The Basketball Association of America (BAA) was founded by the owners of a few large ice hockey arenas in 1946. The owners noticed that the hockey arenas were for the most part empty during the night and realized that they could make more money by hosting basketball games. So on November 1st, 1946, the arena owners held their first BAA basketball game between the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers.
Instead of hosting basketball games at smaller cities like previously created basketball leagues, the BAA took a different approach which was to only have their games at large cities in large arenas, such as Boston Garden which was known to hold enormous events. This approach helped launch the BAA into the sports world.
At the time, the National Basketball League (NBL), which was established nine years prior to the BAA, was fairly popular with ten different teams scattered across multiple different small cities. After the creation of the BAA in 1946, the NBL and BAA had a three-year-long competition for the basketball fans and players. But before the 1948-49 BAA season, four NBL teams decided to move over to the BAA league. This was the tipping point for the BAA’s success and the inevitable fall of the NBL.
On August 3rd, 1949, the heads of the BAA and NBL met to merge the two leagues together. The remaining six NBL teams combined with the BAA and a new basketball league was established, National Basketball Association (NBA). With a total of 17 teams, the NBA was the choice for college basketball players looking to go professional. To this day, the NBA does not recognize the BAA and NBL as a merge, but rather an expansion for the BAA. Team records and player stats from the NBL are not included in the NBA’s history.
Through the 1950s, popularity of the NBA died down and by the 1954-55 season, there were only eight teams left, compared to their 17 teams in the league five years prior. During this period, George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers dominated the league with five NBA championships.
In order to increase the popularity of the league, the NBA established the 24-second shot clock in 1954 to speed up the pace of the game. This made games fun to watch again as it discouraged stalling and encouraged shooting. Popularity soon returned to the NBA but a new basketball league was on the horizon that threatened the NBA’s existence, the American Basketball Association (ABA).
After drafting Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics in 1957, the late 1950s and 1960s were dominated by the Celtics team which was led by Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and coach Red Auerbach – winning 11 of 13 NBA championships. During this time, Wilt Chamberlain was drafted to the Warriors in 1959. The rivalry between Russell and Chamberlain is known to be one of the greatest rivalries of all time in sports.
The NBA’s popularity continued to grow. Current teams moved their franchise to bigger cities such as the Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles and the St. Louis Hawks to Atlanta. In addition, the number of franchises in the NBA grew from nine to fourteen teams from 1966 to 1968.
However, a new basketball league was gaining popularity for it’s flashy and high-scoring style of play, the American Basketball Association (ABA). The ABA started in 1967 and the NBA was already 20 years old at the time. The NBA was already well-established and the most popular basketball league at the time.
From the beginning, the overall goal of the ABA was to force a merger with the NBA. As one would expect, the cost to purchase an NBA team was through the roof, but the price of an ABA team was about half as much. The investors were told that they expect the ABA to eventually merge with the NBA. If an investor were to buy an ABA team, it would soon be merged into the NBA and then, they would have their own NBA teams. So if they buy an ABA team, they’re essentially purchasing an NBA team for half price.
Even if the ABA could get the funding to get started, they would have to think of ways to draw an audience from the NBA. The NBA only had ten teams at the time which meant there was a large portion of the country they were not reaching. This is where the ABA saw an opening. They would locate the teams and markets different from the NBA. The cities were typically much smaller but there were a lot of basketball fans in these areas to attend games and have a team to support.
In order to differentiate themselves from the NBA, the ABA did a few things to make their basketball league unique. Instead of using the traditional orange ball, the ABA decided to use a red, white, and blue striped ball. Many people at the time said the ball made them look silly and people would have trouble taking the league seriously with it, but the ball was actually a big success. The flashiness of it fit in perfectly with the style of game play the ABA would become associated with.
Another big difference the ABA offered was the three-point line which wasn’t yet used in the NBA. The line was invented a few years before the ABA but it was them who made it popular. It helped fuel the ABA’s flashy style (good question for this NBA test). They were characterized by high-volume three-point shooting and slam dunks. There was a general lack of defense that led to more scoring. The ABA figured that’s what people want to see, so they made it happen.
During this time, the NBA branded themselves as serious and professional whereas the ABA branded themselves as being flashy and entertaining.
The ABA now had the funding to get started as well as some great ways to separate themselves from the existing league but what they didn’t have was talented players and without them, it’s hard to attract an audience. In its first year, the ABA had 11 teams but all of them had trouble finding an audience. Former players tell stories of looking in the stands and being able to count the number of fans.
Through the years of its existence, the ABA thought of some creative ways to get talented players. First off, the NBA didn’t allow college underclassmen. The ABA saw this as a perfect opportunity to steal these players early on before they were even eligible for the NBA. All the teams would work together for the better of the league. The teams would make sacrifices such as offering players the opportunities to play in their hometowns. The league did whatever it took to sign players. One amazing feat was that the ABA was able to convince NBA star and scoring leader Rick Barry to switch over to the ABA helping them earn a lot of credibility.
In just three years, the NBA saw the new league as a possible threat and voted to work toward a merger. However, the players didn’t like this since they were benefiting from having two separate organizations competing over them. The NBA Players Association filed a lawsuit that prevented the merger due to antitrust rules. The lawsuit became known as the Robertson vs. National Basketball Association. It wasn’t settled for almost six years.
The last year of the ABA’s existence took place in 1976 and the lawsuit from the Players Association was settled in terms for a merger were finally agreed upon. The ABA season ended with only six teams remaining: Kentucky Colonels, Spirits of St. Louis, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Mets, and the San Antonio Spurs. The NBA would only agree to accept four new teams.
For not being accepted into the NBA, the Kentucky Colonels owner received a 3.3 million dollar payout. The Spirits of St. Louis owner received a 2.2 million dollar payout in addition to 1/7 of the remaining four teams television rights. This alone resulted in more than 300 million dollars to this day. An agreement was made in 2014 that involved an additional one-time 500 million dollar payment in an agreement to phase out future payments. There was one additional team called the Virginia Squires that went bankrupt just before the merger. They received nothing as a result.
Toward the end of their existence, the ABA was failing. They were paying too much money to obtain players and couldn’t get necessary television contracts. For these reasons, the NBA had the upper hand in the merger.
Some terms of the deal included:
- The four merging teams had to pay a 3.2 million dollar expansion fee
- The NBA would not recognize the ABA records
- New York Nets had to pay an additional 4.8 million to the Knicks for stealing audience from their area. The Nets offered Julius Erving to the Knicks instead but the Knicks declined
- The four teams would receive no television money for the first three seasons and obviously had to pay 1/7 of the revenue to the Spirits of St. Louis owner forever
However, towards the end of the decade, the NBA saw a decrease in TV ratings, viewership, and an increase in drug-related player issues. The decades that followed increased popularity of the NBA and brought love for the game of basketball.
Are you ready to take and answer these NBA trivia questions? Scroll above to get started!