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The Birth of The NBA
THE BIRTH OF THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION (NBA) 1946-1950
It was the end of World War II. Business was booming in North America - particularly the indoor sports business. Sports business owners from the northeast had gathered in Toronto on June 6, 1946, to discuss the opening of a new basketball league to cater to the public demand of more new sporting attractions. At this time, the only national basketball league existing was the National Basketball League (NBL), which operated in the Midwest.
The congregation of sports business owners decided to start the Basketball Association of America (BAA) to compete with the NBL. Initially 13 cities were given franchises, but two of them, Buffalo and Indianapolis, had dropped out leaving a total of 11 teams. The names of the teams were the Boston Celtics, New York Knickenbockers, Philadelphia Warriors, Providence Steamrollers, Toronto Huskies, Washington Gardens, Chicago Stags, Cleveland Rebels, Detroit Falcons, Pittsburgh Ironmen, and St Louis Bombers.
The first season of the BBA in 1946-1947 adopted a 60-game schedule. During the regular season, the Washington Capitols, coached by Red Auerbach, had the best record with a 49-11 record, including a 29-1 mark at home. However, in the Playoffs, Chicago shocked the Capitols behind the play of Max Zaslofsky and center Chuck Halbert to advance to the Finals. Philadelphia, coached by Eddie Gottlieb, who had the most extensive pro background of anyone in the BAA, defeated St. Louis and New York to advance to the Finals. Joe Fulks, Howie Dallmar and Angelo Musi led Philadelphia past Chicago as the Warriors won the first league title 4-1.
Joe Fulks was the first star of this brand new league. Hailing from the University of Kentucky, Fulks was a prolific scorer with a scoring average of 23.2 ppg, which is astonishing in an era of low scoring, no 3-point line, and no shot clock.
The debut season of the BBA was considered mediocre. The new league was acknowledged, with small items on the local teams appearing in newspapers. Television was still in the future, and radio broadcasts were hardly universal. However, with the advent of national basketball in such large cities, the NBL was handed a big blow to its popularity.
Several major changes were made in the BBA for the start of the second season (1947-1948) of the BBA. The league schedule was reduced from 60 to 48 games in an attempt to cut travel expenses. Four teams from the original eleven teams (Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and Pittsburgh) had folded, leaving the remaining seven with an unbalanced schedule. This caused the league to bring in the Baltimore Bullets from the regional basketball circuit, American Basketball League, to bring balance to the league: 2 divisions with 4 teams per division.
During the regular season, the Philadelphia Warriors won the Eastern Division with a 27-21 record, and the St Louis Bombers won the Western Division with a 29-19 record. However, in the playoffs, the Baltimore Bullets made the most noise, elevating their play from their 28-20 regular season record. Baltimore had advanced to the Finals with wins over Chicago and New York, causing a showdown with defending champions, Philadelphia, in the finals. Baltimore more than proved it belonged by winning the title in six games over Philadelphia. Baltimore featured 5-11 player-coach Buddy Jeannette, 6-8 center Clarence "Kleggie" Hermsen, guard Chick Reiser, and forwards Paul Hoffman and Connie Simmons. Chicago’s Max Zaslofsky was the only player who broke the 1,000-point barrier, and won the scoring title over Joe Fulks when the Philadelphia star missed five games.
More significant changes were made before the start of the 3rd BAA season (1948-1949). The BAA was successful in acquiring four of the best teams from the NBL, much to their downfall. The joining teams were Fort Wayne, Rochester, Indianapolis and Minneapolis. The revitalized 12-team league resumed a 60-game schedule, with Washington finishing first (38-22) in the Eastern Division and Rochester (45-15) besting Minneapolis by one game in the West. The Minneapolis team starred 6-10 center, George Mikan, who would become the sport’s star attraction and the first in a long line of great big men. Mikan revolutionized the game with his inside scoring, effortlessly throwing in hook shots with either hand on his way to a 28.3 ppg average, earning him the first of three league scoring titles. Minneapolis met Washington in the Finals and won in 6 games. A highlight was the 42-point performance by Mikan in Game 1.
The NBL, which was recognized as having far superior basketball talent than the BAA, suffered from not getting the spotlight from not playing in large cities. The loss of 4 high caliber teams, and the attracting force of George Mikan, proved to be devastating for the survival of the league. At the end of the 1948-1949 season, the NBL had packed up and dissolved.
The advent of the National Basketball Association (NBA) occurred in 1949. The NBL had dissolved and its six remaining franchises-Anderson (IN) Packers, Denver Nuggets, Indianapolis Olympians, Sheboygan (WI) Redskins, Syracuse Nationals, Tri-Cities Blackhawks and Waterloo (IA) Hawks joined the BAA. A new team, Indianapolis Olympians was also included, and Providence Steamrollers and Indianapolis Jets dropped out the BAA. The whole league was renamed to the National Basketball Association (NBA), as it now featured seventeen teams playing in three divisions (Central added to the East and West divisions).
Syracuse (51-13), the only NBL team in the East, won that division behind the play of 6-8 Dolph Schayes, who averaged 16.8 ppg. Alex Groza averaged 23.4 for a new Indianapolis team (39-25) that won the West, while George Mikan led the league again with 27.4 ppg and helped the Lakers (51-17) win the Central Division. In the playoffs, Mikan’s Minneapolis defeated Chicago, Fort Wayne, and Anderson to reach to the finals to meet with Schayes’ Syracuse, who had defeated Boston and New York along the way. Mikan proved too dominating against the Nats as the Lakers secured another title in six games.