A basketball player from British Columbia emerges as an NCAA standout at a West-coast NCAA university, before taking his game to the pros as a pioneer of Canadian Basketball. It’s a story all Canadian basketball fans are familiar with, but with an unexpected twist. This isn’t the story of Steve Nash – this story takes place 40 years earlier, and his name is Bob Houbregs.
Standing 6-7, 225 pounds, the Vancouver-native Houbregs attended the University of Washington from 1949 to 1953 where he completed a stellar college career. In 1952, Houbregs was a Second Team Consensus All-America selection. As a senior in 1953, he was named NCAA Player of the Year, was a Consensus All-America selection, helped lead the University of Washington to the Final Four, and was named to the All-Tournament team after averaging 34.8 points in the post-season.
The NBA was still very young when Houbregs entered the professional ranks. The Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL) had merged just four years earlier, in 1949, and taken the name National Basketball Association (NBA).
“Houby” became the first Canadian to be drafted in the first round of the newly-formed NBA when he was selected second overall in the 1953 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Hawks the year before the shot clock was introduced. His selection remains the highest a Canadian has ever been picked in the NBA draft.
The 6-7 post player displayed an accurate hook shot and averaged 9.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists over his five-year NBA career with Milwaukee, the Baltimore Bullets, Boston Celtics, and Fort Wayne/ Detroit Pistons. Houbregs later served as general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics from 1970 to 1973.
He was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1987. In 2000, Houbregs was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame for his significant contributions to the sport.
Houbregs is a player whom history has seemingly forgotten, yet his path from Canada to the NBA was certainly a precursor to Nash, whether Nash knew it or not. In any case, Houbregs blazed the trail that many Canadians have since taken to the NBA and many more are poised to take in the coming years. It’s only right that they know about Houbregs, and maybe thank him.
Regular stories commemorating our 90th anniversary will appear on the 90 Years in the Making series archive. We would also like to reach out to those who have been involved in the Canadian basketball community over the years. If you have a story to share, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and join the conversation on twitter with #CB90