Invented by Canadian-born James Naismith in 1891, basketball took three decades to make its way to Spain. In the late 1920s, and as a result of the sport’s growing popularity, Ángel Cabrera proposed to Real Madrid that the club start its own team. From there a team was created that proved decisive in making basketball such a popular sport in Spain. A sport that would become legendary.
Cabrera, a Spaniard who had been playing basketball in Argentina, was given the go ahead by the Real Madrid board at the time to create the first teams. On the 8th of March 1931 an advertisement was placed in the daily newspaper ABC which said the following: “Men who are interested in practicing this sport are kindly asked to visit the club secretary, Caballero de Gracia, 15, to receive further instructions”.
At the beginning, basketball’s evolution in Spain was helped on by the efforts of individuals. Cabrera, the founder of the basketball project, not only played but was also a driving force behind the Federación de Castilla. One of his first teammates, Segundo Braña, became the team’s first coach in 1935. The dedication of these pioneers helped basketball really get a foothold in Real Madrid and gradually helped it become a hugely popular sport all over Spain.
THE FIRST BIG RIVALRY
Real Madrid began to compete in the Castilla Championship, where the team’s first big rivalry was with Rayo Club de Madrid. Both teams fought it out to be the best side in the region for years. The Whites won their first title against Rayo in the final of the Castilla Championship in 1933 (the third edition of the competition). Real Madrid won 22-16 with Filipino Juan Castellví putting in a MVP performance. Also playing for the Whites were Braña, Máximo Arnáiz, ‘Tano’ Ortega and Juan Negrín, son of the soon to be Spanish prime minister. The sides met again in the final of the Spanish Championship, however, on this occasion the Whites were beaten to the title. This great rivalry lasted right up until Rayo disbanded in 1941.
FROM OUTDOORS TO THE FRONTON COURT
Basketball in Spain was initially played outdoors, on earthen or clay courts, with wooden backboards. Some players would play with a beret, knee guards and rope-soled sandals. Real Madrid’s first court was situated on land close to one of the stands of the Chamartín Stadium. Onlookers would have to crowd around the court to see the pioneers of what was at the time an exotic sport. In 1939 the Whites moved their games to the now-extinct Recoletos Fronton. Frontons were not the only enclosures transformed into basketball courts. In April of 1933 a crowd of 14,000 fans attended a game between a selection of players from Madrid and Lisbon at the Goya Bullring. Basketball was initially played outdoors in Spain on homemade grass or ash courts and with wooden backboards. Some players used to compete in games wearing a beret, kneepads and sandals. Real Madrid’s first basketball court was located near the stands of the Chamartin football stadium. To watch these pioneers play this new, exotic sport, spectators had to crowd together by the side of the court. In 1939 the Whites began playing in the now defunct Frontón Recoletos. Fronton courts weren’t the only places that were adapted to make basketball courts, in April 1933, 14,000 spectators crowded into the Plaza de Toros de Goya (The Goya Bullring) to watch Madrid and Lisbon take each other on.