A Quick, Detailed History of the NBA

The NBA has an incredibly interesting history, rich with details and stories. We did our best to break down the important moments over the last 70 years of NBA history, starting with its inception in 1946:

The Foundation and Merging of BAA – NBL (1946-1956)

The foundation of the Basketball Association of America occurred in 1946 when two big hockey arenas in the Midwestern and Northeastern  Canada and the United States merged together. The first game was hosted in Toronto, Canada by Toronto Huskies that played against New York Knickerbockers. This was regarded as the first official NBA game in the history of the league. There were some earlier attempts for the creation of professional basketball leagues in North America, such as the NBL and American Basketball League.

However, the BAA is definitely considered the first successful attempt, while Ossie Schectman, a player of the Knickerbockers created the first basket. The BAA was the initial league with big games in large national arenas based in main cities. In the beginning, the quality of games was not much better in the BAA than in other competing leagues or major independent teams like the Harlem Globetrotters, for example. Baltimore Bullets transferred to the BAA in 1948 and won that league in the same season, while the NBL champion of the same year won the BAA title next year.

Other NBL clubs from Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Rochester, and Fort Wayne moved to the BAA before the beginning of 1948-1949 season. Their decision help the establishment of professional basketball league with merging of collegian clubs.

Several clubs including Denver, Waterloo, Anderson, Syracuse, Tri-Cities, and Sheboygan that remained in the NBL joined the BAA on August 3, 1949. The change to the current National Basketball Association was done with an intention to support clubs to avoid any potential legal troubles they could have because of the merging with the new league. But the governing body stayed the same for the new league too.

The National Basketball Association claims the history of the BAA as its own. It considers the merging with NBL clubs as a natural expansion and refuses to recognize old  NBL statistics, records and data. There were 17 franchises within the new league based in a combination of small and big cities in these two countries. It includes small gymnasiums and big arenas simultaneously. The NBA moved down to 11 franchise in 1950, but this process continued until 1954 when the league consolidated at the smallest size of 8 franchises in total.

All of these clubs remain in the NBA until today and the list includes Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks, Philadelphia Warriors, Tri-Cities, Syracuse Nationals, Fort Wayne Pistons, Minneapolis Lakers, Blackhawks, and Rochester Royals. The smallest city franchises were intended to move to bigger cities with a larger population during the procedure of the contraction. For instance, the Hawks moved from Tri-Cities to Milwaukee during 1951, and then again relocated to St. Louis in 1955. The Rochester Royals, for example, shifted from Rochester to Cincinnati during 1957, while the Pistons moved from Fort Wayne to Detroit in 1957.


Wataru Misaka, a Japanese-American player was the first one who broke down the ethnicity barrier by playing for the New York Knicks in the 1947-1948 season. He stayed the single non-white NBA player until 1950 when the first African-American Harold Hunter signed the contract with the Washington Capitals. Still, Harold Hunter was removed from the club during training camp, but a few other African-American players played in the NBA later that year. Nathaniel Clinton from the Knicks, for example, was one of them as well as Earl Lloyd from the Washington Capitals, and Chuck Cooper from the Celtics. The Minneapolis Lakers won five championships during that period under the leadership of George Mikan who played at the position of the center. It was the beginning of establishing the first league's dynasty. The NBA experts introduced the 24-second shot clock in an attempt to support shooting while discouraging stalling at the same time. The team has a time limit of 24 seconds to complete the action, otherwise, the ball is going to be given to the opponent's team after the end of the time frame.


NBA Expansion and Competition with Celtics' Domination (1956-1979)

Bill Russes, rookie center, started to play in the Boston Celtics in 1957. The club already had some great team members such as Bob Cousy and coach Red Auerbach and was at the path to take the eleventh title in thirteen seasons. Wilt Chamberlain started playing in the NBA with the Warriors during 1959. He quickly became an important individual basketball star a year later. His new single-game records in rebounding and scoring are archived in NBA history until this very day. The rivalry between Chamberlain and Russell is known as one of the biggest rivalries in the American's sports team history.

