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Carlan Gay

Stewart Granger: The first Black Canadian drafted in the NBA



Feb 16, 2021

If the name Stewart Granger doesn't ring a bell, it should. 

He was a three-time All-Big East performer in his time at Villanova University. 

He was a Canadian National team member, who represented the country at two World Championships in 1982 and 1990. 

Granger was also the 24th pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, a draft that was rich in talent and featured the likes of Hall of Famers Ralph Sampson and Clyde Drexler — and fellow Canadians Leo Rautins and Ron Crevier. Granger spent three seasons in the NBA and another handful of years playing pro in the United States Basketball League (USBL), the Philippines and Sweden.

He was one of Canada's most talented exports on the basketball court, in a time where many Canadians were still trying to break through. Stewart Granger was all those things, but most of all he was a pioneer.

Granger holds the distinction of being the first Black Canadian to be drafted to the NBA — a  distinction that nowadays, may be taken for granted. On any given night in the NBA, it's easy to turn on a game and see multiple Canadians on the floor — multiple Black Canadians.

But in Granger's era that wasn't the case. Very few Canadians made it to the league and none of them before Granger were Black.

Granger's legacy may be lost on the current generation of players and fans, but there's no question that his name was important to the generation of players that came directly after him. 

When Canadian Basketball Hall of Famers Leo Rautins, Mike Smrek and Bill Wennington were breaking barriers for the country, Granger was also a part of the wave.

While Rautins and Smrek played their high school years in Canada, Wennington and Granger spent their formative basketball years in New York state.  While Wennington would eventually choose local power St. John’s University, Granger decided to go to Villanova. 

Former National Team member Dwight Walton remembers hearing about Granger's accomplishments and began to believe that if it happened for a fellow Montrealer, he could achieve his goals too.

“I found out that Stu was from Montreal, raised in New York, but he was also attending Villanova University,” Walton said.  "For me, especially back in the day, playing in the United States, playing at a Division I school was a major deal." 

“It was so big that if you were going to a Division I school, back in my day, you had held a press conference to make the announcement because that's how unusual or unique an experience it was.”

While those who heard the name never forgot it, seeing him play was a whole other experience. At 6'3”, 190 lbs, Granger was a skilled, tough, hard-nosed competitor and with playing high school basketball in New York, and then in the rugged Big East, Granger would've had to have been tough — not only to earn respect but excel. 

In his time at Villanova, Granger was a three-year starter and led the team in assists for three straight seasons. He helped the Wildcats to two straight Big East regular season titles in his junior and senior years. Not only was he talented enough to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft, but also to represent Canada on the international stage. 

Granger's breakthrough in the NBA was significant for Black Canadians but so was his time with the National Team. At the time, not many Black Canadians were playing for Team Canada and Granger was one of the few. 

Ron Crevier, a teammate of Granger's with Team Canada, recalls the first time he came to camp.

"I got a chance to go to the National Team I think in 1980 and Stu came into the training camp about a year later," Crevier said. "There was Doc Ryan, and [Stu] and I think Tony Simms came in a little bit later to the National Team, so Stu was at one time the only Black guy at the camp that went beyond the initial cuts. He's the one that stayed.” 

As the only French Canadian on the team, Crevier also understood what it was like to be different from your teammates and the pair bonded over their similarities and differences.  

“We got along really well, I really liked the guy,” he said. “He was tough. He was super skilled, he had a lot of heart on the court.”

Crevier believes that Granger should be a household name. A name that should be celebrated in Canadian sports history for the doors he opened for other Black Canadian basketball players. 

"You can't forget about a guy like that," Crevier said. "It's the first doors that are being opened for the rest.  It's like a foundation that's been built. He's the first one, he should be celebrated with the rest of the guys." 

Granger’s impact on the game in Canada may go unnoticed but it shouldn't. His contributions to the game, breaking barriers and being a motivation for a future generation of players should be celebrated — not just in February but beyond. 

Many Black Canadians have now represented Canada at various tournaments and many now play in the NBA on a nightly basis. They continue to help write Canada's basketball history page by page, chapter by chapter. The reality is though, Stewart Granger's chapter in the history book should come before them all. 

No one will truly know the burden Granger had to bear being the first, but we do know that those who came after walked along an easier path because of him.