CBC Digital Archives

The NBA is coming to Toronto

In 1891 at a YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass., a Canadian athletic instructor invented a simple game involving a ball tossed into a peach basket. It would take nearly a century for basketball to gain worldwide prominence and develop its own culture, fashion and vibe. Along the way, Canadians have played a huge role in popularizing the sport, on the street, in gyms and in the professional ranks.

"We're going to make the NBA proud. We respect the trust that they've charged us with," says John Bitove, Jr., president of the yet-to-be-named professional basketball franchise in Toronto. NBA commissioner David Stern is on hand to announce the granting of the franchise, as is Jerry Colangelo from the NBA expansion committee. Former premier of Ontario David Peterson is along as well. The price tag for the team is a hefty $125 million US, but Stern notes that in exchange fans will get to see something special. "What we represent is a very high level of family entertainment," he says in this 1993 TV clip from CBC at Six.
• Toronto actually had a professional basketball team nearly 50 years earlier. The Toronto Huskies were part of the Basketball Association of America (a forerunner of the National Basketball Association) during the league's inaugural 1946-47 season. They compiled a 22-38 won-loss record before disbanding in the summer of 1947 due to financial difficulties. The Huskies hosted the BAA's first game on Nov. 1, 1946, losing 68-66 to the New York Knickerbockers before an opening night crowd of 7,090 at historic Maple Leaf Gardens
  • The NBA faced a unique situation when considering expansion into Toronto. Previously, the league had examined bids between cities, but this time it encountered three different bids from the same city. The successful bid came from a group calling itself Professional Basketball Franchise (Canada) Inc. (PBF). In addition to Bitove and Peterson, the bid group included Allan Slaight of Standard Broadcasting Limited, Borden Osmak, a vice president of The Bank of Nova Scotia and Phil Granovsky of Atlantic Packaging Limited. Their rivals included the Palestra Group, led by road construction magnate Larry Tanenbaum along with the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Labatt Breweries. It was the Palestra Group who piqued the NBA's interest in the first place. The league wasn't considering Canadian expansion until the group submitted a $100,000 unsolicited application fee. The other group in the mix was led by rock concert impresarios Bill Ballard and Michael Cohl, who were supported by NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

• The NBA's 1995 expansion to Canada also included the Vancouver Grizzlies. The Grizzlies moved to Memphis, Tenn. in 2001, leaving Toronto as the sole Canadian NBA franchise. The Toronto team originally played its home games at cavernous SkyDome before moving to the more basketball-friendly Air Canada Centre (ACC) in 1999.

• Bitove Jr. is president of Bitove Investments Inc. and is the son of John Bitove Sr. The Bitove family owns a food services company. Bitove Sr. had approached the NBA about a Toronto franchise during previous expansions.

• Toronto had proved it wanted and could support an NBA franchise when it hosted two exhibition games in 1989 and 1992 and drew more than 25,000 fans to each game.

Medium: Television
Program: CBC at Six
Broadcast Date: Nov. 14, 1993
Guest(s): John Bitove Jr., Jerry Colangelo, Russ Grannick, David Peterson, David Stern
Reporter: Ken Daniels
Duration: 2:14

Last updated: January 30, 2013

Page consulted on October 4, 2013

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