Celtics dominated through the 1960s. With the leadership of coach Red Auerbach as well as players Bill Russell and Bob Cousy on the playground, Boston won 8 NBA championships from 1959 to 1966. The winning line is the greatest in the entire NBA history. Still, they did not succeed to get 1966-1967, but they again won the next season and repeated the victory in 1969. It means they won 9 of ten championships from 1960 to 1970.

This was an important period for the further development of the NBA league following the move of the Philadelphia Warriors to San Francisco, Minneapolis Lakers to Los Angeles, the St. Louis Hawks to Atlanta, and the Syracuse Nationals shifts to Philadelphia with the introduction of the first expansion franchises. In 1961, the Chicago Packers now knows as Washington Wizards, started as the ninth NBA club. The league extended from nine to fourteen clubs from 1966 to 68, adding the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls, San Diego Rockets, and Seattle SuperSonics.

The foundation of the American Basketball Association in 1967 was a new outside danger for the NBA. Both leagues started a bidding war. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the most famous college basketball star of that period that moved to the NBA. But Rick Barry, a leading scorer in the NBA, went to the ABA together with 4 veteran referees; John Vanak, Joe Gushue, Norm Drucker, and Earl Storm.

Alan Siegel, a supervisor of the Major League Baseball logo design in 1968, made a new logo for NBA influenced by the MLB's. It contains the silhouette of the famous Jerry West formed on a picture created by Wen Roberts, but NBA officials did not confess any direct connection with between a particular player and picture because their main intention was to institutionalize, not to individualize this subject. The logo has become a such an enormous symbol of the league's identity and its licensing system that they want to avoid identification with any single player. This exceptional logo was officially introduced in 1971 and has remained a focal point of the league's identity until today. Still, a small change of the typeface on the wordmark occurred two years ago.

In the 1970s, the ABA managed to sign several important contracts with big basketball stars of that time, such as Virginia Squires and Julius Erving. The conditions allowed clubs to make contracts in part with college undergraduates. The NBA developed quickly during these years with an intention to connect the most viable basketball centers and cities. The NBA jumped from 9 to 18 franchise from 1966 to 74. It was 100% percent growth that signified a great professional success. The Clevland Cavaliers, Buffalos Braves, now known as Los Angeles Clippers and the Portland Trail Blazers all took their first roles extending the league to seventeen. The New Orleans Jazz came the last one, and it was the eighteenth franchise in total. But the number of franchises continued to grow following a settlement that provided four new transfers from the ABB to the NBA in 1976 season, reaching the figure at 22 within the league at that period. Indiana Pacers, New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, and San Antonio Spurs were these four new clubs that joined creating new franchises. Moses Malone, Pete Maravich, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Elvin Hayes, Rick Barry, Dave Cowens, Walt Frazier, Dan Issel, and George Gervin were among the biggest stars of this period. But a decline was encountered at the of the decade, and it included low TV ratings and attendance as well as drug-related player troubles. Some of these were perceived while others were real, and they threatened to obstruct the NBA league. 

Growing Popularity of the NBA (1979-1998)

In 1979, the NBA added some rules and game regulations taken from the ABA league, such as three-point field goal starting. It was an interesting innovation for the public. Furthermore, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird started to play in the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, introducing a period of serious rise in the popularity of the NBA league at the home country as well as abroad. The two competed in the 1979 NCAA Division / Basketball Championship Game for the first time. Later, they met again and were rivals during three league finals in 1984, 1985, and 1987, entering the Basketball Hall of Fame together with 11 other NBA players and couches. Lakers and Celtics dominated again the finals of the NBA just like in the 1960s when the 6 league finals competed against each other with a particular highlighting of these two clubs. Johnson was the leader of the Lakers in all the ten seasons during the 1980s. In the same time, Bird was the most prominent player of the Celtics during the five finals when the club took three titles. The NBA introduced one more extension after the Dallas Mavericks joined the league reaching the 23rd franchise total. Later, Larry Bird got the first 3 competitions in three-point shooting. The popularity growth of the NBA league was seen as a global product by David Stern, who was a league commissioner that started at the job position on February 1, 1984.


