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What makes the NBA an Association and not a League?

The NBA is different to other major sports leagues in that it is considered an association as opposed to a league. The National Football League (NFL) and the National Hockey League (NHL) are both called leagues, but the National Basketball Association(NBA) is considered an association despite also being a major sports league. This is mainly due to the history of the NBA.

What makes the NBA an Association and not a League? In terms of the NBAs structure, there is not anything different to other major sports leagues to the NBA. The reason that the NBA is known as an association is due to the merger which formed the NBA. It does not really have any effect on the NBA. 

The NBA being called an association is just semantics, really. The NBA became known as the NBA back in 1949, when the National Basketball League and the Basketball Association of America merged, to create the National Basketball League. It is likely that the NBA ended up being called an association simply for the fact that it was a combination of the two original teams names.

How was the NBA Formed? 

The NBA was formed back in 1949. It was formed when two rival basketball leagues decided to merge to hopefully become much more popular in the USA. The NBA was formed by the BAA and the NBL. The NBL was the slightly more historic league, having been formed in 1937, compared to the BAA being formed in 1946. The main reason for the merger was that the NBL was worried about how quickly the BAA was growing. After only three years of existence, the BAA was beginning to be able to lure some of the NBLs biggest stars away from the league. Not only was the BAA able to bring in some of the NBLs players, but the BAA also brought in the Minneapolis Lakers, Rochester Royals, Fort Wayne Pistons and Indianapolis Jets to the league. Despite bringing these teams in, the BAA still began to fail as fan interest in the league was not very high. The BAA also struggled with the fact that the best basketball players were often still playing in the NBL. It meant that both leagues were struggling. 


Another big reason for the two leagues merging was the fact that basketball was not very popular in the 1940s. Baseball was by far America’s favorite sport at this point, and football was comfortably second. This meant that basketball did not have many fans, and both leagues struggled for money. By 1949, both leagues knew that they needed to cooperate to survive. This is what caused the leagues to eventually merge, which happened in 1949. It simply came down to the fact that the NBL could not keep paying huge paychecks to its best players without more money, and the BAA wanted to increase their popularity by getting the best players into the league. So the NBA was formed and it was designed to try to increase the popularity of basketball as a whole, not just in the USA.

What are the Differences between an Association and a League?

There aren’t many big differences between a league and an association, with a league being a group of teams with a structured schedule to play against each other. