Toronto’s long hoops journey nears the summit

FirstNBAGame

The first NBA game ever played took place on November 1, 1946, when the New York Knickerbockers defeated the Toronto Huskies, 68-66, before 7,000 fans at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.

More than 70 years later, Toronto – and really the whole country of Canada —  is a win away from it’s first NBA championship. The Raptors have three chances to knock off Golden State, beginning Monday at home.

firstgame2The original Toronto team, the Huskies,  lasted only one year, finishing last, and  then folded. Of 11  teams that comprised the Basketball Association of America (BAA), only the Knicks and Boston Celtics survive as charter franchises. The Philadelphia Warriors, who won the first NBA championship,  moved to Golden State in 1962.

The other BAA originals included the Chicago Stags, Cleveland Rebels, Detroit Falcons, Pittsburgh Ironmen, Providence Steamrollers, St Louis Bombers, and and Washington Capitols.

Three years later, the NBA was formed as a result of the merger of the BAA and National Basketball League (NBL).

In the first NBA game, the Huskies offered free admission to only fan taller than Toronto’s 6-8 George Nostrand, as shown above right.

Ossie Schectman, who played at LIU of the Knicks scored the league’s first basket in that 1946 opener. Leo Gottlieb led the Knicks with 14 points and Schectman finished with 11.

Toronto player-coach Ed Sadowski led all scorers with 18 and Nostrand scored 16.

The Toronto Raptors were an expansion franchise, beginning play in 1995.  They are the only Canadian franchise in the NBA, and represent what is now the fourth largest city in North America.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Raptors captured a title before the Toronto Maple Leafs, who last won the Stanley Cup in 1967?

Background:

 

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Raptors franchise index


Knicks never had a shot at Zion in NBA lottery

KnicksNoShot

Did the Knicks ever have a chance to get the #1 pick in the NBA draft lottery? The answer, or course, is always the wrong one for the league’s most snake-bitten franchise. The answer is no chance.

At least the Knicks won a pair of championships in the 1970s.Since then it’s been mostly misery. That misery has kept the Knicks out of the playoffs – but in the lottery most years, at least when they don’t foolishly trade #1 picks. .

The Knicks won the first draft lottery in 1985 and took Georgetown center Patrick Ewing, who became an iconic Knick, all-time franchise leader in scoring and rebounds. Yet Ewing never won a title.

Since 1985 the Knicks have participated in 10 NBA lotteries….and have never once moved up from their position in the pecking order. That’s right, 0-for-10.

Despite finishing this season with the worst record in the NBA (17-65), the Knicks were third in the lottery, losing a shot at Duke’s Zion Williamson, who is seen by many as a transcendent player. Think Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets who won both MVP and Rookie of the Year in his rookie season. Only other player to do that is a guy named Wilt Chamberlain, with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1960. That could be Zion.

The Knicks will most likely wind up with either Ja Morant of Murray State or RJ Barrett of Duke. Both are highly rated, but playing in New York can be difficult.

The Knicks have had some horrible picks in the lottery era, players like Kenny Walker, Michael Sweetney, Channing Frye and Jordan Hill, who was taken one pick after Golden State picked Steph Curry.

Kristaps Porzingis at No. 4 was a solid selection in 2015. But the Knick culture and losing ways drove him the ask out, and KP is now with the Dallas Mavericks.

The jury is still out on the most recent selections. Point guard Frank Ntilikina took a step back this year, playing just 43 games. Kentucky’s one-and-done Kevin Knox, the #9 pick in 2018, showed flashes but shot just 37 percent from the field.

Which leads to the next question: Why is Kevin Durant so interested in coming to the Knicks? That’s a subject for another column.


Jabbar part of the conversation of best ever

1758742ADB_DNA023133068Who’s the best basketball player in history?

The most popular answer is Michael Jordan. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are popular selections. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are certainly in the conversation. LeBron James is a favorite of the current generation and still climbing.

A name that rarely…if ever…comes up is Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Surprising, considering the big man’s pedigree. Here are 10 supporting arguments for Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the best ever.

1. POINTS: He’s the leading scorer in NBA history with 37,387 points. Karl Malone is second.

2. MVP: Kareem won the NBA MVP award a record six times. Jordan won five and LeBron is a four-time winner.

3. RINGS: He’s won six NBA championships, one with the Bucks and five with the Lakers. Only Robert Horry and a bunch of Celtics have won more. Russell is the leader with 11.

