A downtown Central YMCA gymnasium was a pre-season training base for players as they prepared for the Toronto Huskies’ inaugural 1946-47 campaign. (File photo by BLACK PRESS)

Dogs to Dinos: Toronto’s professional basketball roots run deep

TORONTO — After arriving on the NBA scene in 1995, it took a few years before the Toronto Raptors settled into their current digs at the venue now known as Scotiabank Arena.

The team debuted on a makeshift court at SkyDome and even played a few home games at Maple Leaf Gardens and Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum before making the permanent move to Air Canada Centre.

However, it was in a compact, sweaty, brick-walled facility over a half-century earlier where the city’s pro basketball scene really started to take root.

A downtown Central YMCA gymnasium was a pre-season training base for players like Ed (Stretch) Sadowski, George Nostrand and Charles (Dutch) Hoefer as they prepared for the Toronto Huskies’ inaugural 1946-47 campaign.

The Huskies were charter members of the Basketball Association of America, which was renamed the National Basketball Association in 1949.

The team tipped off against the New York Knickerbockers on Nov. 1, 1946 at MLG, with Toronto dropping a 68-66 decision in front of 7,090 spectators. It would be one and done for the Huskies, who posted a 22-38 record that season before folding the next summer.

The sport was remarkably different back then.

There was no three-point line and slam dunks were illegal. Jump shots were a rarity and there was no shot clock.

The most expensive seat in the Gardens for the opening game cost $2.50. Any fan taller than the six-foot-10 Nostrand got in free.

Hockey, football and baseball were the popular pro sports in the city at the time. Circus-like descriptions were used to hype the arrival of professional basketball.

“See Toronto’s 240-Pound Panther Man Mountain Ed Sadowski And His Team of Fast-Moving Giants,” a promo read in the old Toronto Telegram newspaper.

Sadowski, who also handled coaching duties for part of the season, led all scorers with 18 points in the opening game. New York’s Dick Murphy hit a pair of late field goals to help put the Knicks over the top.

“New York Quintet Victor in Toronto,” a New York Times headline said the following day.

Forget about fancy stats. The game’s boxscore was an exercise in simplicity with three columns headed with the letters G, F, and P.

G was short for goal — as in field goal — while F was for free throws made and P was for points.

There was some Canadian content in the Toronto lineup that season.

Hank Biasatti, who was born in Italy but grew up in Windsor, Ont., was in the Game 1 lineup but didn’t score and was released a month later. Windsor native Gino Sovran played six games for the Huskies.

“The advertising before the game to try to draw basketball interest in Toronto was — and this is hard to believe — is it’s the fastest game in the world,” Sovran told the CBC in a 2016 interview. “Well you can’t convince hockey people that’s true.”

A six-foot-two swingman, Sovran was 21 when he made his debut in an 83-82 overtime win over the Boston Celtics.

He was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. Sovran, who was believed to be the last living Huskies player, died in June 2016.

The Raptors, who are facing the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, have had some Huskies throwback nights over the years to honour the team’s legacy.

A Huskies hardcourt has been used on occasion and the team sometimes wears replica blue and white jerseys, with ‘Toronto’ in block letters and player numbers underneath. The throwback uniforms were used for the 1996 season opener against New York as part of the NBA’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Like the Huskies, the Warriors made their debut in 1946-47 although they called Philadelphia home.

Philadelphia would finish 35-25 and beat the St. Louis Bombers and the Knicks in the playoffs before topping the Chicago Stags in the final. The Warriors, who beat Toronto in five of six games in the regular season, moved to San Francisco in 1962.

The team was renamed the Golden State Warriors ahead of the 1971-72 season.

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