Michael Jordan joined the NBA in 1984, and the Chicago Bulls were his first club where he debuted. The interesting style and efficient shooting he introduced led to even further growth of the league's popularity in the country and abroad. It was a trigger for new cities to ask for their own NBA clubs and four of them succeeded with the intention. Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets, and Orlando Magic were four new teams that entered the NBA reaching the figure of the total 27 franchises within the league. As leaders, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were the most credible for the Bulls success in winning two three-peats during 8 years within 1991-1998 seasons. The Detroit Pistons were led by guard Isiah Thomas and coach Chuck Daly when they won the back-to-back during 1989 and 1990 seasons. Hakeem Olajuwon led Houston Rockets when they won the same type of the titles in 1994 and 95 seasons.

The well-known Dream Team from the Olympic games 1992 contained Michael Jordan, Johnson, Bird, Chris Mullin, Charles Barkley, Patrik Ewing, David Robinsons, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, Christian Laettner, John Stockton, and Karl Malone as players. They were chosen to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, all of them on the roster, except for Christian Laettner. Three couches were chosen to the same hale of fame among the selection of four couches.

The NBA league extended its operations to Canada in 1995 with the incorporation of the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies. The second team moved to Memphis in 2001, and the Toronto Raptors stayed in Canada as the only team from that country.

The women's NBA league was also created in 1996 and is now known as the Women National Basketball Association or WNBA.

The NBA stockholders started a lockout that lasted 6 months and 11 days and was completed on January 18, 1999. The result was seen in reducing the number of games from 82 to only 50 in a season, while the All-Star-Game was closed. The San Antonio Spurs were the first team that won the initial championship by eliminating the New York Knicks that held the first position. They are the only eighth seed that has managed to come to the finals.

The Modern NBA (1998-present)

The Western Conference took the leading role after the Chicago Bulls championship roster breakup in 1998. Phil Jackson, the Los Angeles Lakers coach in a combination with a couch of the San Antonio Spurs Gregg Popovich achieve thirteen finals in sixteen seasons winning 10 championships in total. David Robinson and Tim Duncan from the Spurs got the1999 title, while Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal won three succeeding titles for the LA Lakers from the 2000s. The Spurs, however, won a new championship against the Nets in 2003. The Los Angeles Lakers came back to the finals, but they lost against the Detroit Pistons after five games.

When the Spurs won the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy in the season of 2004, two new franchises initially appeared in the finals for the first time. Dwyane Wade as the main shooting guard and Shaquille O'Neal, who was transferred from the LA Lakers, led the Miami Heat against the Dallas Mavericks winning four of six games in total. The Spurs and LA Lakers dominated through the next year and the Spurs even achieved a four-game sweep against the Cleveland Cavaliers which played under the leadership of LeBron James. At the end of the championship, the Boston Celtics won over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA's highest-profile competition for the 17th title in the league. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce were the biggest stars which helped Celtic to achieve that victory.

Kobe Bryant came back to the finals with the LA Lakers in 2009 by eliminating the Orlando Magic that was lead by Dwight Howard. Kobe Bryant got the initial Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award after 13th seasons under his leadership over the LA Lakers to the initial NBA championships since Shaquille O'Neal left out the club.

Cowboys Stadium was a location where the 2010 NBA All-Star Game took the place in front of the biggest public ever, officially reported 108,713 fans. The Los Angeles Lakers and Celtics continued rivalry from 2008 during the league finals when the clubs met again at the end of the championship. The Lakers, however, took the victory that time by defeating the rivals in the game 7 with the result of 83-79. Prior to the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, there was an interesting summer in the NBA league with the most exciting free agent class of that period. Two of three free agents signed the contract with the Miami Heats that led to the championship with the strongly focused attention to their final successful achievements or faults at bringing home the championship. The Miami Heat under the leadership of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James, succeeded in the intention to win the title against the Dallas Mavericks which presented a rematch of the 2006 finals. Dirk Nowitzki led the Dallas Mavericks that won the series in 6 games, taking the first club's title. Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, Shawn Marion, and Jason Kidd praised their initial NBA championship. 

