Recent history has not been kind to the Knicks, but times were good and wins were plentiful if you look far enough into the past, including 74 years ago this week, when New York outdueled Toronto in the first Basketball Associate of America game in history.
If you’re confused by the BAA not being called the NBA, it might be because you aren’t 100 years old. The BAA was the precursor to the NBA. The league renamed itself as the NBA in 1949, and in 1976 the NBA merged with the American Basketball Association, or ABA, to form the NBA that we all know and love. Anyway, let’s get back to the matter at hand.
The year was 1946. Harry S. Truman was president of the United States, World War II was nearing its end, the Almond Joy chocolate bar was first introduced to the world, and zero NBA had ever been played. Today, Truman and WWII are nothing but history. The Almond Joy and professional basketball remain.
The BAA was preparing to tip-off its inaugural season with a debut game featuring the New York Knickerbockers and Toronto Huskies, held in Toronto. On Halloween in 1946, the New York Times noted that the notable event was set to take place.
The Knickerbockers, coached by a man named Cornelius J. “Neil” Cohalan, were one of 11 total teams in the league. The eventual championship would feature the Philadelphia Warriors against the Chicago Stags, with the Warriors winning. But this isn’t a post about the conclusion of the 1946-47 BAA season. It’s about the start.
The Knicks kicked off the first major professional basketball league with a nail-biter against the Huskies that came down to the last few minutes, according to the New York Times recap of the game. The first points were scored by Ossie Schectman, a 6’0”, 175-pound guard who’d only play one season in the league. The basket came as a result of an absolutely beautiful three-man-weave fast break. It boggles the mind to look at these guys run down the court while considering that the future of the league would include athletes like LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Per the New York Times, the game was played in front of 7,090 fans, which isn’t a lot compared to modern arenas but is a ton if you’re juxtaposing it with the amount of people who got to watch any of this year’s bubble games in person. It was a back and forth game throughout. The Knicks went up 6-0 before the Huskies made a field goal, but Toronto scored 7 straight points to take the lead. Ultimately, a 10-0 run by the Knicks put New York up 37-29 at halftime.
Leo Gottlieb, a 5’11”, 180-pound guard nicknamed “Ace,” carried the Knicks in that first half, pouring in 14 points. He wouldn’t score in the second half.
The game remained close throughout the second half, and New York’s first professional basketball heroes were anointed with less than two minutes to play in the game. Two field goals from Dick Murphy, plus a free throw from Tommy Byrnes, clinched the 68-66 victory. Murphy, a 6’1”, 175-pound guard, scored 5 points total for the game. Byrnes, a 6’3”, 175-pound forward, totaled 4 points.
The game’s leading scorer was Ed Sadowski of the Huskies, who posted 18 points in the first ever BAA game. Sadowski, whose name sounds more like a Tri-State area plumber than a professional basketball player, was a 6’5”, 240-pound center.
The Knicks would finish the debut, 60-game BAA season with a record of 33-27, and ultimately lost to the Warriors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which back then was the final round before the championship.
The names of the 1946-47 Knicks may not be as recognizable as many of the players who came after them. But by winning the first ever BAA game against the Huskies, their place in history was forever cemented, so today we honor them.