Who was Hank Biasatti, the Italian on the pitch in the first game in NBA history

On November 1, 1946, Toronto-New York inaugurated the NBA: there was only one foreigner on the field and he came from the province of Udine

Mario Salvini

The almanacs say that 75 years ago, on November 1, 1946, there were 24 players on the pitch. They do not specify that they were all white. Instead, they take care to say that 23 were American and one Canadian: the first foreigner in the history of the NBA. Which to tell the truth was not yet called Nba, the official name was Baa, but it would only be a matter of time. Except that that first foreigner was actually born in Beano, in the province of Udine.


An Italian at the first

For the sacred books of basketball he is Canadian, for our hearts he is Italian. His name was Arcado, but everyone called him Hank, Hank Biasatti. Really: in the first game in the history of the NBA, whose 75th anniversary is celebrated today, there was an Italian. And then you have to go to that Toronto autumn evening. All the other games are scheduled for tomorrow, the one in Canada, Toronto Huskies-New York Knickerbockers, is an advance. Destined to enter the legend. Even if there and then no one would have said it. On the Toronto Star the announcement is a blurb. Many in the city must have considered the idea of ​​covering the ice at Maple Leafs Gardens, the home of the hockey team that everyone was – and is – a kind of religion to be bizarre. Admission costs $ 2.5, but if someone could have shown that they equalized or surpassed the tallest of the players on the field (2.07), they would have had free admission.

Biasatti Arch

The phenomenon came from Friuli

Arcado had moved as a child with his family from Friuli to Canada, in Windsor, on the other side of Lakes Erie and St. Claire from Detroit. Ontario on one side, Michigan on the other. Canada on the one hand, the United States on the other. In the perfect iconography of the North American champion, in high school Arcado is a phenomenon in basketball, baseball and even football: he plays quarterback and leads his Assumption School to a legendary victory against an American team from South Bend. Except that he was born in 1922, so when he is 20 we are in the middle of the World War and he is enlisted. It suits him that his status as an athlete keeps him away from Europe and all fronts. On the other hand, with the army basketball team he succeeds in something that not many others can boast of. Certainly no Italian can do it. With the national military of Canada, Arcado, now for all Hank, beat the Harlem Globetrotters for 49-45. And not only did he beat them, but he was also the best scorer of the game, with 11 points, including the two of the decisive advantage: two free to go from 43 equal to 45-43. At the same time with the London Army Team in 1943 he won the IBL, the Intercounty Baseball League, an independent Canadian league.

Hank e gli Huskies

From the war to the Baa

Then, finally, the war ends and in the winter between 1945 and 1946 two things happen to Hank. He is signed by the Maple Leafs, not the famous NHL hockey players of course. Maple Leafs was also called the Toronto baseball team that was not in Mlb, played in Triple A, in the International League, and was affiliated with the Philadelphia A’s (today the A’s are the Oakland team). In the same months, however, the Huskies were born, the basketball team that was supposed to take part in that new, elusive, championship called Baa. And they summoned him. So 1946 is a bit complicated for Hank. But November 1st is on time with the Huskies, basketball, Baa and history. In that first NBA game, which was not yet called that, he only played a few minutes. Without scoring points. But there was, and that’s it. There would be little left. In all, he played six games in BAA, with as many points scored. After that, just a few days before Christmas 1946, Hank went to the executives and spoke clearly: “Dear friends, I have to go to spring training.” It is not entirely clear whether it was a matter of taste. He certainly earned a lot more money in baseball. And that is where his career in the not yet NBA ended.

From basketball to baseball

Even if the Celtics …

In 1947 he played with the Savannah Indians, in the Minors. And therefore the proposal that had come to him for basketball should have flattered him. The Boston Celtics wanted it, no less. Not that in the first year of the league the Celtics had done who knows what: they had finished last in the Eastern League on par with the Toronto Huskies.

But in hindsight it was only a matter of waiting three more seasons, Red Auerbach would arrive and one of the most exciting epics in all of American sport would begin. But it is also true that the first Celtics title would only come in 1957, when Hank would have been 35 years old. And in those days we didn’t play until that age. Anyway, it was one sliding door. Which closed there, to reopen on the diamond. His priority was and remained baseball. Partially rewarded, because 1948 did it in Triple A, in the second series, just one level below the MLB. And in 1949 he made the big leap with Philadelphia A’s. On April 23, during the 7th inning, against the Washington Senators, legendary manager Connie Mack (in her 49th and penultimate season at the helm of the A’s!) Put him in as a pinch-hitter. It is true, however, that Hank’s career in Mlb did not last long, only 1949. He still played for a long time, almost always in Triple A, in the second series, in Toronto, Buffalo, and the San Francisco Seals. In the winter, Hank continued to play basketball for a while, at the New York Gothams, in a semi-professional league. Then from 1953 he served as manager-player in the Minors of the A’s who in 1955 moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City. Then he continued as a coach. However, without ever choosing between baseball and basketball, as he lived all his life: summer with the Philadelphia A’s Minors, winter with the quintet of his old Assumption Windsor, which in the meantime also became a university and which he brought to two joint Ontario-Quebec titles.

Hank’s legacy

In the footsteps of a friend

This story, however, has a kind of deferred epilogue. At the time when Hank started playing in the Army, in the condominium where his family lived, in Windsor, another family of Italians, of Friuli, arrived, yet another. They were called Bertoia and they had a baby named Perino. To whom Hank gave his old glove, for little Pierino the first. Pierino, known as Reno, Bertoia from San Vito al Tagliamento, has in turn become an Mlb player. The seventh player born in Italy to debut in Mlb. He played extensively for the Detroit Tigers, then for the Washington Senators, the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City A’s. And he was the first Italian to play in Japan, at the Hanshin Tigers. The sixth Italian player in Mlb had been his neighbor, mentor and example: it was Hank. Hank Biasatti who was also the first foreigner in the history of the NBA, as well as the first athlete ever to have played in both NBA and Mlb. An incredible story and at the same time almost unknown to us in Italy. In the following decades, another 11 great athletes managed to play in both NBA and Mlb. Michael Jordan never made it.

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Who was Hank Biasatti, the Italian on the pitch in the first game in NBA history

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