National Basketball Association: History and Recent years
The National Basketball Association (NBA), holding prominence in North America, serves as a distinguished professional basketball league. The NBA network comprises 30 teams, with 29 located in the United States and one in Canada. Recognized as one of the top professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, it holds a global reputation as the foremost professional basketball league.
On June 6, 1946, in the bustling city of New York, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) was inaugurated, marking the inception of what would later become the NBA. It later underwent a rebranding following a merger with the National Basketball League (NBL) on August 3, 1949, subsequently adopting the name National Basketball Association. In 1976, a significant consolidation occurred with the American Basketball Association (ABA), resulting in four additional teams joining the NBA roster. The NBA's regular season runs from October through April, featuring 82 games for each team. The playoff season extends into June. Notably, as of 2020, NBA players rank among the world's highest-paid athletes, a distinction based on the average yearly earnings per player.
Additionally, the NBA is an active participant of USA Basketball (USAB), an entity officially recognized by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) as the governing body of basketball in the U.S. The league's global and team offices are overseen from the NBA's central headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. Meanwhile, NBA Entertainment and NBA TV studios conduct their operations from Secaucus, New Jersey. Concerning revenue generation, the NBA secures the third rank in North America, trailing the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB). This achievement situates it among the top four professional sports leagues worldwide.
Regarding NBA championships, the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers share the spotlight, each having secured 17 wins. As of the 2023 NBA Finals, the title of current champions rests with the Denver Nuggets, having triumphed over the Miami Heat.
Beyond the sporting realm, the NBA also engages in humanitarian activities. Through its NBA Cares initiative, the NBA pledges its commitment to philanthropy and addressing societal issues, underscoring its dedication to having a positive impact on communities globally.
Creation and BAA–NBL merger (1946–1956)
The origins of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) date back to 1946, when it was established by major ice hockey arena owners hailing from the Northeastern and Midwestern parts of the United States, as well as Canada. On the 1st of November that year, the BAA held its inaugural game, recognized today by the NBA as the first game in its history. This encounter took place in Toronto, Canada, where the Toronto Huskies hosted the New York Knickerbockers at the Maple Leaf Gardens. Ossie Schectman, a player from the Knickerbockers, scored the game's first basket. Despite previous attempts to establish professional basketball leagues, like the American Basketball League (ABL) and the NBL, the BAA was unique in its attempt to host games in major city arenas.
In the early days, the BAA's gameplay quality wasn't significantly superior to that of its rival leagues or standout independent clubs like the Harlem Globetrotters. For example, the Baltimore Bullets, the ABL finalists of 1948, transitioned to the BAA and clinched the BAA's 1948 title. Similarly, the NBL champions of 1948, the Minneapolis Lakers, won the BAA title in 1949. But before the 1948-49 season, NBL teams from Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Rochester switched to the BAA, marking it as the preferred league for college players turning professional.
On August 3, 1949, the remaining NBL teams, including Syracuse, Anderson, Tri-Cities, Sheboygan, Denver, and Waterloo, consolidated with the BAA. To honor the merger and sidestep potential legal issues, the league adopted its current name - the National Basketball Association, even though the combined league kept the BAA's administrative structure, including Maurice Podoloff as president. The NBA continues to adopt the BAA's history as its own, considering the addition of the NBL teams as an expansion rather than a merger and choosing not to acknowledge NBL records and statistics.
Celtics' dominance, league expansion and competition (1956–1979)
In 1957, a new recruit, Bill Russell, became part of the Boston Celtics, a team that already boasted the talents of guard Bob Cousy and coach Red Auerbach. Russell's arrival spearheaded the Celtics' achievement of eleven NBA titles in thirteen seasons. Another remarkable player, center Wilt Chamberlain, joined the Warriors in 1959, quickly establishing himself as a formidable individual player of the 1960s by setting single-game records in both scoring (100 points) and rebounding (55). The sporting rivalry that developed between Russell and Chamberlain is recognized as one of the most intense in the annals of American team sports.
The 1960s was a period of Celtic dominance. Under the leadership of Russell, Cousy, and Auerbach, the Celtics clinched eight consecutive championships from 1959 to 1966, setting an unrivaled record in NBA history. Despite not winning the 1966-67 season, they reclaimed the championship title in the 1967-68 season and defended it in 1969. The Celtics' dominance accounted for nine of the ten championship banners earned during the 1960s.
The NBA underwent significant changes during this period, with several team relocations and expansions. The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles, the Philadelphia Warriors relocated to San Francisco, the Syracuse Nationals shifted to Philadelphia and became the Philadelphia 76ers, and the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta. Additionally, the league saw the addition of its first expansion franchises. The Chicago Packers, later renamed the Washington Wizards, became the ninth NBA team in 1961. Between 1966 and 1968, the NBA expanded from nine to fourteen teams with the addition of the Chicago Bulls, Seattle SuperSonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder), San Diego Rockets (who later moved to Houston), Milwaukee Bucks, and Phoenix Suns.
