November 1, 1946: first NBA game ever. Here’s how it all started …

75 years after the first game of what has now become the pro league, we retrace the steps that led to that legendary challenge between the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers

Davide Piasentini

& commat; davide_Piase

75 years have passed since the first NBA game (at the time Baa) between the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knicks, on November 1, 1946, a fundamental date for the growth and development of the basketball movement. After a war capable of destroying everything, inside and out, and dramatically changing every individual horizon, basketball proved to be an unparalleled gift for the United States, which allowed its people to savor the desire for the future and redemption. The NBA has given body and color to the dreams of a generation, creating a constantly evolving product, sensitive to social issues and able to satisfy two great cornerstones of American culture: business and entertainment.

Basketball in America

It only exploded when it became a business

The time elapsed between the birth of basketball by James Naismith’s hand and imagination in 1891 and the development of professionalism and, even before that, of the rooting of the game in American culture and society, was among the most complex and fascinating in human history. . Two world wars to upset the balance of the planet, followed by multiple forms of rebirth to reconstruct and reinvent with pride and determination one’s own individual identity and that of an entire people. Americans immediately learned to practice basketball but fell in love with it slowly, sometimes with excessive skepticism, and then never parted with it again. First in the gyms of the YMCA (Young Men Christian Association) scattered throughout the United States, in high schools and universities. Then in the arenas of the large cities of the east coast, immense and spectacular, which could guarantee thousands of spectators in the stands. Basketball in the States timidly began its path towards professionalism in the early decades of the twentieth century, between small local leagues and large commercial areas, without ever leaving anonymity and improvised dilapidated spaces in which endless games were played, of a slowness and unmatched predictability. The game was not very usable for the public and, consequently, represented a small business and little potential. Because for the Americans, beyond the heroic-sporting narrative proudly pitted in every possible occasion and expression, what counts is money and the concrete possibility of transforming every single company into substantial earnings. The stark truth is that basketball in the US became a national sport only and exclusively when it turned into a profitable business.

the dawn of professionalism

Si parte coi Chicago Bruins e i Boston Whirlwinds

Joseph Carr, president of the NFL, was the first to work concretely on the commercial potential of basketball, who in 1925 decided to found the ABL (American Basketball League) with the aim of bringing together the most important teams of the East and the Midwest and create a national interest basketball league. A rather ambitious goal but legitimized by the awareness that basketball, a discipline that is constantly growing at a socio-cultural level, would be a possible gold mine for US entrepreneurship in the years to come. Among the teams present, subsequently divided into two groups (East and West), the Chicago Bruins, the Boston Whirlwinds, the Washington Palace Five and the Brooklyn Arcadians. The AFL will last until the mid-fifties, with alternating successes, developing the game and its regulation in a constructive way (the violation of double dribbling, for example, comes from here) but without making a bang both from an economic point of view and from entertainment. The step towards a more structured basketball in terms of facilities and organizations took place with the founding of the Nbl (National Basketball League) in 1937, a league created by commercial giants such as Goodyear, Firestone and General Electric formed mainly by teams localizing in the area of ​​the Great Lakes. Also in this case, as for AFL, the project did not take off. The arenas were not up to the task and the reference markets were too small to take root in a tangible and continuous way. The Nbl, however, had the merit of definitively opening the gate for the explosion of basketball at national level, creating a basis for the growing interest in the game but, above all, going to constitute, together with the BAA, the constitutive nucleus of the future. Nba.

