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.
The 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?
The moment it happened, the first line of his obituary was forever defined:
“Bill Buckner, made fateful error in 1986 World Series…. “
You know the story. One play, a hopper that got past Buckner and helped the Mets overcome the Red Sox, overshadowed a very good baseball career.
A play that never should have happened. Throughout the season, Red Sox manager John McNamara frequently sent in Dave Stapleton to sub for Buckner late in ballgames for defensive purposes. Buckner was a good first baseman in his prime, but was hobbled by ankle injuries later in his career.
That night, Game 6, Buckner allowed Mookie Wilson’s grounder to slip through his legs and the Mets won 6-5 in 11 innings. Two nights later, the Mets won the World Series and extended the Red Sox drought to 68 years.
Bill Buckner died this week at the age of 69 of Lewy body dementia. Although I’m not here to advocate the Hall of Fame candidacy of Buckner, his career and numbers are eerily similar to those of Harold Baines, who was elected to he HOF by the Veteran’s Committee earlier this year. In my book, Baines is not a Hall of Famer.
Buckner and Baines each played 22 seasons and had lifetime batting averages of .289. Billy Bucks is one of the few players in MLB history to play in four different decades.
Baines had 2,866 hits, Buckner 2,715. Baines had a big edge in the power categories (384 HRs to 174) and better slugging and OPS numbers.
But Buckner stole 183 bases as opposed to 34 for Baines. Buckner won a batting title (.324) with the Cubs in 1980.
Oh and get this. Buckner struck out just 445 times in in 9,397 at bats, and Baines 1441 in 9,908 ABs. The year Baines won the NL batting title, he fanned 18 times in 578 ABs.
Neither player ever won World Series. Buckner was on pennant winners with the Dodgers in 1974 and the Red Sox in 1986; Baines with the A’s in 1990.
One other big differential; Buckner played first base and outfield throughout his career, Baines was primarily a designated hitter.
Take away that one error, and is the Veteran’s Committee looking at Buckner?
Bobby Orr made the Blues disappear from the 1970 Stanley Cup finals with this overtime goal. St. Louis hasn’t been back since.
For the first time in 49 years, the St. Louis Blues are back in the finals, where they will face off against the Boston Bruins.
The last time the Blues played in the finals, they were victimized by Bobby Orr’s overtime winner, the great defenseman soaring through the air to celebrate the most iconic goal in Bruins history.
For the Blues, it has been a long, agonizing ride back to the Stanley Cup finals. Amazingly, this year the team got off to a horrible start before roaring back to become the first team in more than 20 years to earn a playoff spot after sitting last in the NHL on New Year’s Day.
The Blues were one of six teams that joined the NHL in 1967, doubling the size of the league and marking the largest expansion in the history of pro sports in North America.
Along with St. Louis, the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Oakland Seals (later the California Golden Seals) represented the NHL West in the inaugural year. The Flyers, Penguins, Kings and North Stars (as the Dallas Stars) have all won Stanley Cups. The Blues and the Seals (who became defunct after the 1977-78 season as the Cleveland Barons) haven’t.
The Blues made the Stanley Cup finals in each of their first three years, and were swept all three times.
1967-68 – Beat Flyers and North Stars, both in 7 games. Lost to Montreal 3-2 (OT), 1-0, 4-3 (OT) and 3-2, a series in which two games went into overtime and all four were decided by a single goal.
1968-69 – Swept both Flyers and Kings, then were swept by Montreal, 3-1, 3-1, 4-0 and 2-1.
1969-70 – Beat both Stars and Penguins in six games only to bow to the Bruins in 4 straight. Boston won the first three games 6-1, 6-2 and 4-1. The fourth game went into overtime after the Bruins rallied in the third period to tie the game on a late goal by Johnny Bucyk.
The Bruins then won 4-3 at 40 seconds of overtime on Bobby Orr’s scintillating goal. Orr scored off a feed from Derek Sanderson, beating goalie Glenn Hall and giving the Bruins their first championship since 1941.
The following season the league began juggling conferences. The Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres, both expansion teams, were added to the Eastern Conference and the Chicago Black Hawks moved to the West.
Video of BOBBY ORR’S GOAL
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.
Been following baseball for 60 years, but can’t ever recall an injury list longer than the Yankees this year. Lots of hobbled talent right now. Heck it takes three innings just to give the injury report.
At one point the Bombers had 13 men on the injured list, including 3 outfielders, two shortstops, a catcher, a first baseman, the staff ace and a top reliever. And others.
Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Miguel Andujar. It’s an All-Star list. Aaron Judge, shown above, the most indispensable Yankee of them all, is sidelined with an oblique injury and there’s no timetable for his return. With Judge is Yankee trainer Steve Donohoe, who is getting way too much air time these days.
Despite this staggering outbreak of injuries – at one point the Yankees had 176 home runs on the IL — the team has maintained a competitive pace, 4 games above .500 and well ahead of the slow-starting Red Sox in the AL East.
