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Who Were the Toronto Huskies?

The Toronto Raptors wore Toronto Huskies throwback jerseys during the 2016-17 NBA season. Photo by: YouTube.com screenshot.

It's a documented fact, and well-researched already on this site, that the first game in the history of the NBA took place in Canada. On Nov. 1st, 1946, at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, the inaugural game in the Basketball Association of America - as the NBA was originally known, was contested between one team that remains synonymous with the NBA, and another that faded away rapidly into oblivion.

On opening night, the New York Knicks edged the Toronto Huskies 68-66.

Decades before the Toronto Raptors beat the odds at the online betting sites and upset the Golden State Warriors to win the 2018-19 NBA Finals, it was actually a quirk of circumstance that the league would be launched in its lone Canadian city. It's also a little-known fact that the NBA owes it origins in no small part to the operators of the six NHL franchises that played in hockey's major league in the mid-1940s.

"It was immediately after World War II and the owners of the six NHL teams were looking for another attraction to fill their buildings," recalled Huskies player Gino Sovran in a 2009 interview with the Windsor Star.

Of the six NHL cities, five would field teams in that inaugural BAA campaign - the Huskies, Knicks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Stags and Detroit Falcons. Only Montreal opted out.

Even the league's original leader drew his roots from the ice. Maurice Podoloff, named first President of the BAA, was also serving as head honcho of the American Hockey League at the time. The Washington Capitols, Philadelphia Warriors, Providence Steamrollers, St. Louis Bombers, Cleveland Rebels and Pittsburgh Ironmen rounded out the 11-team loop. Five of those cities also were home to AHL franchises.

The plan was for all teams to open the season Nov. 2nd, 1946, a Saturday night. There was just one flaw in that blueprint.

"There was another team that played every Saturday night at Maple Leaf Gardens," Sovran pointed out. And the Huskies weren't about to usurp the (NHL's) Toronto Maple Leafs. "Saturday night was Hockey Night In Canada."

Thus, the Huskies opened Nov. 1st.

"By fluke, the first NBA game was in Canada," Sovran said.

Who Were the Huskies?

Sovran, a 6-foot-2 forward/guard from Windsor, Ontario, was one of two Canadians on the Huskies roster for that inaugural campaign. Fellow Windsorite Hank Biasatti was also on the roster, and he holds a unique place in Canadian sports history. In 1949, Biasatti, a first baseman, played 21 games for the Philadelphia Athletics. To this day, he remains the only Canadian to play in both the NBA and MLB.

Sovran signed with the team three weeks into the season but Biasatti was there opening night, making him the first Canadian and first international player in NBA history. "He was my role model," fellow major leaguer Reno Bertoia once said of Biasatti. Oddly enough, Biasatti, 13 years Bertoia's senior, lived next door to Bertoia. Biasatti was released by the Huskies in December when he informed the team that he would be attending spring training with the A's.

Two-Sport Coaches

Red Rolfe (holding basketball) and Ray Meyer. Photo by: Public Domain.

He wasn't the only baseball connection on the Huskies. Toronto went through four coaches during that inaugural campaign. The fourth was Red Rolfe. An infielder with the New York Yankees for a decade, Rolfe was a teammate of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and he won five World Series. He later managed the Detroit Tigers.

Rolfe wasn't nearly as successful on the hardwood. The Huskies went 17-27 under his tutelage.

Toronto's first bench boss was Ed Sadowski. A player-coach, he was shipped to Cleveland after just 12 games. With the Celtics in 1947-48, Sadowski finished third in league scoring, averaging 19.4 points per game, and was named to the All-BAA first team.

Lew Hayman followed Sadowski. Like Rolfe, Hayman found fame in another sport. He was a five-time CFL Grey Cup winner as a coach and is enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Hayman was the first CFL coach to sign an African-American player (Herb Trawick) and the first CFL GM to hire an African-American head coach (Willie Wood). Dick Fitzgerald also served as player-coach for three games, and along with his sibling Bob, formed a brother act on the Huskies.

Overall, Toronto utilized 20 players during the 60-game season. Forward Leo Mogus was the Huskies' most effective performer. The only player for Youngstown State to reach the NBA, Mogus was ninth in BAA scoring (13.0 ppg), eighth in free-throw percentage (.723) and ninth in assists per game (1.4).

Toronto Huskies opening night poster. Photo by: Public Domain.

Forward Dick Schulz and center Kleggie Hermsen would win a BAA title in 1947-48 with the Baltimore Bullets. Guard Red Wallace would coach Elk Lake High School to two Pennsylvania state titles. The school's gym is named in his honor. Guard Dutch Hoefer was born in Germany in 1921. His family emigrated to the USA when he was five and in the 1940s, Hoefer wisely opted to go by his nickname rather than his given name of Adolph.

Along with Dick Fitzgerald, guard Mike McCarron and center/forward Henry Miller were the only opening-night players still on the Toronto roster at season's end. Bob Mullens was an All-American guard at Fordham. Forward Nat Militzok was in the Knicks' lineup for the opener at Toronto prior to being acquired by the Huskies.

Forward-guard Roy Hurley played in the opener for Toronto, as did forward Frank Fucarino, center/forward George Nostrand and guard Ray Wertis. At 7-foot-1, center Ralph Siewert was the NBA's first seven-footer.

The Huskies went 3-3 with guard Ed Kasid in the lineup, not bad on a team that finished tied with the Celtics for last in the East at 22-38.

After one season, the Huskies faded away.

“They tried to sell basketball as the fastest game in sports, but that wasn't going to work in Toronto with all those hockey fans,” recalled Sovran, who died in 2016.