January 22, 2014
Tiger Den Basketball
Match each coach with the team he led to the NBA championship.
The First Tip-Off: The Incredible Story of the Birth of the NBA, Charley Rosen (2009)
Advertisements in the local media hailed the inauguration of "big-league" basketball in Toronto as being the greatest development in Canadian sports since the recent patenting of the Zamboni ice-resurfacing machine.
The blitz began on Monday, October 28, 1946 - four days before the Toronto Huskies were scheduled to make their maiden appearance - when a full-page notice appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail encouraging readers to purchase season tickets for all of the Huskies' games while they were still available. "Make no mistake," the ad advised, the Huskies were destined to be the latest sports craze, eventually rivaling the Maple Leafs and the Argonauts, the city's beloved entries in the National Hockey League and the Canadian Football League, respectively. "Get your seats early."
Ticket prices ranged from seventy-five cents to $2.50. But an even bigger notice in Tuesday's Globe and Mail presented a photo, spread over three colulmns, of the Huskies' tallest player, 6'8" George Nostrand, under a headline asking "Can You Top This?" The come-on was that all fans taller than Nostrand would be admitted to the game free of charge.
Charles Watson represented the corporate owners of the Huskies, a group who also directed the fortunes of the Maple Leaf Gardens as well as the nationally celebrated ice hockey team that played there. To Watson and his bosses, a professional basketball franchise in Toronto seemed like a fabulous idea. After all, wasn't Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of the game, a Canadian? And hadn't he been born in nearby Almonte, Ontario? And wouldn't the Huskies' home schedule add thirty more (hopefully) lucrative dates for the Garden?
Besides, the war was over. Hitler was dead, and the A-bomb had blown Japan to smithereens. The economy was still booming, the vets were back home, and just about everybody had plenty of spare change to spend on fun and games.
Also, since the Argos and the Leafs always played to standing-room-only crowds, the Huskies offered the only readily available "big-league" sports ticket in town. Even more promising was the fact that the rest of the teams in the newly hatched Basketball Association of America wouldn't commence playing until the following night, November 2, 1946, a prized Saturday date that was already co-opted in Toronto by the Leafs. So, not only would the upcoming roundball season showcase the first professional basketball game in Toronto (or, for that matter, in Canada), but also it would mark the official onset of the BAA. How could the Huskies miss?
But even before the visiting New York Knickerbockers crossed the border, they already had their doubts. October 30, 1946, was cold and brisk when their train was halted at the Niagara Falls crossing ... the uniformed officer couldn't help noting their extraordinary size, and he asked on the players, "What are you?"
The team's coach, Neil Cohalan, proudly responded: "We're the New York Knicks."
Even so, the advance advertising paid immediate dividends, as the opening crowd at the Maple Leaf Gardens numbered an impressive 7,090 (none of whom was taller than Nostrand). Also on hand were Ned Irish, the influential boss of the Knicks, and Maurice Podoloff, the BAA's commissioner.
At eight o'clock, after both teams completed their warm-ups, the Huskies conducted an educational miniclinic wherein they demonstrated the variety of shots the novice fans would be seeing. The repertoire consisted of right- and left-handed layups and hook shots, two-handed set shots, and underhanded free throws. Since none of the players on either team was a practitioner of the newfangled one-handed shots, they were totally ignored.
Adding to the problem that elements of the game were new to most of the fans on hand, the hometown team was unfamiliar with the court itself. The only time the Huskies had seen the court had been during a brief morning practice, and both the see-through Plexiglas backboards and the playing surface were unusual.
Only a handful of on-campus courts in the States were similarly equipped with the latest development in backboards. Even if they were a boon to the spectators stationed high up in the baseline seats, the glare and lack of a solid shooting background was profoundly distracting to the players.
The court itself was a portable apparatus that had been laid directly on the ice surface. The footing in the practice session had been adequate, but with so large a crowd, the elevated temperature in the building created some condensation on the floorboards, and the surface could be treacherous, particularly near the out- of-bounds lines. ...
Cohalan's counterpart was "Big Ed" Sadowski, a player-coach who measured an imposing 6'5" and weighed 270 pounds. ... A scowling brute of a man with close-cropped hair and a game face as belligerent as a clenched fist, Big Ed tallied most of his points with a sweeping right-handed hook shot that was virtually unstoppable. ...
Since both Gohalan and Sadowski hailed from New York, their teams played similar styles: passing, screening, cutting either to or away from the ball, slicing off the pivot for the old give-and-go, and shooting only the traditional set shots, hooks, and layups. ...
At the buzzer, the Knicks had won by 68-66. .... The Toronto sportswriters were puzzled by the game, identifying Sadowski's fouls as "roughing" and "cross-checking." Even so, the Huskies' management counted the gate receipts and dared to hope that both their franchise and the fledgling league would be a huge success.
Postscript: Despite the promising start, the Toronto franchise lasted only one year. Pro basketball would not return to Toronto until 1995 when the Raptors began as an expansion franchise..