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Since 1949, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has grown exponentially to accumulate a rich history characterized by remarkable stories and captivating characters. NBA has also over the years grown from a small league in America to a global phenomenon. However, its biggest achievement has been the fact that it has propelled basketball to be one of the fastest growing sports around the world.
To affirm its growth, the league has grown its number of teams over the decades from only 8 to more than 30 teams, as it’s currently constituted (NBA, 2010, p. 1).
Kirchberg (2007) makes a comparison of the growth of the league to the growth of athletes by noting that the league has grown “From the first superstar, center George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers, to its current star, Chinese center Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets” (p. 3). This shows the characteristic of the league’s growth in players
Many fans, not only in America, but globally, appreciate the origin and growth of the NBA and this is why this study seeks to document the important hallmarks and changes that characterize NBA history to date. This will be done by making a special reference to some of the most influential players in NBA history, such as Larry Bird, Michael Johnson, Elgin Baylor and the likes.
More importantly, it is crucial to note that; for people to appreciate the current status of NBA in world sports, it is crucial to recognize the history of the league over the decades. More importantly, this study will demonstrate that NBA was as important to its fans when it started, as it is now.
Birth of NBA
After the end of the Second World War, business was booming in America, and socially, there was an equally increasing demand for indoor sports activities, which prompted some of the most influential business owners in the Northeast to come up with a nationwide basketball league (NBA, 2009, p. 2).
Initially, the only basketball league that existent was the National Basketball League (NBL) which majorly operated in the Midwest and therefore never had a wide nationalistic appeal (NBA, 2009, p. 2). The Basketball association of America (BAA) was thereby established to compete with the National basketball league (NBL), but the league never had a wide nationalistic appeal either because it only operated in 13 states across America.
However, two teams out of the 13 teams from different states dropped out, leaving only 11 teams in the league. The performance of the BAA was also widely considered below average and therefore the league suffered a dent in its public image because of this reason (NBA, 2010, p. 2). Due to these criticisms, there was a need for a major overhaul of the league. This was eventually effected, by a change to the league’s schedule.
This change (among a couple of others), stole some of the major teams from the NBL into the BAA and this prompted the BAA to play in big cities. This was the biggest competitive advantage the BAA had over the NBL. Towards the end of 1948, NBL had to dissolve, leaving the BAA as the major surviving league in America.
At this moment, the NBA was at the brink of its formation because the last surviving team from the NBL also moved to BAA. This prompted a rebranding of the league into the NBA, because comprehensively, it now featured 17 teams, all playing in 4 divisions.
NBA – A Growing League
In the 50s, the NBA league was been characterized by racist stereotypes, with major black players being excluded from playing with other races. However, the 1950 –1951 season marked a major turning point in the history of the NBA because in this season, black players were finally allowed to play in the league (NBA, 2009, p. 3).
Also preceding the 1951 -1952 season, the NBA widened the lane from six to twelve feet, to reduce the domination by big men; however, indirectly, this development was targeted at George Mikan, the Minneapolis’ centre (NBA, 2009, p. 4).
The completion of all the major teams which finished in the previous season, preceding the 1951- 1952 season was also a big sign that the NBA was growing as a professional league, considering not many teams in any league were able to finish in two successive seasons.
The 1951 -1952 season marked a major turning point in fan entertainment when the then Philadelphian player, Paul Arizin popularized the infamous “jump shot” (NBA, 2009, p. 2).
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As the league advanced into its 1953 -1954 seasons league, there was a huge setback to the NBA league because Indiana polis folded out of its franchise from the NBA, leaving the league with only 9 teams; however, in an effort to increase the efficiency of the league, the NBA came up with a new rule to minimize excessive fouling among players; an act which was reducing the league’s profile in national sports (NBA, 1998, p. 21).
This rule stipulated that each player was limited to only two fouls in each quarter; a third foul in the same quarter would come with stiff penalties, in that, the players had to be excluded from playing the rest of the game.
Just before the 1953 -1954 season, two major incidences that changed the history of the NBA happened: George Mikan who was one of the leagues first superstar announced that he was going to leave the league, marking a major change in how Minneapolis played its game after his retirement, however, the second most important development was the 24 second shot clock which was developed by Syracuse owner, Danny Biasone and his GM, Leo Ferris (NBA, 1998, p. 3).
This idea was developed to make the game more exciting to the fans and to reduce the very common strategy among players to waste time by holding the ball, so that they would maintain the lead and thwart attempts the rival team to score more points. This development greatly increased the score per game from a low of about 79.5 points per game to a high of about 93.1 points per game (NBA, 1998, p. 31).
Essentially, the 24-second clock rule gave room for fast and more energetic players to show their prowess in the game. This led to the emergence of new players such as Milwaukee’s Bob Petit who was awarded the first NBA MVP (NBA, 1998, p. 34).
