Toronto’s long hoops journey nears the summit


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?




Box score

Game story

Raptors franchise index

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.

10 essentials on Knicks-Celtics playoff rivalry

Here are 10 things you absolutely had to know about the storied playoff history between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks, the NBA’s two remaining charter franchises.

1. All-Time Record
The Celtics and Knicks are meeting for the 14th time in playoff hyistory.  Boston won seven of the previous 13, including a 2-0 win in a curious 1954 round robin with the Syracuse Nats. Overall Boston leads the series 34-27.

2. Common Foes
That’s second all-time to the 18th playoff meetings between Boston and the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers. They have met 19 times, though just twice since 1985.

3. The First Time
Boston faced New York for the first time in 1951, when the Knicks beat the Celtics, 2-0 behind Max Zaslofsky, a guard from Brooklyn and St. John’s, who averaged 17.9 points a game.

4. Knicks in the 50s
The Knicks won the first three playoff meetings  — in 1951, 1952 and 1953 — and advanced to the NBA Finals each year, losing all three times.

5. Eventual Champs
Four times the winner of the Celtics-Knicks playoff series has gone on to win the NBA Championship — Boston in 1969, 1974 and 1984 and New York in 1973.

6. Seventh Heaven
Twice the series has gone seven games, in 1973 and 1984. The Celtics had never lost a Game 7 before 1973, but the Knicks marched into Boston Garden and won 94-78 behind Walt Frazier.

7. Larry Legend
The Knicks pushed the Celtics to seven games in 1984, but Boston dominated the finale and won 121-104 behind Larry Bird, who averaged a career post-season high 27.5 points that year.

8. King of the Court
Knicks forward Bernard King averaged 29.1 points per game for the Knicks in the 1984 series, the highest single series scoring average in the history of the rivalry.

9. The Last Time
The Celtics swept the Knicks in four straight in a 2011 first round meeting. Before that, they last met in the playoffs back in the spring of 1990, when Paul Pierce was 12 years old and rooting for the Lakers; Carmelo Anthony was in kindergarten.

10. Knicks Break Streak
In 1990, the Knicks rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series and won Game 5 to break a 26-game losing streak over six years at Boston Garden.

Connecting the dots — Fitchburg to the Knicks


Life is a long, lasting litany of links. Connect the dots and find the connection between people and events past, present and future. Recently, I discovered my connection to the New York Knicks.

The story begins in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1977, when a young coach, fresh out of Fitchburg State College, led Notre Dame High School to a 26-2 record and a state championship.

That coach was Jim Todd, below right. And as a sportswriter with the Fitchburg Sentinel & Leominster Enterprise, I wrote about Todd and his Notre Dame Crusaders.

Within a few years, both Jim and I moved on. I took my talents to South Florida and a slot position with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Todd worked as head coach at Fitchburg State, and later as an assistant at Columbia University for his Notre Dame predecessor, Arthur “Buddy” Mahar.

Then, 30 years ago this week, I moved north to take a communications position with IBM in the Mid-Hudson Valley.

Marist connection
And shortly after arriving in New York, I bumped into Jim Todd at Marist College. Jim was an assistant at Marist, where he coached future NBA center Rik Smits and helped lead the Red Foxes to their first NCAA appearance.

Todd coached at Salem State in Mass. from 1987-96 and led the team to eight NCAA Division III NCAA tournament appearances. He then went to the NBA as assistant coach with the Bucks and Clippers. On Feb. 3, 2000, he succeeded Chris Ford as head coach of the Clippers.

Less than a month later, I went to a Knicks game at Madison Square. That afternoon the Knicks beat the Clippers and new head coach Jim Todd, whose team finished the season 4-33.

Todd later was an assistant with the Raptors, Hawks and Kings. And on St. Patrick’s Day, 2012, Knicks coach Mike Woodson added Todd to his staff.

“Jim adds a lot of experience to our staff,” said Woodson. “We started together 16 years ago in Milwaukee, and then our paths didn’t cross for a long time. He went in one direction and I went in another, and we could never hook back up.

“Then when I had the opportunity to bring him to Atlanta, I jumped on it because of the fact that he has a great mind for the game. That’s why he’s here with me in New York. I’ve been pretty successful with Jim in terms of winning, and he brings a wealth of experience.”

The Knicks finished strong last year before losing to the Heat in the playoffs. And this year they’re off to one of the best starts in team history. The last two times the Knicks started a season 8-1, they went on to win the NBA Championship.

LIN-sanity: Top 10 Jeremy LIN-isms

New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin has quickly become one LIN-credible story.

It’s LIN-sane.

