In the mid-1940s, owners of ice hockey arenas in the United States and Canada were looking at ways opportunities to keep their venues full when they were not hosting hockey games. The owners found what they were looking for in 1946 when they created the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The new league competed with others like the American Basketball League (ABL) and the National Basketball League (NBL) for players.
The quality of play began to improve in the BAA as teams from other leagues moved into in the late 1940s. The Minneapolis Lakers, the 1948 NBL champion, moved to the BAA and promptly won its championship in 1949. After the ’49 season, the remaining teams in the NBL, all small-market teams, merged with the BAA to form the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The league consolidated to eleven franchises in 1950 and again to eight by the 1953-54 season. The New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia Warriors, Minneapolis Lakers, Rochester Royals, Fort Wayne Pistons, Tri-Cities Blackhawks, and Syracuse Nationals made up the NBA at that time. All eight franchises are still in existence today.
Dynasties & Expansion
In the late 1950s, the Boston Celtics acquired center Bill Russell who teamed with point guard Bob Cousy and legendary coach Red Auerbach to lead the franchise to eleven NBA titles in thirteen seasons. The ‘50s also saw the entry of 7-footer Wilt Chamberlain into the league. Playing for Philadelphia, Chamberlain set numerous scoring and rebounding records and established one of the first true rivalries with Russell.
While the ‘60s were dominated by the Celtics, the league began to expand as well as relocate. The Lakers moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles; Philadelphia moved to San Francisco; and Syracuse moved to Philadelphia to become the 76ers. The Hawks moved from St. Louis to Atlanta. In 1961, the NBA gained its ninth team, the Chicago Packers (now the Washington Wizards). Between 1966 and 1968, the gained five more teams: Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, San Diego Rockets (now in Houston), and the Seattle Supersonics, now the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Competition from a New League
As the popularity of professional basketball continued to rise, the American Basketball Association (ABA) was formed in 1967. The new league challenged the NBA for players and succeeded in signing the likes of Julius “Dr. J” Erving (Virginia Squires). The ABA was successful because it would allow college undergraduates to sign professional contracts, something the NBA did not allow.
In response to the competition from the ABA, the NBA added franchises in Portland, Cleveland, Buffalo, and New Orleans (now in Utah). By 1974, the NBA had 18 teams. After the 1976 season, the ABA, whose franchises faced serious financial difficulties, added four of its franchises to the NBA. San Antonio, Denver, Indiana, and the New York (now Brooklyn) Nets became part of the NBA bringing the league to 22 teams.
The Modern Era
The popularity of professional basketball really took off when Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird took their college rivalry to the NBA in 1979. The two had played in the 1979 NCAA tournament national championship game and would end up facing each other in six NBA Finals. Johnson and his Lakers would win five NBA championships and Bird’s Celtics won three.
The league’s popularity soared even higher with the entry of Michael Jordan into the league in 1984. Jordan, often considered the game’s greatest player ever, helped the Chicago Bulls win six NBA titles. At the same time, the league began expanding again. In the 1980s, teams in Dallas, Charlotte, Miami, Orlando, and Minnesota all made their debuts. Expansion continued into the 1990s when teams were added in Toronto and Vancouver. The Grizzlies eventually relocated from Vancouver to Memphis.
The Current NBA
Currently, there are 30 teams in the NBA. They are divided into two 15-team conferences. Each conference is divided into three divisions. Each division has five teams. The breakdown is as follows:
The Eastern Conference consists of the following:
New York Knicks
The Western Conference consists of the following:
Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Clippers
Oklahoma City Thunder
Los Angeles Lakers
New Orleans Pelicans
San Antonio Spurs
Most recently, the league has been dominated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East and the Golden State Warriors in the West. The Warriors have won the last two and three of the last four NBA titles. The Cavaliers dominance in the East will most certainly end with star LeBron James relocating to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The latest trend in the game is the drafting and development of international players. In the late 1980s, Vlade Divac of Serbia spent 16 years in the NBA and paved the way for other foreign players to come play in the world’s best professional basketball league.
Since 2006, the NBA has played teams in the EuroLeague, considered to be the world’s second-best league, in exhibition games. The 2017-18 NBA season featured 108 international players, a new record. The Phoenix Suns hired Igor Kokoskov as their new head coach prior to the 2018-19 season making him the first European-born head coach in NBA history.
Hall of Fame
Located in Springfield, MA the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is an American institution that serves as basketballs historical archive and honors the games all- time greatest players, coaches, owners, referees and other contributors. It honors Canadian-American physician and the creator of the sport James Naismith. It was opened and inducted the first class in 1959. Currently there are 359 members. Some of the most famous being Bill Russell Bob Cousy Larry Bird and coach Red Auerbach of the Celtics. Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Magic Johnson of the Lakers. Julius Irving Michael Jordan and many others have contributed in making the NBA and professional basketball one of the worlds greatest and beloved sport.