NBA history from the year you were born
With the 75th anniversary of the National Basketball Association (NBA) right around the corner in 2022, it's a perfect time to reflect upon what made the game great and how it got to where it is today. With each year since its inception in 1946, the NBA game has grown, changed, evolved, integrated, and internationalized with new rules, expansion teams, major controversies, and amazing milestones.
Stacker analyzed every year the NBA has been in business from 1946 through 2019 and found the most exciting instances, famous players, culture-changing clashes, and record-making moments that have shaped the league. Every year, the NBA brought fans something new—and Stacker found the most pertinent history from the year you were born (as long as it falls in the timeline, of course) by scouring ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Reference, and the NBA's official site.
Relive the progression of the league's big men from George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, see how the game transitioned from high-flying slammers to 3-point specialists and relearn the histories of the dynastic teams that have dominated the landscape.
What NBA moment or player symbolized the year you were born? Millennial children who grew up with LeBron James’ teams and Stephen Curry’s Warriors controlling the league would find it hard to believe that baby boomers actually watched the New York Knicks win two titles in the 1970s. And while the Lakers-Celtics rivalry is still alive and well, there was something perhaps more palpable about living through Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s heavyweight battles in the ‘80s.
For NBA junkies and casual fans alike, this exciting list will spark memories and elevate the discourse on how the NBA became one of the most exciting and progressive sports leagues in America.
Do you remember, wish to forget, or still retell the stories of living through these moments? Read on to drum up the NBA’s rich past while celebrating its long history and infinitely bright future.
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1946: The BAA
Before the NBA even existed, there were multiple professional leagues around the country like the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL). The inaugural BAA season was in 1946–47, and featured 11 teams. Some of those teams can still be found in today's NBA, including the Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers (now the Knicks), Philadelphia Warriors (now the Golden State Warriors), and Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers). Today, the NBA traces its lineage directly to the BAA using the date of 1946 as the first NBA season.
1947: Philadelphia wins the first championship
The Philadelphia Warriors and the Chicago Stags played in the very first BAA championship at the end of the 1946–47 season. The Warriors beat the Stags 4-1 in the series behind the play of the BAA's first star Joe Fulks, who averaged 23.2 points per game for the season. The Warriors players each earned an extra $2,000 for their championship victory, which was a considerable number at the time.
1948: Growing pains
The 1947–48 BAA season got off to a rocky start as four of the original 11 teams folded, and the total amount of games was reduced from 60 to 48. As a result, the Baltimore Bullets (precursor to today's Washington Wizards) were brought into the league and ended up winning the second BAA championship. One of the major rules changes from this year still exists today: After a player fouls an opponent six times, he is automatically disqualified.
1949: NBA is born
At the start of the 1948–49 season, the BAA merged with four teams from the NBL and then an additional six teams in the summer of 1949. With the influx of teams and talent, the league officially changed its name to the National Basketball Association—although many still count the “original” NBL match as the 1946 BAA match between the Toronto Huskies and New York Knickerbockers at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. With the mergers, the NBA also inherited the best players in the country with its biggest star attraction being George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers. Mikan was 6-foot-10 and towered over the competition averaging 28.3 points per game and winning the first of five NBA championships for the Minneapolis squad.
1950: Color barrier is broken
Up until 1950, professional basketball rosters were filled entirely with white athletes. That barrier was shattered in 1950 as the Boston Celtics drafted the first black player (Chuck Cooper), the New York Knickerbockers signed the first black player (Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton), and the Washington Capitals featured the first black player in an NBA game (Earl Lloyd).
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1951: First NBA All-Star Game
With the NBA still in its infancy, the league needed to gin up crowds and the owner of the Boston Celtics, Walter Brown, thought an all-star game would help spread the word around the country. The first-ever All-Star Game was held on March 2, 1951, at the Boston Garden and the Eastern Conference All-Stars beat the Western Conference 111-94 with “Easy Ed” Macauley taking home the first All-Star Game MVP.
1952: The Mikan Rule
Because of George Mikan's utter dominance in the league, the NBA decided to widen the foul lane from 6 to 12 feet at the start of the 1951–52 season. Later on, this change was referred to as “The Mikan Rule,” though it didn't stop Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers from winning another championship in the same year.
1953: First NBA dynasty
The Minneapolis Lakers are considered the first NBA dynasty, who won their second back-to-back championship in 1953 and went on to win five championships between 1948 and 1954. The team was led by big-man George Mikan, who dominated the league in scoring and rebounding. The Lakers won back-to-back championships in 1949 and 1950 and similarly dominated with three straight championships between 1952 and '54.
1954: Introduction of the 24-second shot clock
At the start of the 1954–55 season, the NBA was looking to bring more excitement into the game—especially since its most exciting player, George Mikan, had just retired. Enter the 24-second clock. Danny Biasone, owner of the Syracuse Nationals, came up with the idea for a shot clock that forced players to shoot a basket within 24 seconds or lose the ball. The rule change immediately sped up the game and injected that much-needed dose of excitement the league was looking for.
1955: Scoring surge
With the shot-clock era officially in place, scoring around the league began to surge. NBA averages went from 79.5 points per game to 93.1 as a more fast-paced style of play began to take shape. Some of the league's young stars, like Bob Cousy and Paul Arizin, saw their points and assist averages rise as well—giving the league its first dose of real highlights.
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