The NBA league acknowledged a new lockout on July 1, 2011. After the pause of the first several weeks of the championship, the owners and players signed a new mutual agreement on December 8, 2011, starting a shortened version of the 66-game championship.  The Miami Heat came back to the finals with the same winning trio. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh played against Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City Thunder. The Miami Heat succeeded to win the in 5 games, taking their second league's title in the last 6 years. The success of the club continued in the next season when they won against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013 league finals. However, the Spurs managed to defeat the Heat after five games in the rematches of the following season. David Stern, league's commissioner resigned on February 1, 2014, after precisely 30 years in the office. Adam Silver was his successor at the job position.

LeBron James acknowledged his intention to come back to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the 2014 finals. He led the club to their 2nd final competition when the Golden State Warriors won after 6 games. A new season finished after a rematch in the 2016 NBA finals when the Cavaliers defeated the Warriors after 7 games total winning the first club's NBA title. The two teams continued to dominate next year as well after Kevin Durant signed a contract for the Warriors as a free club's agent. They took the 3rd NBA finals between the two clubs after 5 games when Durant was named as finals MVP. They repeated the same success in 2018 when they got a 40th straight finals matchup.

LeBron James signed a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers during the same year.

Worldwide Influence of the NBA

With the pioneers such as Drazen Petrovic from Croatia and Vlade Divac from Serbia who started playing in the NBA in the 1980s, a growing figure of foreign basketball players has come to the United States and Canada from different locations and countries in the world. They mostly started to play in the NBA league where many of them have made remarkable careers with some exceptions, of course. The NBA Europe Tour started in 2006, and from that period of time, the NBA clubs have played exhibition matches against European counterparts from EuroLeague. There were 92 foreign players at the beginning of the 201302014 NBA season that came from 39 different countries and consisting more than 20 percent of the entire league. The start of the 2017-2018 NBA championship saw even a bigger number of 108 foreign basketball player which came from 42 different countries reaching a fourth consecutive year of more than a hundred foreign players and when every NBA club has at least one basketball player from abroad. Igor Kokoskov, a Serbian basketball coach, was hired by the Phoenix Suns in 2018 as their new head who replaced a Canadian coach Jay Triano. The contract with the Suns made Kokoskov the first European coach who became the head coach of the NBA's team.

Additionally, NBA popularity has surged in China:

Other Expansions

The National Basketball Development League, a small connected competition, was created in 2001, and it is known as the NBA G League currently. Before the beginning of this league, some loud rumors suggested the NBA would acquire the Continentals Basketball Association, and rename it as the development league.


The NBA came back to North Carolina following the Charlotte Bobcats formation into an expansion team during 2004, 2 years after the Hornets moved to New Orleans.

Later, the Hornets relocated again to Oklahoma City in 2005 for the next two years due to the damage and troubles caused by Hurricane Katrina. The club, however, came back to New Orleans in 2007.

The first ball game change was released on June 28, 2006, for the following season, presenting the initial improvements on this matter in the last thirty-five years, and only the second change in the last sixty seasons. It was created by Spalding which introduced a new design and different synthetic material that the manufacturer believed provide a better feel, handling, and consistency than the older model. Still, many NBA players were used to the original model, claiming the new one was too muggy when dry and too oily while wet.