In 1967, the NBA faced a new challenge with the formation of the American Basketball Association (ABA). A bidding war ensued between the leagues. The NBA managed to secure the most coveted college player of that era, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known then as Lew Alcindor). Despite this, the NBA lost its leading scorer, Rick Barry, to the ABA, along with four experienced referees: Norm Drucker, Earl Strom, John Vanak, and Joe Gushue.
Recent years (2014–present)
LeBron James, after spending four seasons with the Miami Heat, returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2014-15 season. Accompanied by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, James steered the team to their second appearance in the Finals. However, they were overcome by the Golden State Warriors in six games, thanks to the impressive performance of the "Splash Brothers," Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. An unprecedented four consecutive Finals saw the Cavaliers and the Warriors going head-to-head. The Warriors achieved the best season record in NBA history in the 2015-16 season, with 73 wins and only 9 losses. Despite this, the Cavaliers made a surprising comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals to secure their first championship that season. The Warriors bounced back in the 2016-17 season, boosted by the acquisition of free agent Kevin Durant, and triumphed over the Cavaliers in the Finals of 2017 and 2018.
When James left the Cavaliers in 2018 through free agency, the team's streak of playoff and Finals appearances came to a halt. The Warriors made it to the Finals for the fifth time in a row in 2019, but they fell to the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors secured their first championship after trading for Kawhi Leonard.
The 2019-20 season came to an abrupt halt on March 11, 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus. On June 4, 2020, the NBA Board of Governors decided to resume the season in a 22-team format, with each team playing eight seeding games and a regular playoffs format. All matches were held in a "bubble" at Walt Disney World, with no spectators allowed.
This period also witnessed a consistent yearly decrease in NBA viewership. From 2012 to 2019, the league lost between 40 and 45 percent of its viewers. Although part of this decline can be attributed to "cord-cutting", other professional leagues such as the NFL and MLB have managed to maintain a steady viewership. The opening game of the 2020 Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat attracted only 7.41 million viewers on ABC, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This figure is reportedly the lowest for the Finals since at least 1994, when viewer numbers began to be regularly recorded, representing a 45 percent decline from the previous year's opening game between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors, which had attracted 13.51 million viewers. Some critics blame this drop in viewership on the political positions adopted by the league and its players, while others cite load management, the uneven distribution of talent between conferences, and cord-cutting by younger viewers as the main factors.
Post the summer recess, NBA teams engage in training camps towards the end of September. The training camps serve multiple purposes: they help coaches assess players (primarily newcomers), identify the team's strong and weak points, prepare players for the demanding regular season, and finalize the 12-player active roster (and a 3-player inactive list) for the start of the regular season. NBA G League assignments are an option for players with less than two years of experience. Subsequent to the training camp, a series of preseason exhibition games take place. These games might be conducted in cities that do not host NBA teams, domestically or internationally. The NBA regular season kicks off in the final week of October.
Throughout the regular season, each team plays 82 games, half at home and half away. Teams square off against divisional opponents four times annually (16 games). Each team also plays against six teams from the other two divisions in its conference four times (24 games), and the remaining four teams three times (12 games). Furthermore, each team contests all teams from the opposing conference twice each (30 games). This imbalanced structure implies that schedule strength may vary between teams, although not as drastically as in the NFL or MLB. Over a span of five seasons, each team will have competed in 80 games against their division (20 games against each rival, half at home and half on the road), 180 games against the rest of their conference (18 games against each team, half at home, half on the road), and 150 games against the other conference (10 games against each team, half at home and half on the road).
Starting with the 2023–24 season, an in-season tournament will be incorporated into the regular season, wherein all tournament games (except the final) will count towards the regular season.
The NBA stands out as the only league to consistently schedule games on Christmas Day. This tradition dates back to 1947, although Christmas Day games weren't televised until the 1983–84 season. Games on this day often showcase the league's top teams and players. Christmas Day also marks the beginning of NBA games airing on network television for the season, with games on this day often being some of the highest-rated of the season.
In February, the regular season takes a pause to honor the annual NBA All-Star Game. Fan votes from across the United States, Canada, and the internet decide the captains for each conference. Fan votes also determine the remainder of the All-Star starters. Coaches then vote to pick the final 14 All-Stars. Afterward, the top vote-getters from each conference draft their team from the pool of All-Stars, with the player receiving the most votes league-wide earning the first pick. The player with the standout performance during the game is awarded the Game MVP title. Other festivities during the All-Star break include the Rising Stars Challenge, which features top rookies and second-year NBA players in a 5-on-5 game with the current format of U.S. players vs. the rest of the world; the Skills Challenge, where players aim to complete a course consisting of shooting, passing, and dribbling as quickly as possible; the Three-Point Contest, where players strive to make the most three-point shots within a set time; and the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, where players vie to perform the most spectacular dunks as judged by the panel. The names of these events often incorporate the names of the sponsors who have paid for naming rights.