Oscar "Ossie" Schectman, the former New York Knicks guard who scored the first basket in NBA history nearly seven decades ago, died Tuesday. He was 94.
Schectman's son Peter confirmed his father's death, which was also announced by the Knicks. Peter Schectman said his father did not have a prolonged illness and succumbed after developing complications related to respiratory failure.
"Ossie Schectman was a true NBA pioneer," NBA Commissioner David Stern said, adding that scoring the league's first basket "placed him permanently in the annals of NBA history."
Schectman scored the opening basket of a game in what was then known as the BAA on Nov. 1, 1946 for the Knicks against the Toronto Huskies, a layup after cutting down the center of the lane. The Knicks wound up winning that game at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens 68-66, and Schectman went on to average 8.1 points that season, his only one with the franchise.
The significance of scoring the first points in league history was lost on Schectman and others for decades. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Peter Schectman said he wasn't aware of it until the league researched some of its points milestones in 1988, around the time Utah's Rickey Green scored point number 5,000,000 in league history.
"Growing up with him, I never heard him mention it," Peter Schectman said. "He probably didn't concentrate on it. He was the captain of the team and the idea was to win ballgames. It wasn't discussed that much. He certainly never boasted about it, but when the time came up and it was brought into the light, it was thrilling for him."
Born Oscar B. Schectman on March 30, 1919, he was a graduate of Long Island University, which added him to its list of Distinguished Alumnus Award recipients earlier this year. Schectman played under legendary coach Clair Bee for the school's undefeated NIT and national championship team in 1939. He was selected as a first-team Converse All-American in 1941, the school said.
Schectman was a central figure in the documentary "The First Basket," detailing Jewish basketball history. He also had a long career in the garment industry after his basketball career was complete, then retired to Florida before returning to the New York area a few years ago. He remained a fan of the NBA throughout his life, his son said.
"All these wonderful things came out of it for him and he was fortunate to have the NBA and basketball," Peter Schectman said. "And likewise, the NBA and basketball in general were fortunate to have him. So it was a marriage of sorts."
Peter Schectman said his father particularly enjoyed regular gatherings that would draw up to 50 other former players in South Florida, their club holding events like weekly breakfasts and an annual dinner. According to STATS LLC, Schectman was the first of what now is 3,779 players to score at least one point in a NBA regular-season game.
Schectman is survived by two sons, their wives and their children. Schectman's wife Evelyn predeceased him in 2011 after a 70-year marriage.
"He was 94 and he was very fortunate to have a great run," Peter Schectman said. "He was very fortunate and very appreciative."
The Knicks said that the oldest living former member of their franchise is now Dick Shrider, who appeared in four games for the club in the 1948-49 season. Shrider is 90.