Granted much of that has come against weak competition and a favorable schedule. But just last year the Yankees were criticized for not being able to beat the bottom feeders consistently. Beating lousy teams is a good thing.
Guys like starter Domingo German, outfielder Clint Frazier, utility man JD Lemahieu and Scranton callups like Tyler Wade, Gia Urshela and Mike Tauchman have helped keep the ship afloat during tough times.
The reinforcements are starting to arrive. Gary Sanchez came back last week and hit a monstrous grand slam in San Francisco which is still traveling. Frazier, third on the team with 17 RBI and hitting .324, and third baseman Andujar, out all season with a partially torn labrum, are supposedly ready to return to the lineup.
The schedule heats up immediately with AL best Minnesota, Seattle and AL East leader Tampa Bay up next. Good time for some of the cavalry to return.
1. Newcomers — For just the third time in 40 years, two new schools have crashed the Final Four for the first time. That’s right, Auburn and Texas Tech are making their maiden appearances in the Final Four.
2. Break on through – Two years ago, Gonzaga and South Carolina made their first Final Four appearance. In 1996, both UMass and Mississippi State broke through. In 1979, Penn and Indiana State (led by Larry Bird), made it to the Final Four. None of those schools has ever been back.
3. 11 Bridesmaids — Here’s a list of 11 major schools who have never made a Final Four. In no particular order, Tennessee, Boston College, Northwestern, Alabama, Miami (Florida), Ole Miss, Xavier, Texas A&M, Missouri, TCU and Arizona State are still looking for that last dance….as are many others.
5. Zion-like – A player remindful of Zion is Wes Unseld, left, the former Louisville and later Baltimore Bullets standout. Both are 6’7”, although Williamson outweighs Unseld by 40 pounds. Wes was a transcendent talent out of Louisville who won both NBA Rookie of the Year and MVP in his first season, 1968-69. Only other player to do that was a guy named Wilt Chamberlain in 1959-60.
6. Chalk Men – Bracketology is not rocket science. But the constant parade of experts picking #1 and #2 seeds in each region is laughable. Show some guts, pick an upset. Geez Louise.
7. Low Seed Madness — This year, for the first time since 2012, a team seeded 7th or lower did not make the Final Four. Wichita State (9 in 2013), UConn, the eventual champion (7 in 2014) and Kentucky (8 in 2014), Michigan State (7 in 2015), Syracuse (10 in 2016), South Carolina (7 in 2017) and Loyola-Chicago (11 in 2018) all beat the odds.
8. High school link — Ty Jerome, Virginia’s standout guard, is making Iona Prep proud as he tries to steer the Cavaliers to their first national championship. Jerome, right, had 24 points, five rebounds and seven assists in UVA’s 80-75 OT win over Purdue in the NCAA’s South Regional final.
9. Sparty nation — Of the four finalists, only Michigan State has won an NCAA championship. The Spartans won with Magic Johnson in 1979, then Tom Izzo coached them to the 2000 title.
10. A new champion — The last time none of the Final Four participants was a previous NCAA Tournament champion was 1990. UNLV beat Duke that year. Arkansas and Georgia Tech were the other semifinalists. The same thing happened in 1989. Michigan beat Seton Hall in overtime. Illinois and Duke were also part of the group.
Cut the underdog talk Tom Brady. Please, Patriots, spare us the rap. Nobody buys it.
It’s bad enough you have the best quarterback and coach of all time, and that you’ve been to the Super Bowl nine times since 2002.
“I’m too old,“ Brady told CNN moments after the Patriots knocked off Kansas City in the AFC title game. “We’ve got no skill players. We’ve got no defense. We’ve got nothing.”
Nothing but five Super Bowl rings already.
Does New England understand how Las Vegas odds work? Here’s a simple lesson. That +3 in your column means the Patriots are favored to beat the Rams by three points.
The Rams – with the young coach and quarterback and the inexperienced squad – are clearly the underdogs in Super Bowl LIII.
Amazingly, the Patriots could just as easily be 8-0 as 0-8 in Super Bowls in the Brady-Belichick era. The Patriots won their first three Super Bowls on field goals, and later added an end-zone interception to beat Seattle and a record-setting 31-point comeback to stun Atlanta in overtime.
On the other side, the Pats came close to beating the Giants twice and the Eagles last year before falling short at the end.
Who’s the best quarterback never to play in a Super Bowl?
Two Charger greats top the list – Hall of Famer Dan Fouts and Philip Rivers, who lost to the Patriots in the divisional round of this year’s playoffs.
Hall of Famer Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Archie Manning are also on the list nobody wants to be on.
The best never to win a Super Bowl? That honor goes to Miami’s Dan Marino, whose Dolphins lost to San Francisco in 1985, his second season….and never made it back.
Fellow Hall of Famers Fran Tarkenton and Jim Kelly made the big game multiple times, yet never came out on top.
RICK’S PICK: I’m an NFC guy who would love to see the Rams win. But my head tells me New England, 31-20.