4. DEFENSE: Kareem was selected to the NBA’s All-Defensive team 11 times.

5. REBOUNDS: He’s fourth all-time in rebounds with 17,440, trailing only Wilt, Russell and Malone.

6. ALL-STAR: Jabbar appeared in 19 NBA All-Star games, the most in history. Kobe Bryant is second with 18.

7. BLOCKS: Only Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutumbo have more blocks than Kareem.

8. UCLA: Won three straight NCAA titles with UCLA in 1967,68 and 69, and made first team All-American each year.

9. GAMES: Only Robert Parrish played in more NBA games than Jabbar.

10. SCORING AVERAGE: Kareem averaged 24.6 points per game throughout his career.


The Bullets and the amazing comeback of 1948

Bullets-1948

The Cleveland Cavaliers recently engineered the greatest second-half comeback in NBA playoff history when they rallied from 25 down at the half to beat the Indiana Pacers 119-114.

Amazingly, that broke a record that stood for nearly 70 years, ever since the Baltimore Bullets came back from 21 down to beat the Philadelphia Warriors 66-63 in the 1948 NBA Finals.

In an era without the 24-second clock and a three-point line, the Bullets came all the way back to win, on Philadelphia’s home floor no less. And it remained the largest comeback for 70 years, a lifetime of games. None of the great Celtics or Lakers team or Jordan’s Bulls or the Spurs or anyone else ever made a bigger comeback,

In 1948, the defending champion Warriors, fresh off their Game One victory, rolled to a 41-20 halftime lead over the Bullets. “In those days, if you got behind that far, the game was over,” Baltimore player-coach Buddy Jeannette recalled years afterward. “There was no 24-second clock to help you come back. But somehow we did. We took our time and made our shots and caught ’em. I don’t know if we were so good or Philly was so bad.”

Philly’s leading scorer Joe Fulks helped matters by continuing to shoot — and miss. And the Bullets helped themselves by driving to the basket for good shots. The home crowd sat stunned. The Bullets cut the gap to 48-40 in the third quarter. Then, in the last period, it was all Baltimore. “We were up by one with four seconds to go, and I tipped in a missed free throw,” Bullets forward Paul Hoffman recalled.

Connie Simmons led the Bullets with 25 points that night, Hoffman had 12 and Kleggie Hermsen 10.Joe Fulks led the Warriors with 27, most of them in the first half. 

The 66-63 victory was one of the more impressive comebacks in sports history. Unfortunately, nobody paid much attention to pro basketball then. The story received a few paragraphs on the back page of The New York Times. Still, it gave the Bullets the momentum they were looking for.  

The Bullets went on the win the series in six games for their only NBA championship. The Bullets were, in effect, an expansion team in the 1947-48 season having come over from another league, the American Basketball League to the Basketball Association of America, which would become the NBA beginning in 1949. The Baltimore franchise folded in 1954, and the Bullets remain the only defunct team to win an NBA championship.

The Baltimore Bullets returned to the NBA in 1963, after two years in Chicago as first the Packers and then the Zephyrs. They became the Capital Bullets in 1973, the Washington Bullets in 1974 and the current Washington Wizards in 1997. The Bullets beat the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games in 1978 to win their only NBA title.


10 reasons why the Knicks will never win

 

While James Dolan and Phil Jackson laugh, the Knicks burn

1. James Dolan — Born silver spoon in hand as heir to a Cablevision fortune, he has run the Knicks into the ground with a rash of poor personnel decisions. A recent Sports Illustrated poll named Dolan the worst owner in the NBA. The Knicks problems start at the top.

2. Phil Jackson — He won 11 rings as a coach and two more (ironically with the Knicks) as a player, but he’s been a dismal flop as president of the Knicks. Instead of stepping up as a leader and addressing the situation, Jackson left coach Jeff Hornacek to clean up the Derrick Rose mess. And the list goes on, from the hiring of ill-equipped coach Derrick Fisher, to his insistence on running the old-fashioned triangle offense to his signing of injury-prone Yannick Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract. Jackson has tarnished his legend.

3. Leadership — It starts at the top. See No. 1 James Dolan, No. 2 Phil Jackson and No. 5 Carmelo Anthony. What leadership?

4. Accountability — Without leadership, there is no accountability. Derrick Rose goes AWOL, leaves the team in limbo, and then returns to a slap on the wrist. Heck, he’d didn’t even get suspended. In fact, he’s still starting.

5. Carmelo Anthony — Leaders make those around them better players. Not the case with Carmelo, the so-called face of the Knicks. Carmelo is a great scorer, but he’s all about Carmelo.

6. Derrick Rose — Work Rule #1. If you’re not gonna be there, if you can’t make it to work that day, tell the boss. Derrick Rose had time to run off and catch a flight to Chicago, but didn’t have time to call or text the Knicks to tell them he would miss the New Orleans game. See No. 4, accountability.

7. Teaching –He’s the crown jewel of the franchise. Knick fans are pinning their hopes on Kristaps Porzingis. And yet, how’s he going to become a better basketball player if the follows the tone of the current Knicks. Who’s going to teach him low-post presence and how to play defense. There are no mentors in sight.

