On this day, 63 years ago, the NBA was formed. The league was a product of the merger of two leagues, the BAA and NBL, who signed on August 3, 1949 to create the modern-day NBA.
The forerunner to the NBA was the BAA, which was formed in 1946. Ice Hockey was the predominant winter sport at the time, but had arenas that were rarely used. The BAA was created to utilize these stadiums (such as Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden) to earn a profit when hockey was not being played.
The inaugural season of the BAA saw the creation of some of the most iconic franchises in NBA history. These included the Philadelphia Warriors, New York Knicks, and Boston Celtics, who were joined by the Washington Capitols, Providence Steamrollers, Toronto Huskies, Chicago Stags, St. Louis Bombers, Cleveland Rebels, Detroit Falcons and Pittsburgh Ironmen to create an 11-team league. The Philadelphia Warriors, led by future Hall of Famer Joe Fulks, would win that first BAA Championship over the Chicago Stags.
The following season would see heavy turnover, as Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Toronto folded. But the original Baltimore Bullets (who would later fold, but are forerunners to today's Washington Wizards) joined the league, giving it eight members. The Bullets would win the title in that first season, taking down the reigning champion Warriors. The following season would see the beginning of some still-existing NBA franchises joining the league, as the Fort Wayne Pistons (today in Detroit), Minneapolis Lakers (today in Los Angeles), and Rochester Royals (today the Sacramento Kings) joined, along with the soon-defunct Indianapolis Jets. A new franchise would win again, as the Lakers (led by the legendary George Mikan) won the title over the Washington Capitols.
Following the season, the older but diminished NBL (which had lost franchises such as the Lakers, Pistons, and Royals to the BAA) pursued a merger with the BAA that would create one true top basketball league in America. Six teams joined the newly-formed NBA from the NBL, including two more still-existing franchises, the Syracuse Nationals (today's Philadelphia 76ers) and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (today's Atlanta Hawks), plus the original Denver Nuggets, which would be reincarnated in the ABA. Small city teams such as the Anderson Packers, Sheboygan Red Skins, and Waterloo Hawks would also join the league, as two BAA franchises (Indianapolis Jets and Providence Steamrollers) folded in the merge.
The Lakers would dominate this new NBA, winning four out of the first five championships, with George Mikan leading the way. Other future Hall of Famers in the league included Dolph Schayes, Bob Davies, Jim Pollard, Al Cervi, Bobby Wanzer and Ed MacCauley. However, the NBA was not perfect, and sadly took time to integrate. It would take three years after Jackie Robinson first broke the MLB color barrier for African-Americans to enter the league, as Earl Lloyd, Nat Clifton, and Chuck Cooper began play in the league for the 1950-51 season.
That first decade of the NBA was a tumultuous and trying time. Despite beginning the league with 17 teams, by the middle of the decade the league was down to just eight franchises. Real growth for the league would not come until the late 60's, as many franchises spent the prior years moving cities to find a market where basketball could thrive. The league would be built on the backs of its early stars, as players like Paul Arizin, Bob Pettit, Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Oscar Robertson turned this regional game into a viable national league.
So from all of us here at Mitchell & Ness, we say Happy Birthday to the NBA. For our fans today, players like Bird, Magic, and Jordan, stand out as those that made the NBA a world-wide phenomenon. But we don't forget the players from the early days of the league, who built the league with hard work and little reward. We pay tribute to those descendants of the original NBA teams: the Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons, and Atlanta Hawks. But most of all, we remember two franchises that have been basketball institutions since the first days of the NBA: the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. We hope your 64th year is your best one yet, NBA.
To check out our entire NBA authentics collection, click here. Today we feature a jersey from an NBA original, the Boston Celtics. Check out this 1962-63 Bill Russell jersey: