‘Can you top that?’ Former High Point player stands tall in NBA history

Nov. 12 — HIGH POINT — When alumni discuss the greatest NBA players of all time, they never mention George Nostrand.

Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain? Sure.

Bill Russell? Absolutely.

Oscar Robertson? Without a doubt.

But George Nostrand? Seriously? He looks more like an AARP member than the NBA.

And, to be honest, Nostrand wasn’t such a great player.

He only lasted four seasons, averaging just over 8 points per game. He barely made half of his free throws and he shot a measly 30% from the floor. If AARP had a team, they probably would have traded him.

But Nostrand, who played basketball at High Point College in the early 1940s, has a unique claim to fame: More than 75 years ago, he played the very first game in NBA history and was the second top scorer of the match.

Not too shabby for a former Purple Panther, huh?

Nostrand came to High Point College from his native Uniondale, New York. At least one newspaper article suggested he never even played organized basketball before coming to High Point, but we can’t verify that.

Anyway, he played on High Point’s freshman team in 1941-42—freshmen couldn’t play varsity ball at that time—and was raised in college to his sophomore and third grade years, during which he was a solid starter and contributor. He played his senior season at the University of Wyoming, a national power in the early 1940s.

In 1946, after graduating from Wyoming, Nostrand found himself on the roster of the Toronto Huskies, one of the original teams in the new Basketball Association of America (which would be renamed the NBA three years later).

So how did Nostrand – a good but not a great player – make it onto the roster of a professional basketball team? Well, let’s just say it probably didn’t hurt that he was 6-foot-8, which practically looked like a giraffe at the time.

In fact, the new league used Nostrand’s unusual height to promote its first game, scheduled for Nov. 1, 1946, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto — yes, right in the middle of hockey country. The Toronto newspaper ran a photo of Nostrand – the team’s tallest player – in a series of three-column newspaper ads that asked, “Can you do better?”

According to the ads, any fan taller than Nostrand would get free entry to the season opener. Otherwise, they would have to purchase a ticket, the cost of which ranged from 75 cents to $2.50. About 7,100 spectators attended the game, which featured the Huskies against the visiting New York Knickerbockers.

For his part, Nostrand played admirably, finishing with 16 points and – given his size – probably a bevy of rebounds (but rebound stats weren’t kept at the time). Unfortunately, the Nostrand Huskies lost 68-66.

Nostrand would only last four seasons in the new league, moving from the Huskies to the Cleveland Rebels, Providence Steamrollers, Boston Celtics, Tri-Cities Blackhawks and Chicago Stags.

After that, Nostrand moved to the North East, where he became a teacher, coach and insurance salesman. He married and was the father of nine children. He died in 1981 at the age of 57.

No, the elders never talk about George Nostrand. But here at High Point, where the lanky youngster honed his basketball skills before claiming NBA fame, he can still stand his ground.

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579

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