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Basketball's Beginnings and New York's First Season
Ethan Guild

The legend of Dr. James A. Naismith and his two peach baskets is fairly well known. In 1891, Naismith was given an assignment to devise an indoor game for a group of students at the International YMCA Training College in Springfield, Massachusetts.

After drawing up 13 rules-many of which are still in effect-he organized the first game on January 20, 1892. He nailed two peach baskets on opposite ends of the YMCA balcony, 10 feet high, and divided up the 18 students into two teams of nine each. With the aid of a soccer ball, the first basketball game was played.

And sports history was made.

Although Naismith was born and educated in Canada, basketball is the only major game created in the U.S. without roots deriving from another sport. At the turn of the century, basketball was well on its way to becoming popular.

In the late 1890ís college basketball sprouted across the nation. At first, games were low-key, low scoring affairs, but gradually they became more interesting. In 1904, the Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri adopted basketball as a demonstration sport, as did the Olympics in Paris (1924) and Amsterdam (1928) and basketball continued to slowly gain ground up until 1930.

But in 1932, the summer Olympics in LA completely ignored basketball, and stunned the sportís burgeoning fans. In 1936, the NCAA and other organizations pushed for basketball to be included among competitive sports (not just demonstration) at the notorious Berlin Olympics, which were overseen by Adolph Hitlerís Nazi regime. The U.S. managed to capture the gold, and began a long history of international basketball dominance.

A few years before the Berlin Olympics, in 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters were formed, and they traversed the nation, captivating audiences worldwide, and further increasing basketballís popularity. The Globetrotters easily defeated the best college players of their day.

Public attention briefly waned during World War II, but after VJ Day in 1945 the public needed something to take their minds off the world. Basketball was seen as a viable sport that could help fill arenas after hockey season. A pro basketball organization (the National Basketball League) had already sprung up in small cities in the Midwest, so an eastern league that would play in big arenas was viewed as a risk worth taking.

New York's First Season

Pamphlet of First NBA Game: Knicks vs. Huskies

The Knicks and 10 other franchises had their beginnings on June 6, 1946, at the Hotel Commodore in New York City. Executives from the American Hockey League and National Hockey League came together to form the Basketball Association of America (BAA). Eleven teams were established for the inaugural 1946-1947 season. A group of arena operators met to discuss the formation of the Basketball Association of America, the forerunner of the NBA. The original teams were divided into two divisions. The East consisted of the New York Knickerbockers, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia Warriors, Providence Steamrollers, Washington Capitols, and Toronto Huskies. The West was composed of the Pittsburgh Ironmen, Chicago Stags, Detroit Falcons, St. Louis Bombers, and Cleveland Rebels.

On November 1, 1946, the Knicks played the first game in the new league's history, beating the Huskies, 68-66, in Toronto. Neil Cohalan was coach, and the starting lineup consisted of Ossie Schectman, Stan Stutz, Jake Weber, Ralph Kaplowitz, and Leo "Ace" Gottlieb, who was New York's high scorer in the game with 12 points. The Knicks' point guard, Schectman, scored the first points in the history of the NBA.

Schectman recalls much of that first game and season in an interview with ESPN.

"I was the Knicks' third-leading scorer [8.1 ppg], I also finished third in the league in assist average [2.0 apg], and my salary was 60 dollars per game. Ha! These days, the players make about sixty dollars a minute. Don't get me wrong, though. I have no jealousy or resentment over how much money these guys make today. I think they're the best athletes in the world, and they're worth every red cent. I'm just proud to have been one of the NBA's pioneers.

Ossie Schectman

"The ball was made of leather, and it was darker-colored and much heavier. There was a rubber bladder inside that would have to be pumped full of air, usually at a gas station. And the outside of the ball was sealed tight with leather laces. The laces were slightly raised from the rest of the surface, so if you were dribbling and the ball landed on the laces, it wouldn't bounce up straight and you could easily lose control."

If folks think todayís game is dull and that the fundamentals arenít what they used to be, they only need to look at the Knicksí statistics from that opening season. New York shot the ball a shade under 28% for the season and averaged just about 64 points per game.

