National Basketball Association Is Formed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The National Basketball Association was formed by the merger of the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League. The NBA went unchallenged as a league until the arrival of the American Basketball Association in 1967. The NBA’s major stars became household names in the United States and other countries.

Summary of Event

In 1946, several individuals formed the Basketball Association of America Basketball Association of America (BAA) to compete with the National Basketball League National Basketball League (NBL), which had been made up of Midwest basketball teams created by three corporations—General Electric, Firestone, and Goodyear—making the teams commercial entities. The NBL started in 1937-1938 with thirteen previously independent teams from the Great Lakes area. Although the NBL had better players and a richer tradition than the upstart BAA, the new teams were located in larger cities and enjoyed slightly better media attention. National Basketball Association Basketball [kw]National Basketball Association Is Formed (Aug. 3, 1949) [kw]Basketball Association Is Formed, National (Aug. 3, 1949) National Basketball Association Basketball [g]North America;Aug. 3, 1949: National Basketball Association Is Formed[02960] [g]United States;Aug. 3, 1949: National Basketball Association Is Formed[02960] [c]Sports;Aug. 3, 1949: National Basketball Association Is Formed[02960] [c]Organizations and institutions;Aug. 3, 1949: National Basketball Association Is Formed[02960] Mikan, George Chamberlain, Wilt Podoloff, Maurice Auerbach, Red

At the beginning of the 1948-1949 season, under the leadership of its commissioner Maurice Podoloff (who was to remain the league’s top executive until 1963), the new BAA was able to entice four teams from the NBL. The BAA offered the teams large arenas in which to play their games. The larger venues included Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Boston Garden. The four teams that changed leagues were the Fort Wayne Pistons, the Rochester Royals, the Indianapolis Kautskys (later called the Jets), and the Minneapolis Lakers Minneapolis Lakers . The Lakers starred 6-foot-10-inch center George Mikan, who was later selected as the greatest player of the first half of the twentieth century.

The loss of four teams in 1948 weakened the once dominant NBL and led it to agree to the merger with the BAA. The two leagues merged on August 3, 1949, becoming the National Basketball Association (NBA). The six remaining NBL teams made the new NBA a seventeen-team league with three divisions. The six NBL franchises were the Anderson Packers, Denver Nuggets, Indianapolis Olympians, Sheboygan Redskins, Syracuse Nationals, Tri-Cities Blackhawks, and Waterloo Hawks. The other eleven teams that had been part of the BAA included the Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers, Philadelphia Warriors, Washington Capitols, Chicago Stags, St. Louis Bombers, Fort Wayne Pistons, Rochester Royals, Indianapolis Jets, Minneapolis Lakers, and Baltimore Bullets.

The league was immediately successful, primarily because of the athletic contributions of George Mikan, the first true basketball superstar. Mikan was basketball’s first extra tall player, or “big man.” Prior to the 1940’s, basketball was considered a sport for short, quick players. Professional basketball adopted the rule against goal-tending, that is, interfering with a shot after the ball has begun descending toward the basket. In effect, Mikan had “invented” goal-tending, because, before his time, blocking a ball on its way into the basket was considered an impossibility. He perfected the play while at DePaul University, where he played under renowned coach Ray Meyer. Mikan was college player of the year twice, and an All American three times.

Mikan’s teams won two NBL league championships in 1947 and 1948 and a BAA championship in 1949. After the NBL/BAA merger in 1949, Mikan led his team to the 1950, 1952, 1953, and 1954 basketball championships. The Lakers did not win the 1951 championship, because Mikan played on a broken leg. He still averaged 20 points per game, hopping down the court instead of running during each transition. Nevertheless, he attracted huge crowds to the games in which he played. During games at Madison Square Garden, Mikan was greeted by the marquee that read “George Mikan versus Knicks.” In 1959, Mikan became one of the inaugural inductees into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; he had retired after the 1954 season at the age of twenty-nine.