8. Culture — There’s a toxic atmosphere in the Knicks front office. Who can forget Isiah Thomas and the sexual harassment suit the Knicks settled out of court. The poor decisions, like multiple lottery picks for Eddy Curry. Being hosed by Denver in the Carmelo Anthony trade. See No. 1 James Dolan.

9. MSG — Playing in the world’s most famous arena actually hurts the Knicks. There’s a long list of players who seem to up their game whenever they visit New York. Michael Jordan, Kobie Bryant and Steph Curry are just a few examples. Even average players play better at Madison Square Garden.

10. History — It’s been 44 years since the Knicks won their last championship. I was in college when the Knicks last won. Now I’m on Medicare. And it ain’t happening this year either. A charter member of the NBA, the Knickerbockers have won just two titles in their history.


Riding the NBA stairway to 7

The Cleveland Cavaliers are swimming upstream against history. No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to win a championship. And only three teams have ever won a seventh game on the road.

For just the third time in history, a team has forced a seventh game after trailing 3-1 in the NBA Finals. That would be the Cavaliers, who will go to the mat against the Warriors on the road in Oakland.

In 1951, the Knicks trailed the Rochester Royals 3-0 and rallied to force a Game 7 but lost 79-75 in the final game (shown above). Arnie Risen led all scorers with 24 points as Rochester won its only NBA Championship. The Royals later moved West, first to Cincinnati, then Kansas City-Omaha, and eventually Sacramento. Somewhere in transit they become the Kings.

In 1966 the Lakers trailed the Celtics 3-1, only to win twice and force a decisive game. Boston held on to win that game 95-93 at the Boston Garden and capture a record eighth straight NBA championship. Bill Russell scored 25 points and took down 32 rebounds to lead the way.

Seventh games are a rarity in the NBA Finals. Cleveland-Golden State is just the 19th Game 7 since the league’s first playoff in 1947. Since 1984, only six Finals, including this one, have gone the distance.

And the home team – that would be the Warriors – has the decided edge if history proves true to form. Only three teams have won a seventh game game on the road. The last team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road was the Washington Bullets, who beat the Supersonics in Seattle. The Bullets won 105-89 behind center Wes Unseld, who was named MVP.

The Celtics did it twice – in 1974 against the Bucks in Milwaukee and.in 1969 against the Lakers at the Los Angeles Forum. In 1974, the road team won five times, including the last four games. The Celtics won 102-87 in what turned out to be Oscar Robertson’s final game.

In 1969, Boston, which finished in fourth place in the Eastern Division, came back to take the last two games as Russell outplayed Wilt Chamberlain. Boston held onto what had been a 17-point lead in the finale to win its 11th title 108-106.

Jerry West became the only player on a losing team to win Finals MVP. LA owner Jack Kent Cooke had thousands of balloons in the rafters ready to be released when the Lakers won. The balloons never came down.


Champs or chumps? Warriors legacy in doubt

Well, well, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are in a pickle. The Dubs set an NBA record with 73 victories, but unless they are able to stage a miracle comeback against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, they’re toast.

And if they lose to the Thunder (or somehow make the Finals and lose to Cleveland), the Warriors will have no claim…none… to the title of NBA’s best team ever. It happens. In 2007, the New England Patriots finished the regular season unbeaten at 16-0 and yet lost to the Giants in Super Bowl 42. In 2001, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games, tying the 1906 Cubs for the most in MLB history. The Mariners were knocked out by the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. And the Cubs lost the 1906 World Series to their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, aka the Hitless Wonders.

In the NBA, teams with outstanding regular season records generally go on to win the championship. The 1996 Bulls (72-10), 1972 Lakers (69-13), 1997 Bulls (69-13) and 1967 76ers (68-13) were all crowned champs. The best team not to win a title was the 1973 Celtics (68-14), who lost to the Knicks in a seven-game, Eastern Conference Final.

The Warriors won the NBA title last year following a 67-15 regular season, tied for seventh best all-time. The 1986 Celtics, 1992 Bulls and 2000 Lakers all won championships after finishing 67-15. The 2007 Mavericks and this year’s Spurs also went 67-15, but were knocked out before the Western Conference Finals. The Washington Capitals were 49-11 in 1947, the NBA’s first season, but lost in the semifinals.

In the NFL, the 1984 49ers and 1985 Bears both finished 15-1 and won the Super Bowl. But three others teams, the 1988 Vikings, 2004 Steelers and 2011 Packers, were beaten before reaching the Super Bowl.

In addition to the Mariners and Cubs losing the World Series, the 1954 Indians (111-54) and Philadelphia A’s (107-45)  in 1931 were also upset.

The Canadiens set an NHL record with 132 points in 1977 and won the Stanley Cup in the midst of a four-year championships run. But the 1996 Red Wings, with a record 62 wins and 131 points, were derailed by the Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals.