The NBA’s 75th anniversary was a season-long celebration of the game; but if there was a single anniversary date to commemorate, it would be the game between New York and Toronto on Nov. 1, 2021, as it marked 75 years to the day of the first game in league history.
On Nov. 1, 1946, the New York Knickerbockers played the Toronto Huskies in front of 7,090 fans at Maple Leaf Gardens in the opening game of the Basketball Association of America (the league would be rebranded the National Basketball Association three years later).
New York’s Leo Gottlieb scored 14 points to lead the Knicks to a 68-66 win, while Ossie Schectman added 11 points and holds the distinction of scoring the first points in the history of the NBA.
Toronto’s Ed Sadowski led all players with 18 points, while big man George Nostrand finished with 16 points for the Huskies. Nostrand was not only a key figure on the court, he was a centerpiece in the promotion of the game as the league attempted to draw fans to the sport.
That’s right, any fan that stood over 6-foot-8 was admitted to the game for free. They did have to apply for the free admission at the Toronto Basketball Club Office the day before the game, rather than just show up and measure themselves next to a Nostrand standee – as if they were looking to get on a ride at an amusement park.
Fans below 6-foot-8 would have to purchase a ticket – which brings us to the most amazing part of this ad promoting the game: the ticket prices. Seats were sold for 75 cents, $1.25, $2.00 and $2.50. Imagine getting a courtside seat at Madison Square Garden for only $2.50!
Of course, ticket prices are just one of the many differences between the game that took place in 1946 and the one that will take place exactly 75 years later on Monday.
First, the team representing Toronto in 2021 is the Raptors (a team founded in 1995 as an expansion franchise) rather than the Huskies (a team that disbanded after just one season).
Second, take a look at these team logos. While the Knicks will still be sporting the blue and orange, they are a long way from their original logo used from 1946/47 to 1963/64.
And, when it comes to on-court attire, the look has changed from head to toe – from the jerseys the players wear, the length of the shorts, and the shoe technology is drastically improved from the days when Chuck Taylor All-Stars were performance shoes rather than casual fashion.
Technology has changed so much of how we consume and follow the game – from color televisions, to high definition screens, to the super slow-motion phantom cameras that allow fans to view the game and the amazing feats of athleticism on display every night; as well as tracking cameras that provide more data than the founders of the game could have possibly imaged.
Keep in mind, this is what the box score from the first game in league history looked like — taken from the Nov. 2 edition of the New York Times:
Field goals, free throws and points – those are the stats that were made available in newspapers the morning after a game. Of course, there was no 3-point line as that was not introduced until the 1979-80 season. Now we receive a plethora of stats in real time, and detailed player-tracking data within an hour of the final buzzer that can tell us how far and how fast a player moved, how many times he dribbled the ball and how close he was defended on his shots.
If you zoom in on that box score, you’ll see positions listed that are a bit different than the ones we’re accustomed to today: LG, LF, RG, RF, C. Rather than point guard and shooting guards, the guards were just split by left and right; the same goes for small forward and power forwards; centers, however, did remain the same.
Finally, one major difference that can’t be ignored is that every player that participated in the league’s first game back in 1946 was white, as the NBA did not break the color barrier until Earl Lloyd became the first Black player to play in an NBA game on Oct. 31, 1950. When the 75th-anniversary game tipped off in 2021, only one player (New York’s Evan Fournier of France) in the starting lineups was not Black.
The anniversary game in 2021 was not only a celebration of the league’s first game from back in 1946, but a reminder of how far the game and the league have grown over the past 75 years.