This development further led to the increase in scores per game to 99. 1(NBA, 1998, p. 34). Unfortunately, in the same league, the NBA lost another important franchise from Baltimore which further decreased the number of league teams to 8 (NBA. (1998, p. 34).
NBA’s Competitive Era
After the advent of the NBA league in 1949, basketball became a very competitive sport, and by 1969, the league became very competitive, up until 1977 when the season was marred by two separate violent incidences from the Los Angeles and Houston teams.
Preceding the two unfortunate incidences, the league had been dominated by a couple of strong teams, including the Celtics Dynasty, Los Angeles’ Lakers, New York’s Knicks and the likes.
Celtics Dynasty had in the past won up to 8 consecutive championships, after which they were edged out by New York’s Knicks who won 18 consecutive championships; a record which still remains one of the most unrivaled league histories to date (Kirchberg, 2007, p. 2).
In the 1970 -1971 league, the most notable players were Milwaukee Bucks, Oscar Robertson and Kareen Abdul Jabar who made outstanding record performances in the entire league history, driving up scores to a high of 31.7 points per game; a record which was by far, phenomenal during those times (Kirchberg, 2007, p. 9).
In the 1971– 1972 league, notable players were the likes of Elgin Bayler (Lakers), Jerry west and Walt chamberlain who drove up the season’s performance to new heights, making outstanding average performances of about 34 points per game (Kirchberg, 2007, p. 8). The 1972– 1973 season saw the likes of John Havlicek and C Dave Cowens make outstanding league performances in the season (Kirchberg, 2007, p. 4).
In the 1973– 1974 season, the NBA league history changed because the season saw the retirement of NBA luminaries such as Wilt Chamberlain, Willis reed, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and the likes, to pave way for new entrants into the game (Kirchberg, 2007, p. 4).
However, their exit from the league left their teams weak and so the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks (which were home to these players) fell to record lows in the league team lineup (Emmis Communications, 2001, p. 60).
The retirement of major veterans in the game left room for new and upcoming teams like the Golden State Warriors to scale up the league’s team rankings in the 1974– 1975 season. The Washington Bullets also made an outstanding debut at the league, enabling them to emerge as the league’s favorites to clinch the championship title.
However, this did not happen because their rivals, Golden State warriors stunned basketball fans to post the third sweep, a record which was rarely been observed in the 29 year old history of the NBA championship (Cass, 2007, p. 9).
In the 1976 -1977 league season, the NBA received new teams from the ABA league (which was also slowly collapsing); thereby further increasing the profile of the NBA championship. This development further increased the level of competitiveness of the league games.
NBA – A Global Game
The internationalization of the NBA league was characterized by the entry of C’ Yao Ming who averaged 7’6’ in height, giving Shaquille O’Neil a stiff competition, who by the time, was the most dominant player from the year 2000 thereon. He scooped up to three MVP’s in a row (Kirchberg, 2007, p. 4). C’ Yao Ming averaged 13.2 points per game and his stint at the NBA was largely considered successful (Cass, 2007, p. 9).
His time at the NBA marked the growth in popularity of NBA outside America and this helped in developing more talent out of the states, leading to the signing up of more international players such as Dallas Maverick’s F-Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) and G-Steve Nash (Canada).
Cass (2007) also affirms that the signing up of new international players into the NBA marked the globalization of basketball and he gives more examples of other international players to include:
“F-Peja Stojakovic and C-Vlade Divac (both from Serbia Montenegro); Memphis Grizzlies’ F-Pau Gasol (Spain); San Antonio Spur’s G-Tony Parker (France); Utah Jazz’s F-Andrei Kirilenko (Russia); Cleveland Cavaliers’ C-Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania); Milwaukee Buck’s F-Toni Kukoc (Croatia); the Philadelphia 76ers’ C-Dikembe Mutombo (Congo) and C-Todd McCulloch (Canada); and New Orleans Hornets’ C-Jamaal Magloire (Canada)” (p. 5).
The signing up of new international players continues to date.
The NBA has tremendously grown from a business idea developed by small business owners meeting in Toronto to counter the dominance of the NBL and stand as a global league today.
Much of NBA’s history has been marked by the exist and signing up of new players into the game, but to a significant extent, the evolution of the league’s rules has also increased the fan base in its tournaments because fans are now more guaranteed of entertainment in sports when watching league games.
From a racist outfit that discriminated black players, the NBA currently boasts of an international fan base and an international player pool as well. It is therefore correct to say that the prominence of NBA is set to increase to further unprecedented heights of international recognition.
Cass, F. (2007). NBA. The international journal of the history of sport, 24(1), 5–15.
Emmis Communications. (2001, June 23). Changes in NBA History. Los Angeles Magazine. 46(6), 60.
Kirchberg, C. (2007). Hoop Lore: A History of the National Basketball Association. New York: McFarland.
NBA. (1998). Complete Idiot’s Guide to Basketball. New York: Penguin.
NBA. (2009). NBA History. Web.
NBA. (2010). History. Web.