Brown and the arenas to fill

The owner of the Boston Garden founds the Baa

The Basketball Association of America, better known as Baa, was created on June 6, 1946 from an idea of ​​Walter A. Brown, owner and manager of the legendary Boston Garden. At the basis of Brown’s thinking, followed in the reasoning and implementation of the project by numerous other owners of large arenas in the Eastern United States, there was the desire to maximize the earnings of their sports facility, already engaged in the highly popular hockey. on ice and “in need” to fill in those gaps generated by the absence of matches. Brown’s question was the following: when the Bruins aren’t playing at Garden and the arena is empty, why not give space to the fastest growing sport of the moment, namely basketball? A question that was answered in the founding of the Baa, made up of 11 teams (divided into Eastern Division and Western Division) in its inaugural season, including the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Philadelphia Warriors – the first to win the title in ’47 – and played in large arenas in the eastern United States and Canada. The regular season format was 60/61 games, followed by the playoffs, which only the best three of each division could access, and subsequently by the Finals. The beginning of the Baa era was not easy due to some critical issues. The first was the adaptation of arenas, designed and built for hockey, to basketball. The owners, in fact, initially thought of installing the parquet directly above the ice, causing more than one problem. The most significant were the formation of puddles of water on the surface of the field, a kind of soaked wood that was not functional at all and above all very dangerous (many competitions canceled for this reason), and the icy climate inside the buildings. The fans brought blankets from home and the players sitting on the bench wore gloves and caps so as not to freeze. In short, not the best conditions for a “first date” with basketball. The will to grow, improving the rules of the game to make it more attractive and engaging, to enhance the structures and do business in the right way will mark the difference between Baa and the rest of the leagues created in previous years. Programming, intuitions and, above all, the ability to imagine wider horizons. Thinking about basketball imagining it in the future. This was the Baa’s greatest merit in training professional basketball.

the first game

Free admission for taller players

On November 1, 1946 at the Maple Leaf Garden in Toronto, on the corner of Carlton Street and Church Street, the first regular season game of the Baa was played between the hosts, the Toronto Huskies, and the New York Knickerbockers. A historic moment for American basketball, which took place in front of more than 7000 spectators ready to fall in love with what at the time was defined as the “world’s most popular sport”. Tickets cost a couple of dollars at most, but if by chance your stature exceeded that of the tallest player in the Huskies, admission was free. The first basket was scored by the Knicks with Oscar Benjamin Schectman, known as “Ossie”, with an elegant desk pad at the end of a splendid offensive transition. Four passages at full speed, imagined and painted freely on the parquet, and the bottom of the retina that let itself be caressed as if everything had already been written. A kiss point blank, passionate and aware. The first outpouring of basketball towards its followers. The Knicks 68-66 won, thanks to 14 points from Leo “Ace” Gottlieb and 11 from Schectman. Toronto always remained in the game, dragged by “Big Ed” Sadowski (18 points) and George Nostrand (16 points), but succumbed in the final with Dick Murphy’s decisive baskets and Tommy Byrnes’ free throw. The match between the Huskies and the Knicks is considered the first game in the history of the NBA, despite the fact that the league was called Baa at the time. It is what happens in a refined office of the Empire State Building in New York on August 3, 1949 to change the course of events and to root the Association’s brand in culture and society.

the nba is born

The first title is from the Minneapolis Lakers

Between the third and fourth seasons of the BAA, preceded by a growing and constant interest in professional basketball and the inclusion of new teams such as the legendary Washington Bullets and the Minneapolis Lakers, an epochal turning point came for American basketball. The BAA and the NBL decided to join forces to form the National Basketball Association, formally originating from a merger between the two leagues but officially defined as an expansion of the Baa itself, a sort of “rebranding”. The number of participating teams reached 17 with the entry, among others, of the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now Atlanta Hawks), the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) and the Syracuse Nationals (the current Philadelphia 76ers). Winning the NBA title in the inaugural 1949/1950 season were the Minneapolis Lakers of “Mr. Basketball ”George Mikan, recently included in the list of the best 75 players in the history of the Association, who at the time dominated the game by traveling over 27 on average per game. Today, 75 years after the first basket scored by Ossie Schectman, the NBA is certainly a different league than it was then, not least for its impact on a social and commercial level, two apparently contradicting but perfectly contextualized aspects. in the chaotic and stimulating American universe. Many things have changed since 1946, but it is perhaps the bond between the lovers of the game and the game itself that has evolved and developed with greater relevance, keeping unchanged that identifying and romantic component that has embraced and accompanied us all these years. This is likely to be the case for the next 75 years as well. The game at the center and all of us walking around it, admiring it and experiencing it as if it were always the first time. As for those who came before us and those who will come after us. For eternity.

We wish to say thanks to the author of this short article for this amazing material

November 1, 1946: first NBA game ever. Here’s how it all started …

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