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.

On This Date: Knicks play first ever NBA Game and commemorate it 50 years later

November 1, 1946: Knicks play First ever game in NBA History

The first ever NBA game somehow happened in Canada. It featured the New York Knicks against the Toronto Huskies at the historic Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Ontario. New York native Ossie Schectman scored the first ever basket and led the Knicks to a 68-66 victory. Leo Gottlieb led the Knicks with 14 points.

The league was originally created as the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and comprised of 11 teams. Of the eleven teams in the inaugural 1946-47 season, only three teams are currently active in their original form: Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, & the Philadelphia (now Golden State) Warriors. The other eight teams folded or merged with other organizations.

The BAA was formed to find a way for hockey franchise owners to populate their large sports arenas on off days (i.e. MSG III, Boston Garden). The success of college basketball, especially in New York City, convinced certain franchise owners that there was a large enough market for a professional league.

Although the BAA was founded in 1946, there were already two established professional basketball leagues: the American Basketball League (ABL) and the National Basketball League (NBL). Unlike the BAA, these two leagues often played in small arenas or even high school gyms. Most of the teams in the league eventually disbanded or merged into the NBA.

After the BAA inaugural season, the Toronto Huskies disbanded. In 1949, the NBL merged with the BAA and was effectively renamed as the National Basketball Association (NBA).   

November 1, 1996: Knicks commemorate 50 Year Anniversary of the first ever NBA game

To pay homage to the anniversary, both teams wore throwback uniforms honoring those original teams. In particular, the Toronto Raptors wore jerseys that represented the Toronto Huskies team.

The Knicks beat the Raptors 107-99. The game marked the Knicks debut of both Allan Houston and Larry Johnson. Houston led the team with 28 points and 3 steals. Johnson scored 12 points in 29 minutes. John Starks came off the bench and scored 22 points. With the Houston signing, Starks took the challenge of coming off the bench and ultimately received the 6th man of the year award at the end of the season.  

Chris Childs’ Knick debut was delayed a few weeks due to a fractured fibula in his right leg. The injury gave Charlie Ward an opportunity to start the season and debut along with the first few weeks of the season. Ward scored only 4 points in the season debut, but had 8 assists. Charles Oakley did not play in the season debut due to a two-game suspension for instigating a fight with Charles Barkley in the preseason.  

Of the three rookies the Knicks drafted in the 1996 NBA Draft, John Wallace made his NBA debut and had an auspicious start with a double double. Wallace’s comfort in the SkyDome would come in handy soon enough as he was traded to the Toronto Raptors in a deal that netted Chris Dudley.  

Walter McCarty and Dontae’ Jones, the other two rookies, did not dress for the game due to a coach’s decision and a foot injury respectively. McCarty only played 35 games that season and Jones missed the entire season with his injury. Just like John Wallace, both were traded to Boston for Chris Mills before the 1997-1998 season. To maximize Patrick Ewing’s short window of contention, all three young players were sacrificed for immediate impact players.

Future Knick Marcus Camby made his NBA debut as well, coming off the bench to score 5 points in 15 minutes.

Former Knicks Doug Christie and Hubert Davis also played in the debut. Christie – acquired by the Raptors in the 1995 Expansion Draft – scored 24 points and had 7 assists and 4 steals.  Davis – acquired by the Raptors for the Knicks’ own 1997 1st Round Pick – scored 6 points in 30 minutes. Davis was traded to the Raptors due to a glut of guards on the roster after the Allan Houston signing.