LOOKING BACK 90 YEARS: OUR FIRST SHINING STAR
Voted Canada’s top basketball player of the half century 1900-50, Norm “The Swede” Baker was once described by former Harlem Globetrotter founder and manager Abe Saperstein, as "one of the greatest natural basketball players I have ever seen." High praise indeed for Baker, who picked up a basketball at age 10 playing for the Nanaimo Mosquitoes.
Six years later, he would become the youngest player to be part of a Canadian Senior National basketball Championship team when the Victoria Dominoes won in 1939. Two more national titles under the Dominoes banner would come his way in 1942 and 1946. In addition, he was part of the 1943 national champion Patricia Bay Royal Canadian Air Force Club Gremlins.
Baker turned professional in 1946, but played only four games for the Chicago Stags of the Basketball Association of America (B.A.A.) – forerunner of the present-day National Basketball Association. While with the Stags he wore jersey No. 16 .
“The main reason I did not stay is that I had a little trouble over the contract,” recalled Baker in a 1982 interview with this writer. “They didn't want to pay what I thought I was worth. They only gave me $900 a month.” Baker only took one shot during his brief cup of coffee.
It was a different matter though in the Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League (PCPBL 1946-48) where Baker was one the leading scorers while wearing the colours of the Vancouver Hornets. Notable team members included George (Porky) Andrews, Arthur Chapman, Reg Clarkson, Ritchie Nicol and Doug Peden.
“It (PCPBL) was a pro league and it had some good players,” recalled Baker, who passed away April 23, 1989. “The fan support in Vancouver was great but the league ended after two seasons.”
In 1946-47, Baker was one of two Canadians, along with Hornets ' teammate Andrews, to play in the World Professional Basketball Tournament (WPBT) with the Portland Indians.
In 1950, Baker was the only non-American on a team billed as “The Stars of the World,” on a 13-nation tour of Europe and Africa. Playing along with a group of College All-Stars, their opponent was the Harlem Globetrotters and the Globbies won the series 11 games to seven playing 18 games before a total of 181,364 fans.
Baker also played two years for the New York Celtics, Stars of America and Boston Whirlwinds – the traveling opponent of the Globetrotters. Baker was the second top scorer on the Celtics squad. “We had some great times traveling with the Globetrotters,” recalled Baker. “In fact we beat them a couple of times when we went to Europe. “They had some great players. Marques Haynes was a great dribbler and a greater gentleman as was Clarence (Cave) Wilson.”
Globetrotters’ owner Saperstein also stated of Baker: “If Norm had gone to an American college he would have been recognized as one of the top 10 best players on the continent right now. One of the players on my list (when Saperstein formed the New York Celtics) was Baker. I always wanted to give the kid his rightful chance. I guess I felt that his talent was being buried out there in Vancouver.”
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This article comes courtesy of Curtis J. Phillips. Regular stories will appear on the series archive, and we’d also like to reach out to those who have been involved in the Canadian basketball community over the years. If you’ve got a story to share, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and join the conversation on twitter with #CB90