NOV. 1, 1946: NEW YORK VS. TORONTO
The First Game
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
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
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.
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.
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
|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.
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.
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
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 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.
|In 1936 the Windsor Ford V-8's became the first, and last, Canadian men's basketball
to win an Olympic medal. |
As the team became more competitive they sought a sponsor. They found one in the local Ford plant. The Windsor Ford V-8's
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
Dawson was a member of the V-8's. He says his team's success was due in part to geography.
|The V-8's faced a much taller American squad in the Olympic final.|
"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,"
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
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
"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,"
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
is proud of what he and his teammates accomplished, but doesn't understand why there haven't been more men's medals in basketball.
|The Americans won the rain drenched gold medal game 19-8. |
"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?"