremonies, the Berlin Games were dominated by Hitler, who spared no expense in an effort to prove Nazi superiority.

"The layout was beautiful. The Olympic village had everything. Places to practice basketball, running and jumping," remembers Meretsky.

In the heart of the Olympic Village was an open-air, clay basketball court. Looking more like a tennis court, the floor was a far cry from the polished hardwood courts that are used today. It was here that the Canadians would practice and compete.

The boys from Windsor fared well on the outdoor German clay courts, defeating Brazil, Latvia, Switzerland and Poland, making it all the way to the gold-medal game.

Their opponents in the Olympic championship came from a country the V-8's had grown up alongside. The rival Americans were extremely skilled and quite a bit taller. The height advantage was a big factor because the final match was played in a steady downpour.

"It was very slippery. We couldn't execute any plays. When the ball hit the water it didn't move, so we simply passed the ball around. Michael Jordan could have slid from foul line to foul line and scored a basket without taking steps. It was drastic," said Dawson.

The weather kept the score low, with the Americans eking out a 19-8 victory. The V-8's had to be content with their silver medals.

The Windsor Ford V-8's
The Americans won the rain drenched gold medal game 19-8.
Meretsky is proud of what he and his teammates accomplished, but doesn't understand why there haven't been more men's medals in basketball.

"Our group of guys were the greatest in the world. We all helped one another, we worked together, we played together. We knew each other for years and years," reflects Meretsky. "We came back with medals, and to this day there hasn't been a Canadian basketball team that's won a medal in basketball in the Olympics. What's wrong?"


Played As:
Vancouver Grizzlies 1995/96-2000/01

Memphis Grizzlies 2001/02-Present

Nickname Grizzlies was chosen after the original name Mounties was abandoned following objections by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

A fierce looking grizzly bear holding a basketball with Grizzlies written in turquoise and Vancouver written in red above.

Turquoise, Black, Red, and Bronze

Coaches: (5)
Brian Winters 1995/96-1996/97
Stu Jackson 1996/97
Brian Hill 1997/98-1999/00
Lionel Hollins 1999/00
Sidney Lowe 2000/01

Arena: (1)
General Motors Palace 1995/96-2000/01

NBA Champions:

NBA Finals:

Conference Finals

Division Champions:

Playoff Appeaerences:

Retired Numbers:

Hall of Famers:

All-Star Games Hosted:

All-Star Game MVP:

Coach of the Year:

Most Improved Player

Rookie of the Year:

6th Man Award:

Defensive Player of the Year:


NBA Finals MVP:

Best Season: 2000/01 (23-59) 
Worst Season:
1996/97 (14-68)

Historical Moments:
1995/96: The NBA and Canada was always a natural match, as James Naismath the famed inventor of the sports was a Canadian. However after the Toronto Huskies folded after the NBA's first season in 1947 it took nearly 50 years for the NBA to return to the Great White North, as the Vancouver Grizzlies were on of 2 Canadian teams to join the league in 1995. The Grizzlies would get off to a solid start stunning the Portland Trailblazers on the road 92-80 on November 3rd. Two nights later the Grizzlies had a successful home debut at General Motors Place by beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 100-98. However the Grizzlies would lose their next 19 games, as they went on to finish in last place in the Midwestern Division with a NBA worse record of 15-67, as only 4 Grizzlies averaged 10 ppg, with Greg Anthony leading the way with a mediocre 14.0 ppg. In addition the Grizzlies and the NBA's other Canadian expansion team the Toronto Raptors would split 2 games.

1996/97: The Grizzlies continued to struggle in their second season despite solid play from Shareef Abdur-Rahim who averaged 18.7 to leave the Grizzlies who again posted the worst record in the NBA at 14-68. However, due to a rule that the Grizzlies could not win te draft lottery they had no hopes of landing Wake Forrest star Tim Duncan in the draft, and instead had to settle for Antonio Daniels, with the 4th overall pick. 

1997/98: The Grizzlies made some strides under new coach Brian Hill as they finally escaped last place by finishing 6th with a record of 19-63. Leading the way in scoring again was Shareef Adur-Rahim who averaged 22.3 ppg. Also showing promise was Bryant Reeves the Grizzlies first ever draft pick who continued to show improvement with 16.3 ppg and 7.3 rebounds per game.

1998/99: Mike Bibby had a solid debut as he posted 13.2 points and 6.5 assists per game and was named to the All-Rookie First Team. In addition Shareef Abdur-Rahim continued to improve posting a career high 23.0 ppg and 7.5 rpg. However, a knee injury limited Bryant Reeves to just 25 games as the Grizzlies struggled again returning t last place with a NBA worst record of 8-42 in a lockout shortened season. 

1999/00: Through their first few seasons the Grizzlies had drawn solid crowd, but after the lockout they were hit hard as fans in Vancouver seemed to reject the league after the ugly squabbling wiped out half of a season. Things would go bad to worse on draft day as Steve Francis selected 2nd overall refused to play for a Canadian Team, forcing the Grizzlies to package him in a 3-team 11-player deal with the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic. In return the Grizzlies would receive Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Brent Price, and Austin Carr, along with a couple of draft picks. Francis would go on to win the Rookie of the Year with Rockets while the Grizzlies drowned in red ink finishing in last place again with a record of 22-60, as rumors of a move south began to circle the team.

2000/01: Entering their 6th season the rumors of a move to the US became a reality as Owner Michael Heisley, decided that it was time for the Grizzlies to move on. After 5 dismal seasons had given the team low morale and decreasing support in the community, which put the team in debt. On February 19th with the Grizzlies buried in last place with a record of 16-36, Heisley traveled to Memphis to discuss a deal between the city and the team, as he applied to move. The NBA would grant the team permission to move as the NBA in Vancouver was determined to be a failure after just 6 year, in which the NBA hampered any chance of them getting early success with their draft lottery rule. The Grizzlies would go on to finish in last place again with a record of 23-59. In their final 2 games against the Toronto Raptors the Grizzlies would be swept as they had a 4-7 record in regular season games against their Canadian rival. In their final game in Vancouver on April 14th the Grizzlies would be beaten by the Houston Rockets 100-95 as Steve Francis was booed through out. However, in their final game in Golden State the Grizzlies would beat the Warriors 95-81 to avoid another 60-loss season. Though the Grizzlies only last 6 year hardly giving them a chance to form a strong fan base, it is unlikely that Vancouver will ever get another NBA teams after the failures of the Grizzlies.

Odds and Ends:
Grizzlies Dance Team

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