By Arnie Leshin
Little did Ossie Schectman know he was about to make history.
First, let’s go back to 1946 when 11 franchises comprised the Basketball Association of America, the BAA. Two years later, four teams from the National Basketball League joined up with the BAA. A year later, the remaining six teams from the NBL moved to the BAA.
It was now one league known as the National Basketball Association, the ever-lasting NBA. Since that time, franchise have come and gone. One city would lose a franchise, and players would come and go. Years later, the red, white and blue basketball was introduced by the American Basketball Association, and in the year 2000, the NBA and ABA merged to put the ABA our of business.
Now this where Ossie Schectman comes in. He was a member of the New York Knickerbockers when the opening game in 1949 was played in Toronto against the then-Huskies. All the other openers were to be played in the United States the next day.
“What happened,” said Schectman, “was that because we were playing in Toronto, they had us open a day before everybody else.”
At the time, it was just another game of hoops, and little did the half-inch over 6 feet back court player Schectman think otherwise. He was an All-America at Long Island University-Brooklyn in 1940 and 1941, and was later picked in the inaugural college draft by the Knicks.
He was a popular player, a true leader who specialized in the two-handed shot and the soon-to-be residents of the first Madison Square Garden wanted him to run its offense.
Back to history. It didn’t take long for the basket to fall, and when Schectman took a pass inside and tossed in a layup, history was made, the NBA’s first-ever points.
“It was just a simple layup,” he said. “I thought nothing of it and I was surprised when they later gave me the game ball. I was the game’s leading scorer, but history was made on that.”
Through the years, nothing was made of it, but when Ricky Pierce of the Milwaukee Bucks scored the league’s 5 millionth point, the NBA decided to retrace its history and find out who scored the initial basket.
“Somehow, they got in touch with me,” Schectman said, “and I was surprised to learn that I was a part of NBA history.”
What followed in 1988 was the league awarding him with a shiny silver plaque, and living in South Florida’s Delray Beach with his wife, he first received the plaque and the recognition at a Miami Heat game against the perfect opponent — the New York Knicks.
He made television and radio appearances, when seen in shopping malls and restaurants, he was happy to sign autographs.
When he played at LIU, he captained the Blackbirds to the National Invitational Tournament championship his senior year by defeating Ohio University in the finals. His sophomore season, he also paved the way to the NIT title by turning back DePaul in the final.
“Back then,” he said, “the NIT was the national tournament, and all the schools in the New York area were national powers. “There was NYU, Seton Hall, CCNY, St. John’s.”
Upon graduation, Schectman joined the military service and played on the armed forces team for three years, although at the time there was nothing ever said about the NBA’s first basket, and it remained a secret until the league decided to go way back in history and found out that Ossie Schectman was the one.
“My wife,” he said, “told me that we knew each other since high school and never, ever discussed anything about this. She then made some family and friends calls to let them know what has transpired.”
But because the NBA hadn’t been established yet with a full field of professional teams, Schectman had to wait, and so he hooked up with the Philadelphia team in the Eastern League until New York got together with the other NBA-bound teams and began signing the best players.
Knicks’ owner Ned Irish contacted Schectman and offered him $6,000 to sign and with a $4,000 bonus. He took the court at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan, the franchise’s first home while the first Madison Square Garden on 50th street and 8th avenue was being built.
He was just the fit for the Knickerbockers. He penetrated, displayed the popular 2-handed shot, played good smart defense. He was the team’s second-leading scorer and first in assists both with New York and 3rd in the NBA. He provided the leadership with his smarts and versatility
From the East Flatbush of Brooklyn, he began playing hoops at the age of 11. At nearby Samuel Tilden High School, he was a high school All-America, probably still has some records, and brought big crowds at home games when he took an average team to the public school city championship twice and won both times.
But little did he know about what was to come years later when he made a simple layup shot that was a secret until the NBA located him.
But disaster struck for him in the first round of the league’s initial post-season playoffs. He collided with the Chicago Stags’ Max Zaslofsky, ruptured his intestine. Spent time in the hospital and then decided he wasn’t fit to play anymore.
When he did change his mind, he couldn’t agree with Knickerbockers owner Ned Irish on salary, so he went back to the Eastern League and played three nights a week with the team from Paterson, N.J.
Then the Knickerbockers held a night for him at Madison Square Garden.
“It was wonderful,” he said, “something I can never forget. They introduced
Evelyn, we had friends and family there, Max Zaslofsky, my rival and then my Jewish buddy, was there, made a nifty statement in my honor, and it was an appreciate large crowd.
He and Zaslofsky both made the Jewish All-America list. For Ossie, there was also being named to the all-time NYC All High School team, the all-LIU team, and there’s recognized notice behind the trophy case of him in the present MSG.
The shiny silver plaque presented to him at the Miami Heat game against just the right opponent, the New York Knicks.
It said “Presented from the National Basketball Association to Ossie Schectman for the first basket in NBA history and in appreciation of your lifelong commitment to the game of basketball.”– November 5th, 1988.
On June 30th, 2013, Oscar Benjamin Schectman passed away at the age of 94, four years after his wife Evelyn died. He was able to sign his final autograph at the home for the elderly in Florida.