Seventy years ago this October, a group of athletes from New York City drove upstate to cross the border into Toronto. The occasion: the first-ever regular season game in the Basketball Association of America, the short-lived precursor to the NBA.
En route to Toronto, the first squad of the New York Knickerbockers was stopped at the border by a skeptical customs inspector. Who were these self-proclaimed professional athletes with names like Schectman, Kaplowitz, Hertzberg and Militzok? He’d heard of the New York Rangers, but not the Knicks.
“I don’t imagine you’ll find many people up this way who’ll understand your game, or have an interest in it,” said the patrolman.
He was right, to a point. The Toronto Huskies would fold after one season. (Other original BAA teams included the Providence Steamrollers, the Pittsburgh Ironmen and the Chicago Stag.) But he was wrong about the Knicks. Today, the only other NBA team still playing in the same city with the same name is the Boston Celtics.
In an era of flat-footed set shots and no 24-second clock, the Knicks won a squeaker in Toronto, 68-66. Ossie Schectman scored the franchise’s first two points. Fifty years after that season opener, the NBA marked the anniversary by scheduling its 1996-’97 opener on November 1 in Toronto. Allan Houston scored 28 points to lead the Knicks over the Raptors.
By then, the game had come a long way. The first Knicks captain, Sonny Hertzberg – a City College teammate of longtime Knicks coach Red Holzman – once recalled the uncertainty of that first season in the BAA.
“I didn’t know if it was going to be a full-time thing,” he said.
1946: Knicks Head to Toronto to Play First Game in Franchise History
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