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Canada's Player of the Half Century

No. 33 Norm Baker

by Curti s J. Phillips

Norman Henry Baker (born February 17, 1923 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Died April 23, 1989)

Voted Canada’s top basketball player of the half century 1900-50, Norm “The Swede” Baker was once described by former Harlem Globetrotter founder and manager, the late Abe Saperstein, as "one of the greatest natural basketball players I have ever seen."

High praise indeed for Baker, who picked up a basketball at age 10 playing for the Nanaimo Mosquitoes. Six years later he would become the youngest player to be part of a Canadian Senior National basketball Championship team when the Victoria Dominoes dribbled their way to the title in 1939. Two more national titles under the Dominoes banner would come his way in 1942 and 1946.

In addition he was part of the 1943 national champion Patricia Bay Royal Canadian Air Force Club Gremlins, scoring a then record 38 points in one game against Windsor Patricks.

Baker turned professional in 1946 but played only four games for the Chicago Stags of the Basketball Association of America B.A.A. forerunner of the present-day National Basketball Association. While with the Stags he wore jersey No. 16 and had to compete for a spot against all-stars like Max Zaslofsky under the eyes of coach Harold Olsen.

“The main reason I did not stay is that I had a little trouble over the contract,” recalled Baker in 1982 in an interview with Canadian Basketball Historian Curtis J. Phillips). “They didn't want to pay what I thought I was worth. They only gave me $900 a month.”

Records show that he only took one shot during this brief cup of coffee.

The Stags would make it to the finals losing out to Philadelphia Warriors who featured basketball legend and modern basketball's first scoring sensation Joe “Jumping Joe” Fulks.

It was a different matter though in the Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League (PCPBL 1946-48) where the 6-foot-2 guard was one the leading scorer while wearing the colours of the Vancouver Hornets. He was second in league scoring in 1946-47 as Gale Bishop of the Bellingham Fircrests scored 771 (19.9 ppg) to Baker's 694 (18.8) points 

Team members that year were George (Porky) Andrews doing double-duty as player/coach along with Arthur Chapman, Reg Clarkson, Ken lawn, Ritchie Nicol, Doug Peden and Sykes...first name unknown. The team was a high-scoring one as they set a PCPBL record for most points in a game during the 1947-48 season, dropping 97 against Astoria Royal Chinooks on December 27, 1947. 

The Hornets finished near the top both seasons with records of 24-14 in the regular season and 6-6 in the playoffs (1946-47) along with 29-23 for the regular season in (1947-48) His Hornets teammates for the 1947-48 campaign were Andrews, Chapman, Lawn, Nicol, Bill (Stretch) Osterhaus, Peden,  Dave Teyema, Jack Vaughn and Dean White. Baker led the PCPBL in scoring with a 22.6 points per game average

“It (PCPBL) was a pro league and it had some good players,” recalled Baker in 1982. “The fan support in Vancouver was great but the league ended after two seasons.”

In 1946-47 Baker was one of two Canadians, along with Hornets ' teammate and Andrews, to play in the World Professional Basketball Tournament (WPBT) with the Portland Indians. The Indians lost their only game played 62-48 to the Sheboygan Redskins. Indianapolis Kautskys would win the championship led by Arnie Risen (future four-time NBA all star). The WBBT was sponsored by the Chicago Herald-American newspaper and featured professional teams from the various professional leagues at the time.

In 1950 Baker was the only non-American on a team billed as “The Stars of the World,” on a 13-nation tour of Europe and Africa. Playing along with a group of College All-Stars their opponent was the Harlem Globetrotters and the Globbies won the series 11 games to seven playing 18 games before a total of 181,364 fans. Villanova's Paul Arizin was MVP for the college team while Sweetwater Clifton and Marques Haynes got the nod for the Globetrotters.

Baker also played two years for the New York Celtics, Stars of America and Boston Whirlwinds, the traveling opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters which featured the likes of the original clown prince Reece “Goose” Tatum who is also credited with inventing the hook shot.

“We had some great times traveling with the Globetrotters,” recalled Baker. “In fact we beat them a couple of times when we went to Europe. “They had some great players. Marques Haynes was a great dribbler and a greater gentleman as was Clarence (Cave) Wilson.” The Globetrotters were installed into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a team September 27, 2002.

Following his basketball career Baker worked as a police officer, and coached basketball and lacrosse.

-Inducted into BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1966

-Inducted into Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1978

-Inducted into Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979

Member of the New York Celtics
Having fun against Harlem Globetrotters

A Young Norm Baker

Canada's Best

No. 33 Going Sky High