He’s taken the NBA by surprise, Twitter by trend, and the Giants off the back pages of the New York tabloids.

You cannot stop Jeremy Lin…you can only hope to contain him.

A little over a week ago, Lin was buried at the end of the Knick bench, just up from the Erie BayHawks of the D-League, cut by both the Rockets and Warriors. Jeremy who?

He had never started an NBA game or scored more than 13 points. Now he’s setting records.

Lin doused the Los Angeles Lakers for a career-high 38 points the other night. He scored 89 points in his first three career starts, the most by any player since the merger between the NBA and ABA in 1976-77. That includes Jordan, Bird, Magic, Kobe, LeBron…all of them.

He is the first NBA player to average at least 20 points and seven assists in his first three starts since 1991.

Lin played college ball at Harvard, an institute of higher learning that has produced more U.S. Presidents than NBA players.

Undrafted out of college, he was signed by Golden State and was used sparingly last year. Lin was picked up the Houston Rockets, then waived, and signed with the Knicks as a free agent on December 27. Talk about a holiday present.

One of the few Asian Americans in NBA history, Lin is also the first American player to be of Chinese or of Taiwanese descent in the league.

Headline writers, bloggers and quipsters coast to coast and around the world are having a field day with Jeremy Lin phenomenon.

Here are the SportsLifer’s top 10 LIN-isms.

The Mighty LIN

All he does is LIN

LINcredible Story

He’s a LINtellectual from Harvard

The LIN Dynasty

Oh, the LINsanity

LINderella Story

Knicks Missing LINk

Super LINtendo


10 Reasons to Hate The Heat

There are at least 10 reasons to hate the Miami Heat – but this isn’t one of them.

My entire life, I’ve rooted against the Boston Celtics. I was the guy pulling for Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and all the others who fell to the relentless Green Machine.  Larry Bird was a legend, but Magic Johnson was my guy.  And don’t remind me of the countless times the Celtics have embarrassed the Knicks, including this year.

But I’m changing my stripes for the NBA playoffs.  For those who know me, rooting for Boston is way off base, totally out of character.

Heck, there are countless reasons to root for the Celtics to beat the Miami Heat.  Especially for New York fans. Here’s 10 of ’em:

1. LeBron James, who teased New York fans before taking his “talents” to South Beach.

2. Pat Riley, who infamously FAXed in his resignation to the Knicks and fled to Miami.

3. The winters, which are warmer in Miami.

4. Beat the Heat and Hate the Heat roll off the tongue.  And fittingly, Heat and hate are anagrams.

5. LeBron wasn’t very nice to Cleveland either.

6. Dwayne Wade, who not only kills the Knickerbockers, he killed my alma mater, Holy Cross, in the NCAAs when he played at Marquette.

7. The arrogant Heat players and management, who felt they could “arrange” a championship.

8. That tasteless show the Heat put on last summer when they introduced LeBron and Chris Bosh to South Florida.

9. New York basketball fans are smarter.

10. Riley’s slick hairdo.

Gimme a break: Knicks full of excuses

Melo and the Knicks are missing the point – they’re heading the wrong way.

Several weeks back, shortly after the Carmelo Anthony trade, Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said he’d be satisfied if the Knicks won half their remaining games.

Way to set the bar high, coach. You’ve got two superstars on your team, two of the five top scorers in the NBA in Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, and your goal is mediocrity. Sadly, the way the Knicks are playing right now, they’d settle for playing .500 ball.

The playoffs, which seemed like a lock a few weeks back, are no sure thing anymore. The Knicks are in a free fall, having lost five straight and eight of their last nine. It would take a historic collapse for the Knicks to miss the post-season in the NBA’s weak Eastern Conference, but after losing to the likes of the Bucks, Pacers, Pistons and Cavs, the playoffs are no longer automatic.

Here’s a typical Knick game: Come out flat and fall way behind in the first quarter, play catch-up ball in the second and third, then fail to execute in the fourth and go down to defeat. Again and again, the pattern repeats.

“It’s going to take a while,” D’Antoni said several weeks ago. “I don’t think we’ll get it as well as we want this week or next week. But at the end of the year we should have it real good. In the meantime we have to get in the playoffs — whatever seed it is and prepare for that team.”

“I know everybody’s anxious. I’m anxious, the players are anxious. There’s no way you can throw four-to-six new guys into a rotation and all be on the same page. Some teams exploit things we haven’t gone over.”

