Who Were They? The Toronto Huskies

Who Were They? The Toronto Huskies

The first-ever game of what is now the National Basketball Association – a pretty momentous event in the history of basketball. With the size and popularity of the league as it is now, you'd think that its founding year would be way back, in the early 1900s. And what teams do you think took part? With these things it's usually storied franchises, so the basketball equivalent of the Green Bay Packers, the Boston Red Sox, etc.

Well, there's two surprises coming... one, the first NBA game was played in 1946. Sure, that was over 70 years ago, but for reference, the National Hockey League was founded in 1917. Major League Baseball's National League, which at one point stood on its own, dates back to 1876. And the National Football League, they will start celebrating their centennial season come September. So, when it comes to the North American "Core Four," the NBA is the baby of the bunch.

And then there's the teams that took part. One of them is a classic franchise that is still going strong: the New York Knicks, or Knickerbockers, as they were originally and are more formerly known. Their competitor may surprise you, however. It was the Toronto Huskies. Yes, Canada had a professional basketball franchise before the Raptors, and yes they had the honour of playing in the very first NBA game.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, they peaked a bit early. They would only play that single season, compiling a record of 22-38, before folding. From there the Huskies became a mere footnote, a trivia tidbit. They deserved better really – they had a great name and a look to equal it. Blue and white colours, matching those of the well-loved Maple Leafs, and a sweet panting-dog logo. The Huskies also had their own unique typeface.

So why did the franchise fail? Attendance. That first game against the Knicks drew a decent crowd, but after that the numbers continued to fall. It's said that ownership lost $100,000 in that single season of operations. At the time, pro basketball was a new thing and was not seen as big-time, nor a real career path for those playing. The sport was instead built around the college and high school game. And in Toronto hockey is king, of course, so an upstart league with generally the same schedule didn't have much of a chance.

At that time, before huge TV viewership – and therefore huge TV deals – became a thing, teams relied on the box office; that's where they got their money. That's why, for example, the Canadian Football League was on the same tier as the NFL, because they drew similar crowds. And that's great for a smaller-market league if you are getting fans through the gate, but if not... there's nothing to fall back on. So, the Huskies leapt, and the Huskies fell.

They have come back from the dead somewhat, as the Raptors, the city's second go at an NBA franchise, now wear Huskies throwback uniforms on select nights. This started in 2009, and of 2016 the blue and white became an official "alternate" uniform. They even change the hardwood to match. It's a fitting tribute to the short-lived, yet trailblazing franchise that was.

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