NBA's 72 "Greatest" Moments: The NBA's First Game
This qualifies as one of the 72 “Greatest” Moments in NBA History
October 29, 1949, should have a higher place in the annals of NBA history.
That night in Moline’s Wharton Fieldhouse, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks notched a 93-85 victory over the visiting Denver Nuggets. It was the only NBA game on the schedule that night. Indeed it was the first NBA game ever played.
Given the NBA’s shoddy telling of its own history, it’s fitting that two former NBL teams got the honor of inaugurating the newly-formed NBA. After all, the NBA likes to pretend the NBL never existed. And when the NBL is acknowledged it’s done in cursory, insulting fashion.
Well, we here at ProHoopsHistory shan’t forget that the NBL formed a powerful foundation for the NBA.
Help ensure that these important facts don’t get lost because of the NBA’s bad attempts at history
Instead of championing the Blackhawks (now the Atlanta Hawks) and the Nuggets (no relation to the current NBA franchise that was born in the ABA) as the clubs that officially kicked off their new league, the NBA instead likes to tether itself to a match played three years prior in Ontario between the Toronto Huskies and New York Knicks as its first game. Never mind that the Huskies and Knicks were part of the BAA and that the NBA wouldn’t exist for another three years until the BAA and NBL combined forces.
Well, the sports press in 1949 made sure to note that the Nuggets and Blackhawks showdown was indeed the inauguration of a new league.
Take for example the Rock Island Argus leaving no mistake the NBA was a new league. Also, cool picture of the Nuggets with their strange mascot.
On the court that night were some notable basketball players.
There was all six feet and ten inches of big Don Otten, who had been the MVP of the NBL in the 1948-49 season. On the opposite end of the height spectrum was Kenny Sailors, all five feet and ten inches of him.
Because of that short stature, Sailors was one of the first players to employ the jump shot and his form was surprisingly textbook given that he was in the forefront of that burgeoning movement. Plenty of other progenitors of the jumper understandably had all kinds of weird, experimental forms. Yet there was Sailors with the quintessential form right from the get-go.
And he was probably the first player photographed taking the jumper when a cameraman got him during the 1946 NCAA tournament. Definitely the first jumper photographed and slapped in Life, which was pretty much the biggest magazine in mid-1940s America.
And there was Stanley “Whitey” Von Nieda, who scored 14 points that opening night.
As of this writing Von Nieda is 99 years old and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with the man. Told me fun stories of demanding a trade from the Blackhawks later that season after Red Auerbach didn’t give him enough playing time.
Player empowerment. It’s always been a thing!
Anyways, the good folks at WBUR did a show on a couple years ago for the 70th anniversary of this game you should all listen to. And not just because yours truly was interviewed, but so was Von Nieda. We two and the other guests all expressed bewilderment that the NBA doesn’t consider the Blackhawks-Nuggets game as its first and the 1949-50 season as its beginning.
In the face of overwhelming historical evidence, to boot.
As we continue our stroll down the NBA’s 72 “Greatest” Moments, this moment should take precedence above all others not because it is itself the most important. But because remembering it corrects the historical narrative that the NBA continues to butcher and allows you, dear reader, to probably put all the other moments in their proper context.
Also the NBA needs to show up to Von Nieda’s home in Pennsylvania and apologize personally to him for decades of affrontry.
Yes, that’s the first time I’ve used the word “affrontry” and it felt good. Highly recommend it.
See y’all next time.