The Knickerbockers are good on one thing — excuses. Peter Vecsey outlined a few of those excuses in his always entertaining Hoop du Jour in the New York Post.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
“Everybody has them and goes to ’em nightly. You all know the drill by heart — trade adjustments; readjustments to Billups returning from a thigh bruise, though the team was 4-1 without him; rough March schedule; rough upbringing; rough surf; the dog ate my home-court advantage; James Dolan spending too much time getting Radio City ready for Charlie Sheen.”

D’Antoni is part of the problem. More than one Knick fan has suggested he remove the “D” from his name — since his team doesn’t play any.

Earlier this week, the Knicks decided not to practice on an off-day — although it’s obvious they need the work. “If nothing else,” one player said, “we need a break from each other.”

Gimme me a break. Which of course Cablevision brat James Dolan didn’t give Madison Square Garden fans when he raised ticket prices by an average of 49 percent.

Barnett Unsung Hero on Knicks Champions


Before the Knicks had Clyde and the Pearl in the “Rolls Royce Backcourt,” they had Dick Barnett.

Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe may rank as the best guard tandem in NBA history, but Barnett and his “Fall Back, Baby” jump shot, below left, brought the Knicks back to respectability and pointed them towards a pair of the NBA championships.

The Gary, Indiana native, a three-time All-America player at Tennessee State, was the first draft pick of the Syracuse Nationals in 1959. He played two years with the Nats and three with the Lakers.

In between was a one-year stint with the Cleveland Pipers, who Barnett led to the ABL Championship in 1962. (The owner of the Cleveland team was former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.)

Barnett came to New York in October of 1965 in a trade that sent forward Bob Boozer to the Lakers.

It was during his nine years in New York that Barnett made his mark. He joined a Knicks team that featured center Walt Bellamy, top draft pick Jim “Bad News” Barnes,  and a second-round pick out of Grambling named Willis Reed.

Knicks on The Rise
The Knicks would finish last in the Eastern Conference for the seventh straight year in 1965-66, but they were getting better. And Barnett was a big part of the story. He averaged a career-high 23.1 points that year, and two seasons later made the NBA All-Star team.

The Knicks would win their first NBA Championship in 1970. Barnett, starting in the backcourt with Clyde Frazier, averaged 14.9 points per game in the regular season, 16.9 points in the playoffs.

In the clinching Game Seven against the Lakers, the game where Reed walked on the Madison Square Garden court to inspire his teammates and fans, Barnett scored 21 points as the Knicks won the NBA title.

Barnett remained a starter until the Knicks acquired the Pearl in 1972. He finished his career with another Knickerbocker championship in 1973. In all, Barnett played in five NBA Finals, three with the Knicks and two with the Lakers.

Barnett never averaged less than 12 points per game in his first dozen years, and finished his NBA career with a 15.8 scoring average and 15,358 total points. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, along with his coach John McClendon, on the strength of their three successive NAIA national championships at Tennessee State.

After his career, Barnett received a PhD in education at Fordham, and retired from teaching sports management at St. John’s in 2007. He was recently feted at Knicks Legends night at Madison Square Garden.

Dick Barnett’s number #12 hangs from the Garden rafters.

Melo-Drama: Knicks Look to End Drought

Nearly 40 years ago, the New York Knicks made one of the biggest trades in their history when they acquired Hall of Fame guard Earl Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets for Mike Riordan, Dave Stallworth and cash.

The Pearl teamed with Walt Frazier to give the Knicks one of the best backcourts in NBA history, and helped lead to New York to its second NBA title in 1973. They haven’t won one since.

This week the Knicks made another reach for that elusive ring when they acquired four-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets. In a blockbuster deal, the Knicks traded away nearly half their roster, plus draft picks, in order to bring Melo to New York.

Anthony will join Amar’e Stoudemire to give the Knicks two superstars on the roster for the first time since….well since they last won a championship. Not suggesting New York is going to the NBA Finals this year, but they are heading in the right direction.

Lord knows the Knicks have tried to build a winner in the two decades since their title runs. Tried and failed. Repeatedly.

McAdoo in 1976
For example, in December of 1976, the Knicks sent John Gianelli and cash to the  Buffalo Braves for Bob McAdoo — a three-time NBA scoring leader and MVP in 1975 — and Tom McMillen. The feeling was that McAdoo would join four regulars from the championship days — Monroe, Frazier, Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson — along with newcomer Spencer Haywood to bring another winner to Madison Square Garden.

Well not quite. These Knicks never advanced past the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1978. McAdoo was sent to the Celtics during the 1978-79 season for three number one draft picks, one of whom was center Bill Cartwright.