The first beast of the new league was future Hall of Fame player Joe Fulks, who led his Philadelphia Warriors into the playoffs with 23 ppg, though he still shot under 40%. In the West, Max Zaslofsky led the Stags.

The Knicks fared well at home that year, but didnít have a real statistical or floor leader (John Palmer led the Knicks with 9.5 ppg) and became shaky after a fast 10-2. However, they still hung on with a 33-27 record, good enough for the final playoff seed in the East.

The Knicks played the Cleveland Rebels, led by long time pro Ed Sadowski in the first round. They were devastated in the opening game of their best-of-three series when Schectman went down with a serious leg injury that would go on to cost him his career, and the Rebels pounded the Knicks 77-51 in Cleveland.

The series shifted back to New York for Game 2, but Madison Square Garden had a crowded schedule of hockey and college basketball games so New York played at the 69th Regiment Armory. Unfazed, Stan Stutz and John Palmer stepped up, and rookie Lee Knorek rushed in to fill the void left by Schectman, and the Knicks pulled away late in the game to win 86-74, and force a decisive game three at the armory. The finale was no contest. Palmer got off to a sizzling start, finishing with 31 points as the Knicks stunned the Rebels 93-71, to advance to the national semifinals against the Warriors.

Philadelphia, unfortunately, was a different animal. Fresh off a three game upset off the touted St. Louis Bombers, Joe Fulks was averaging 22 ppg in the playoffs and simply wouldnít be stopped. New York thought it had a chance after staying close for most of Game 1 in Philly, but the Warriors proved them wrong early in Game 2. A disappointed home crowd of over 700 watched as the Knicks flat-lined and ended their season with a 72-53 loss. Philadelphia would go on to crush the upstart Chicago Stags in the first league finals, four games to one.

Overall, the first season was a success, though not a major one. Local newspaper snippets on teams were common and the finals games were sellouts, but radio broadcasts were rare. The league didnít have the initial success the WNBA would 50 years later, but it was hardly a wash.

As for the citizens of New York, there was a new local team to root for.

1946-47 Season Statistics

John Palmer 42 0 401 9.5 160 521 .307 81 121 .669 34 0.8
Sidney Hertzberg 59 0 515 8.7 201 695 .289 113 149 .758 37 0.6
Ossie Schectman 54 0 435 8.1 162 588 .276 111 179 .620 109 2.0
Stan Stutz 60 0 477 8.0 172 641 .268 133 170 .782 49 0.8
Lee Knorek 22 0 171 7.8 62 219 .283 47 72 .653 21 1.0
Tommy Byrnes 60 0 453 7.6 175 583 .300 103 160 .644 35 0.6
Hank Rosenstein 60 0 382 6.4 119 390 .305 144 225 .640 36 0.6
Leo Gottlieb 57 0 334 5.9 149 494 .302 36 55 .655 24 0.4
Marion Cluggish 54 0 238 4.4 93 356 .261 52 91 .571 22 0.4
Nat Militzok 56 0 244 4.4 90 343 .262 64 112 .571 42 0.8
Frido Frey 23 0 88 3.8 28 97 .289 32 56 .571 14 0.6
Audley Brindley 12 0 34 2.8 14 49 .286 6 7 .857 1 0.1
Butch Vanbredakolff 16 0 25 1.6 7 34 .206 11 17 .647 6 0.4
Dick Murphy 31 0 34 1.1 15 75 .200 4 9 .444 8 0.3
Frank Mangiapane 6 0 5 0.8 2 13 .154 1 3 .333 0 0.0

1946-47 Standings

Washington Capitols 49 11 .817 -
Philadelphia Warriors 35 25 .583 14
New York Knickerbockers 33 27 .550 16
Providence Steamrollers 28 32 .467 21
Toronto Huskies 22 38 .367 27
Boston Celtics 22 38 .367 27

Chicago Stags 39 22 .639 -
St. Louis Bombers 38 23 .623 1
Cleveland Rebels 30 30 .500 8.5
Detroit Falcons 20 40 .333 18.5
Pittsburgh Ironmen 15 45 .250 23.5

Sources:,,,, Encylopedia of Basketball, and minor snippets of information from over 20 other sources.

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