Today it’s hard to imagine a sporting world without the National Basketball Association. Not only is the NBA one of the biggest and most recognizable sporting organization in the US, but as far as basketball is concerned it’s also the most prestigious, like Champions League in European Football. In addition to all the notoriety, the athletes who play in the NBA are, on average, the highest paid athletes in professional sport. But like so many institutions all over the US it’s origins were humble and sometimes rocky.
The NBA was founded, in its present form in 1949, some eight years after the first organized baseball tournaments and about fifty years after the first football tournaments. Interestingly it was owners of ice hockey arenas in the midwest that came together to form the Basketball Association of America (BAA). Their rinks were only operational during the cold months and in the summer it was perfect for basketball. In addition to the BAA, there was the NBL, National Basketball League, formed nearly a decade early in 1937. Although there had been a handful of clubs before that the NBL and BAA were the first that focused on basketball as a spectator sport as much as a past-time. In 1949 they merged, and despite the fact that all the administrative and practical duties were still carried out by BAA officials (who had acquired the NBL), for legal reasons the name was changed to the NBA.
The first non-white player was Japanese-American Wataru Misaka who played for the New York Knicks in the 1948-49 season, directly at the inception of the NBA, and the second was African-American, Harold Hunter who joined the Washington Capitols the following season.
Just like today, many people liked placing bets on the outcome of the events, and all throughout the 1960s the safe bet was the Boston Celtics and their star player Bill Russell. From 1957 to 1969 the Celtics won nearly all the championships, losing only in 1967. The 60s also saw the NBA grow by fifty per cent from only nine teams to fourteen by the end of the decade. Traditionally basketball was centred round the midwest and northeast, but the 60s saw the sport expand all across the country.
In 1979, a new rule was added allowing for the possibility of a three-point basket. This new addition, coupled with the appearance of the game’s superstars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird meant that throughout all of the 1980s the sport became more and more popular. In 1984 the Chicago Bulls signed Michael Jordan, bringing and even greater boost to the popularity of the game, and the association more than doubled the number of teams from a modest fourteen to twenty-nine.
Though it certainly didn’t start out as the juggernaut it is today, the NBA went from rather a minor fringe sport to being one of the most recognizable sporting organizations in the world in only a few short decades.