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Article from The Globe and Mail, Written By Marty Klinkenberg

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While the rapture over the Raptors swept the country last week, a display that pays homage to the greatest basketball club in Canadian history was quietly being completed.

Rather than the professionals in Toronto, the exhibit honours a remarkable group of trailblazing women who dominated the game at a time when sport was considered the exclusive domain of men.

The Edmonton Commercial Graduates, an amateur side founded in the fall of 1914, won 502 of 522 games they played in before they were disbanded at the start of the Second World War.

James Naismith, the Ontario-born doctor who invented basketball, called the Grads the “finest team that ever stepped on the floor.” Dressed in black-and-gold blouses, wool bloomers, thick stockings and knee pads, they won 147 games over seven years before suffering their first loss. After that, they won the next 78.

“It almost seems impossible to the extent that it is crazy,” says Mackenzie Cook, a six-foot forward for the University of Alberta Pandas. In 2018, she received the $1,000 scholarship that is handed out each year to a Pandas team member as a means to celebrate the Grads’ legacy. “It is important that we keep memories of them alive.”

The day after the Raptors captured their first NBA title, Grads memorabilia was being arranged in a glass cabinet on the second floor of the Saville Community Sports Centre. The multipurpose facility in Edmonton is managed by the University of Alberta. Above the artifacts there is a mural along the wall painted from a 1923 team photograph.

That year, the Grads won the North American championship over the Cleveland Favorite Knits, who arrived in Edmonton clad in shorts bearing the words “World Champs.” The Grads beat the pants off of them to win the Underwood International series for the first of 17 consecutive times. At the end, organizers decided it was easier to allow them to keep the trophy permanently rather than have to present it to them every year.

It made perfect sense. The Grads were nearly invincible.

 

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