During the 1950’s, and in part to stymie the powerful Mikan, the league made minor rule changes, including the adoption of the 24-second clock in 1954, perhaps the most significant change. Other rule changes in the 1950’s included widening the foul lanes to 12 feet, banning goal-tending by the offense, and adopting a one-and-one free-throw rule (that is, a player can shoot a second free throw if he or she makes the first). Widening the foul lane meant that Mikan could spend less time directly under the basket because of the three-second rule. The 24-second shot clock was adopted because the Fort Wayne Pistons, in a 1950 game, defeated the Lakers by keeping the ball from them. Fort Wayne stalled and won 19 to 18 in the lowest scoring game in NBA history. Other teams quickly adopted the stalling technique, thus making for a slower and less-exciting game. The first All-Star Game was played in 1951 at Boston Garden.

With Mikan’s retirement, the Lakers were no longer dominant, and the Boston Celtics Boston Celtics became the team of distinction in the NBA. They would win eleven championships in thirteen years through the end of 1969, including eight straight championships from 1959 to 1966. The Celtics boasted stars such as the giant Bill Russell, the quick Bob Cousey, and the versatile John Havlicek. Red Auerbach had become the Celtics coach in 1950 and was responsible for nine of the championships. Auerbach not only was an effective coach but also a colorful one, adding to the legend of the Celtics and the NBA. He was later selected by sports writers as the greatest coach in the history of the game.

The NBA became a true “national” league in 1960, when the Minneapolis Lakers became the first team to move to the West Coast, becoming the Los Angeles Lakers. The Philadelphia Warriors followed the Lakers west in 1963, when they moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the significant events of the 1960’s was the 1962 game in which Wilt Chamberlain set a record by scoring 100 points to lead the Warriors to a 169-147 victory over the New York Knicks. Chamberlain ended that season with an average of more than 50 points per game. He led the league in scoring for seven consecutive years and led the league in rebounding for eleven consecutive years. He was the dominant player in the NBA from the time he entered the league in 1959, winning both the rookie of the year award and the most valuable player award in his first season.


Team expansion to the West made the NBA truly national in scope. The league became highly successful almost from its founding, and remained unchallenged until 1967, when a new league, the American Basketball Association American Basketball Association (ABA), became the new rival. Ironically, Mikan would come back to haunt the NBA when he became the ABA’s first commissioner.

The ABA attracted viewers by using a multicolored basketball (red, white, and blue stripes) and by having a three-point shot. The multicolored ball was extremely popular with children and with network television, and the networks helped make the ABA a significant form of winter sports entertainment. Furthermore, the ABA offered large salaries and bonuses for the best college superstars. The result was early success for the rival league, but the high salaries being paid to players caused financial problems for some of the team owners. Eventually, the NBA was able to lure the top ABA stars with even higher salaries. In 1976, the ABA folded and four of its teams, the Indianapolis Pacers, Denver Nuggets, New York Nets, and San Antonio Spurs, joined the NBA.

The dominant teams during the early years were the Lakers and the Celtics, and they continued to dominate league play and garner championships (the Lakers had several championships in the 1980’s and the first years of the twenty-first century; the Celtics won several in the 1970’s and early 1980’s). National Basketball Association Basketball

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bjarkman, Peter C. Boston Celtics Encyclopedia. 2d ed. Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing, 2002. Explores the Boston Celtics’ mystique and the history of this storied franchise.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Havlicek, John. NBA’s Greatest. New York: DK, 2003. A look at the NBA’s greatest players and moments, including upsets and famous rivalries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hubbard, Jan. The Official NBA Encyclopedia. 3d ed. New York: Doubleday, 2000. This volume of more than nine hundred pages includes a complete history of the NBA, with full statistics for every player who ever played in the league, and information on referees and coaches. Also includes statistics for the predecessor leagues.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Peterson, Robert W. Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball’s Early Years. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. A history of the first decades of the NBA, beginning with basketball’s origins in 1891 to 1954, the year the league instituted the 24-second shot clock. A unique work on an understudied topic. Highly recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Taylor, John. The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball. New York: Random House, 2005. A finely crafted historical chronicle of one of the great rivalries in the NBA’s early years. Includes biographies of not only Russell and Chamberlain but also of other Celtics of the period.

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Chamberlain Scores 100 Points in a Professional Basketball Game

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Categories: History