Ossie Schectman, NBAs first scorer, dead at 94
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN | August 01,2013
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Long before Magic and Michael, before Kobe and LeBron, there was Ossie, the first scoring leader in the NBA — at least for a few seconds.
Ossie Schectman, a New York Knicks guard and a onetime all-American at Long Island University in Brooklyn, played when the two-handed set shot ruled and a 6-foot-8 center was a giant.
When Schectman died Tuesday at 94, he was remembered as a central figure in the National Basketball Association’s creation tale. He scored the first two points in the league’s history and became something of a celebrity when the distinction was uncovered, 42 years and 5 million points later.
On the night of Nov. 1, 1946, the Knicks faced the Toronto Huskies at Maple Leaf Gardens, the home of the National Hockey League’s Maple Leafs, before 7,090 fans more familiar with face-offs than jump balls. The court covered the ice surface.
It was the inaugural game of the Basketball Association of America, which became the NBA three years later.
Hoping for a respectable turnout, management offered a free ticket to any fan taller than the Huskies’ 6-8 center, George Nostrand.
The man of the evening, so far as history would go, turned out to be a mere 6-footer: Schectman, the Knicks’ captain.
“I scored on a two-handed underhand layup,” Schectman told Charley Rosen, the author of “The First Tip-Off” (2008), a history of the NBA’s first season. The shot came a minute or so into the Knicks-Huskies game after he had cut to the basket and taken a bounce pass.
When Ricky Green of the Utah Jazz scored the 5 millionth NBA point in January 1988, the league, whose records date back to the Basketball Association of America’s founding in 1946, embarked on research to find out who scored the first points and discovered Schectman’s layup. When Ben Gordon of the Detroit Pistons scored the NBA’s 10 millionth point in January 2010, Schectman was remembered once more.
Schectman scored 11 points in the Knicks’ 68-66 opening-night victory over the Huskies. He averaged 8.1 points a game for the 1946-47 season, making him the third-highest scorer, behind Bud Palmer and Sonny Hertzberg, on a Knicks team that made it to the playoff semifinals.
By the next fall, the Huskies had gone out of business and Schectman had departed as well, deciding that he could best support his family as a salesman in New York’s garment district.
“I’m just proud,” he put it long afterward, “to have been one of the NBA’s pioneers.”
Oscar Schectman (everyone called him Ossie) was born March 30, 1919, in New York City, one of five children of Jewish immigrants from Russia.
He learned to play basketball at settlement houses and, more informally, by shooting balls through the low rung of a tenement fire-escape ladder. He then played for Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn.
Schectman played for LIU teams that won the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden in 1939, completing an unbeaten season, and again in 1941, at a time when the NIT was more important than the NCAA tournament.
His pioneering layup inspired the title of “The First Basket,” a 2008 documentary by David Vyorst about the prominence of Jewish basketball players in the first half of the 20th century.
Schectman was among players from the inaugural NBA game who were honored when the Knicks played the Toronto Raptors at Skydome in 1996 on the 50th anniversary of the league’s debut.
Schectman, whose death was announced by the Knicks, had retired to Delray Beach, Fla., after more than three decades in Manhattan’s garment industry and lived in Ardsley, N.Y., in Westchester County, in his final years.
For his one season as a Knick, Schectman made $9,000, which included a $1,000 bonus for the playoffs. The Knicks’ entire payroll, as he recalled, was $60,000.
Schectman looked back on those days fondly.
“I have no jealousy or resentment over how much money these guys make today,” he told Rosen when he was 86.
But he admitted having regrets.
“I wish I could have known how to do a crossover dribble,” he said “That really looks like a lot of fun.”