On This Date: Madison Square Garden granted a charter basketball franchise

June 6th 1946: The New York Knicks became an official basketball team

The Basketball Association of America (BAA), the precursor to the NBA, granted Madison Square Garden a charter basketball franchise. Prior to 1946, the basketball scene was profitable and thriving in New York City with the advent of college basketball. Max Kase, then a writer for the New York Journal-American, met with Walter Brown, owner of the Boston Garden, to discuss the prospects of creating a basketball league that showcased the talents of college basketball players after graduation. As the owner of the Boston Garden, Brown saw an additional revenue stream to play basketball on days when the hockey team (Boston Bruins) were either off or on the road.

Kase originally wanted to own and operate the franchise in New York. He met with Ned Irish, a college basketball promoter and then-president of Madison Square Garden, to discuss the idea of leasing the area to his basketball team. Irish demanded that he keep ownership of the basketball franchise.

On June 6th 1946, Brown, Irish, Kase, and a group of 16 other area owners convened at the Commodore Hotel in Grand Central to grant charter franchises throughout major cities in the United States. The other owners were quite impressed with Irish rather than Kase. Therefore, the panel of owners granted a charter franchise to Irish.

Irish wanted to create a name for the franchise that resembled the city of New York. After reading Washington Irving’s book “The History of New York,” Irish went with the name “Knickerbockers.” Knickerbockers represented the descendants of the original Dutch settlers into New York. After establishing the name, Irish sought after St. John’s head coach Joe Lapchick to coach the franchise. Lapchick agreed, however he wanted to remain at the university for one additional year. Therefore, Irish hired former Manhattan College coach Neil Cohalan as the franchise’s first official head coach.

The Knickerbockers played the 1st ever NBA game on November 1st 1946 against the Toronto Huskies in Canada. Lapchick took over the coaching duties in the 2nd season and the BAA merged with the National Basketball League to form the NBA in 1949.

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