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Tip-Off Timer: NBA's First Season of 1946-47 Had Some Intriguing Stories

Sep 11, 2009 – 9:00 AM
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Chris Tomasson

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1946 Philadelphia Warriors
Tip-Off Timer counts down the days until the first game of the 2009-10 season. On Friday, there are 46 days remaining.


So you think all this NBA promotion mania is the product of David Stern's 25-plus years as commissioner? Think again.

When the NBA opened its doors for business on Nov. 1, 1946, the homestanding Toronto Huskies had a promotion in which any fan taller than Toronto's tallest player, 6-foot-8 George Nostrand, received free admission.

When the game got underway, though, it was 6-foot Oscar "Ossie'' Schectman who struck first. He scored the first basket in NBA history for the New York Knickerbockers.

But let's back up a bit. The NBA, which had been founded June 6, 1946 by owners of big ice arenas who were looking to fill extra dates, was initially known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The name was changed to National Basketball Association when the BAA merged before the 1949-50 season with the National Basketball League (NBL).

But if you weren't in the BAA from 1946-49, the NBA doesn't count your statistics from any of those seasons. Hall of Famer George Mikan starred in the NBL from 1946-48, but doesn't get credit in the NBA record book for scoring a single point until he moved to the BAA for the 1948-49 season.

So while Mikan was the greatest player in the years right after World War II, he isn't regarded as the NBA's first big star. That would be "Jumping'' Joe Fulks, who averaged 23.2 points while leading the Philadelphia Warriors to the 1946-47 BAA title, which goes down in the record books as the first NBA crown.

How good was Fulks? In the era before the shot clock, when the leading-scoring outfit in the 11-team league averaged 77 points, he won the scoring title by a whopping margin over Bob Ferrick of the Washington Capitols, who averaged 16.8.

Another star from that first season was Max Zaslofsky of the Chicago Stags, who put 14.4 points before averaging more than 20 the next two seasons.

The most notable coach by far was Red Auerbach, who eventually would lead the Boston Celtics to nine NBA titles, making his pro debut with Washington. But while the Capitols went 49-11 in 1946-47 and finished 14 games ahead of Philadelphia in the Eastern Division, Auerbach couldn't get his team out of the first round of the playoffs.

The only NBA teams that remain from that first season in the same city are the Knicks and the Celtics. But who can argue against charter member Providence Steamrollers, who folded after three seasons, having the all-time greatest name in basketball annals?

The Warriors won the crown by defeating the Stags 4-1 in the Finals. Fulks, an eventual Hall of Famer, led the way, but the Warriors had another interesting story from that season.

Matt Guokas Sr. averaged 1.7 points before his career came to a tragic end. He was in an automobile accident, and his left leg had to be amputated.

"It was a tragedy and, obviously, changed his life," Matt Guokas Jr., said of his father, who died in 1993 at 78. "But he went on to become a play-by-play announcer for the Philadelphia Warriors... And he was the Philadelphia Eagles' public-address announcer.''

Just as importantly, Guokas Sr., whose son was 3 when the Warriors won the title, taught Guokas Jr., all about basketball. Guokas Jr. went on to play 10 NBA seasons, and got the family in the NBA record book when the Philadelphia 76ers won the 1967 NBA title.

That made the Guokases the first father-son combination to have both won NBA titles as players. They since have been joined by the Barrys (Rick winning with Golden State in 1975 and Brent with San Antonio in 2005 and 2007) and the Waltons (Bill winning with Portland in 1977 and Boston in 1986 and Luke last season with the Lakers).

"He got a ring for winning,'' Guokas Jr., who also had success as an NBA coach, remembers about his dad being on the 1947 title team. "It's not real fancy, but he would always wear it. He always put it up on his the top of his address and I would look at it (as a boy) and it put it on my hand.''

Follow NBA FanHouseThe Warriors that season also had guard Howie Dallmar, who went on to become a notable college basketball coach with Pennsylvania and Stanford, his alma mater. Dallmar coached the Cardinal from 1954-75.

Another player to emerge from the NBA's first season and become a fine coach was Horace "Bones'' McKinney, who averaged 12.0 points for Washington. McKinney, known for his wild sideline antics, was one of the ACC's top coaches with Wake Forest in the 1960s and coached the ABA's Carolina Cougars from 1969-71.

As for Schectman, he didn't gain much fame in basketball, averaging 8.1 points in his only pro season. But, at 90, he's still alive.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at tomasson@fanhouse.com.

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