On December 11, 2006, the NBA commissioner Stern acknowledged that the league would take back the original leather basketball in use, preceding the 2006-2007 championship. Constant player complains and noted injuries motivated the officials to introduce those changes of the standard microfiber ball. The Players' Association even started a legal action by filing a lawsuit in supporting the claims against the NBA regarding the new ball. The jerseys are created by Nike from the 2017-2018 season which replaced the previous manufacturer, Adidas. All NBA clubs are going to wear this piece of equipment with the Nike logo, only the Charlotte Hornets will have the Jumpman logo, which is connected to Michael Jordan who owns and runs the club.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation started an interrogation on July 19, 2007, about accusations that Tim Donaghy, NBA referee, bet on the league's games he ran in the last two years and that Donaghy created calls influencing the point spread during these games. He pleaded guilty on August 15, 2007, for 2 federal charges connected to the interrogation and the FBI legal action. Tim Donaghy said in 2008 that some of his colleagues from the league were favorable to various NBA players and "company men" for the league and he claimed that those referees affected the final outcome of particular playoff and final NBA games in 2002 and 2005. The league's commissioner David Stern refused the accusation and explained that Donaghy was a convinced criminal and a cooperating witness. Tim Donaghy was released from the prison in November 2009 after 15 months. The referees improved the Los Angeles Lakers chances of winning with foul calls several times during the game, there still was not their intention to change the game against the rules and regulations according to an official report by Ronald Beech of Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals when the Sacramento Kings competed against the Lakers. Beech said, "it does not appear to be a problem with multiple allowances and standards for various NBA players."

The league's Board of Governors signed the decision on the Seattle SuperSoncis moving to Oklahoma City in April 2008. But the club could not relocate because the city of Seattle filed a charge against the team with the intention to keep them at KeyArena for the next two seasons. In July 2008, the city, however, allowed the transfer with the ownership group to the new location following a court decision. The new deal terminated the last two seasons of the club's lease at KeyArena. The Oklahoma City Thunder started with competing at the beginning of the 2008-2009 season. 

The initial modern outdoor NBA game took a place between the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns at the Indian Wells Tenis garden in October 2008.

In September 2009, a referee lockout started after the contract between them and the league expired. The initial preseason games began in October 2009 while transfer referees from the NBA Development League and the WNBA were utilized. The first time change was introduced at the start of the 1995-1996 season, while the standard referees and the NBA league made an agreement in October 2009.

The initial NBA league games started in 2011 in the European continent. The Toronto Raptors competed against the New Jersey Nets in 2 games at the O2 Arena in London while over 20,000 fans watched the events.

The first NBA game of the 2011-2012 seasons was scheduled on November 1, 2011, between the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks. But it was later postponed because of a labor dispute. The lockout publicly finished on December 8, 2011, after the owners and players signed a collective agreement. The season started on Christmas Day at the end of the deal.

The New Orleans Hornets changed the name to the Pelicans at the close of the 2012-2013 season. The NBA commissioner Stern retired in the next seasons after thirty years of work, while the deputy commissioner Adam Silver took his office and position. The Bobcats, however, regained the name of the Hornets after the agreement with the NBA and the Pelicans. It also got the right to claim the club's history, statistics and records together with the old name. The Hornets are now regarded as the NBA club that has been found in 1988, stopped working in 2002, and returned as the Bobcats in 2004, which is the result of the agreement. On the other hand, the Pelicans are publicly considered a 2002 expansion NBA club. The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns from the NFL, for example, share similar relationships.

A former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers got a lifetime ban from the league in April 2014 when the racist comments he created became publicly available. He was fined $2.5 million as well, which was the maximal financial penalty under the NBA Constitution.

The San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon in August 2014 at the position of an assistant team's couch, and she became the 1st full-time female coach in the NBA and the 2nd female coach in the entire league's history. Also, she was the first full-time female trainer in any of the 4 main professional sports in the United States and Canada.

In April 2016, the NBA released that it would permit all the league's member clubs to sell sponsor ad patches on official dresses starting at the 2017-2018 championship. They would be placed on the jersey's left front which was an opposite position of the standard Nike's logo position and would measure roughly 2.5 by 2.5 inches. It would be the first time that a producer's logo showed up on an NBA jersey.  The league would become the initial main professional sports league in the United States that permit sponsorship logos on official club dresses. The Philadelphia 76ers was the first club that announced a jersey sponsorship. 

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