It started in 1946 with 11 teams and 160 players. There were almost ten years before the shot clock, and several generations remained before the three-point line. The buildings were smaller. So were the players. And it wasn’t even called the National Basketball Association.
75 years ago, the NBA was different in almost every way.
In the coming months, the Associated Press will look back at what the league has been on and off the court, how it has become what it is, and where it will evolve over the next 25 years as we approach the century mark.
The series will be reminiscent of those humble beginnings when Ossie Schecktman, who scored the first basket in league history, made $ 60 a game. It will show how what was happening in the country seemed to reflect what was happening in the league, from the league’s path to integration in the 1950s to its current position on social issues and race relations.
In those early years, teams lost a lot of money. Some of the early franchises only had early seasons that closed after the first year. There were no steady fans, and the NBA had little or no impact on social issues.
And all the players were white.
“None of us who were playing at the time knew what it would be,” Shecktman, who played for the original New York Knicks, said in a 2010 interview, three years before his death. “We didn’t know if it would work and if anything would happen.”
Schecktman scored the first basket in American Basketball Association history; she was named by the NBA only three years later, but the NBA considers these years to be part of its own. It was the Knicks’ behind-the-scenes defeat against the Toronto Husky on November 1, 1946, the first two 13.7 million points in league history and their tally.
Over time, Scheckman received the answer: the NBA will truly become something.
Today, the 30 NBA franchises are collectively worth at least $ 100 billion, and possibly more. The league has a fanbase that spans every corner of the globe and a reputation for being a leader on social issues.
Richard Lapczyk, the son of former New York Knicks coach Joe Lapczyk and a researcher on social and racial issues in sports, said the league’s platform has always provided an opportunity to be a catalyst for change – perhaps never more than it does now.
“I truly believe that the NBA, with Adam Silver as the current leader, is doing this for the right reasons and is backed by the largest integrated workforce in America in terms of population percentage,” Lapchik said. “They are also very wealthy, so they can use their resources – and this is new – to invest in social justice campaigns in their communities.”
Players have made a serious commitment to bringing about change in recent years, from an additional and near-unprecedented level of support for colleges and universities that have historically been black to LeBron James, who spearheaded the voting and registration movement, which ultimately played a significant role in 2020. … presidential elections.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer believes he knows why basketball has such an impact on society.
“I’ll say something stupid,” Ballmer said. “How many sports can you really see players in? Football, helmets on you. The baseball players are pretty far away in the center of the field. Even football, hockey – there are guys who move very quickly in helmets. People can relate to basketball players. You can see them. You can feel them.
“There are fewer players, which means that you will get more interviews and get to know certain people more than in any other sport,” he added. “It’s actually a very important aspect of why basketball is increasingly at the forefront of social change.”
As with so many things, the early days were the hardest.
The Philadelphia Warriors – now the Golden State Warriors – won their first league title in 1947 over the Chicago Stags. By the time the next season began, four of the 11 original teams had folded; the league added a team from Baltimore and played with eight franchises in its second season.
The 60-game schedule has been reduced to 48 to save on travel costs. Maurice Podoloff, the hockey executive who was the first BAA president and eventually the first NBA commissioner, was tasked with saving the league and winning the battle against the rival National Basketball League for players and attention.
In May 1948, the battle was won. Four teams left the NBL – Indianapolis, Rochester, Fort Wayne and Minneapolis – which may have had the biggest name in basketball at the time with George Meekan – for the BAA.
“Maurice Podoloff sketched the unknown for the NBA,” said the late David Stern, who was the NBA commissioner for 30 years when Podoloff died. “He took the idea and nurtured professional basketball during his formative years. Thanks to the efforts of sports pioneers such as Podoloff, the NBA has become a daily part of the American sports scene. ”
By 1949, the NBA had reached a turning point. There were up to 17 teams in the league, which is more than double what it was. The teams were making a profit. The NBA rebranding has been completed. With the evolution of boardrooms completed, it was time to evolve in the divisions as well.
Although the racing hurdle was broken – Wat Misaka, an American player of Japanese descent, was selected and played for the Knicks in 1947 – this was hardly noticed, in part because he played only three games. The first black players were three years away from joining the league, which changed the face of the game forever.
As the country changed, moving from World War II to the civil rights movement, the NBA kept pace. Then the changes led to unrest and division, as it did in recent years in the United States. But the NBA continued to insist then and now.
“This is what this country is and what it should be,” said the great NBA player and basketball Hall of Famer Jerry West. “It’s about fair play. And for many years there was no fair play in this country. I think the NBA has been at the forefront in this regard, and it’s good to see. “
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