Three years later, the Knicks acquired Bernard King from the Golden State Warriors for Micheal Ray Richardson and a 1984 fifth round pick. King had a spectacular but brief career in New York, and in 1984-85 became the only Knick in history to lead the NBA in scoring, at 32.9 points per game. Unfortunately he blew out his knee that season and later signed as a free agent with the Washington Wizards.

With King leading the charge, the Knicks advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals in both 1983 and 1984 before losing to the eventual NBA champion 76ers and Celtics respectively.

It seemed like Knicks were bound for more championships after they won the 1986 NBA draft lottery and drafted center Patrick Ewing of Georgetown. But despite repeated efforts to firm up the roster, the Knicks failed to bring in a second superstar to help Ewing.

In 1988, seeking help on the boards, the Knicks traded Cartwright and first and third round picks to the Chicago Bills for Charles Oakley and a first-round pick. Oakley was the NBA’s top rebounder in both 1987 and 1988, but it was Cartwright who won three championships with Michael Jordan and the Bulls while the Knicks were shut out

The Knicks kept on trying, and although the deals highlighted below made them competitive, they could never quite get over that championship hump.

Ewing Era Deals
— Knicks sign free agent John Starks, left, released by Golden State
1992 — As part of a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic, Knicks acquire forward Charles Smith
1994 — New York gets guard Derek Harper from Dallas for Tony Campbell and a first- round draft pick
1996 — On Bastille Day the Knicks make two moves, signing free agent guard Allan Houston from Detroit and acquiring Larry Johnson from Charlotte in a deal for Brad Lohaus and Anthony Mason.
1998 — Knicks trade Oakley and Sean Marks to Toronto Raptors for center/forward Marcus Camby.
1999 — In a mid-season deal, Knicks trade Starks, Terry Cummings and Chris Mills to Golden State for Latrell Sprewell.

The Knicks were competitive throughout the Ewing era. They advanced to the NBA Finals twice, losing to the Houston Rockets in a seven-game series in 1994 and the San Antonio Spurs in five games in 1999.

In the past 10 seasons, the Knicks have made the playoffs just once, where they were promptly swept by their cross-river rivals the New Jersey Nets in 2004.

Are the Knicks on the championship track at last? Only time will tell, but the pieces are starting to fall into place. And the electricity is back at Madison Square Garden.

Finally, Excitement Returns to MSG

Willis Reed grabs rebound from Lakers Wilt Chamberlain during 1970 NBA Finals.

The late 60s were exciting times in New York, back in my old high school days. You could feel the electricity from Madison Square Garden spilling out to the streets and neighborhoods of the city to the suburbs and beyond. The New York Knickerbockers were building a championship contender.

Now for the first time in nearly five decades, that excitement is back. New York fans are thinking hey, we may have something here….finally. With free agents Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and precocious rookie Landy Fields, along with holdovers Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the Knicks are on the way back to contention.

Finally, after a six-year playoff drought, they’re standing and cheering at the Garden again.

Kinda like the way it was back in the 60s. After finishing last in the Eastern Division for seven straight years, starting with the 1959-60 season, the Knickerbockers, as they were called back then, began to show signs of improvement.

The Knicks resurgence began innocently enough with the 1964 NBA draft, and the second-round pick (10th overall) of Willis Reed, a 6-9 center/forward out of Grambling State University.

That same year, Jim “Bad News” Barnes out of UTEP was the Knicks first pick — and the first overall selection in the NBA draft. A year later, Barnes along with Johnny Egan, Johnny Green and cash, was traded to the Baltimore Bullets for center Walt Bellamy.

Solid Draft Picks
In subsequent drafts, the Knicks took Bill Bradley and Dave Stallworth in 1965, Cazzie Russell in 1966, and Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Phil Jackson in 1967.

And they traded Bob Boozer for guard Dick Barnett before the 1965 campaign.

The Bellamy acquisition paid dividends several years later. On December 19, 1968, the Knicks dealt Bells and Howard Komives to the Detroit Pistons for power forward Dave DeBusschere.

With their core unit now intact, the Knicks won their first NBA championship in 1970, beating the Los Angeles Lakers in a thrilling seven-game NBA Finals. With Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Jerry Lucas in the fold, the Knicks won their second championship in 1973, again knocking off the Lakers.

They haven’t won a championship since. Oh there was plenty of excitement when the Knicks won the lottery and drafted Patrick Ewing in 1985. But although Ewing was a Hall of Fame center, the Knicks never provided him with that second superstar needed to win titles, like the Bulls did with Scottie Pippen for Michael Jordan.

Hopefully the 2011 Knicks have learned their lesson and won’t let history repeat itself.

Did I hear someone say Carmelo Anthony?

Related Posts

The Short Championship History of The New York Knicks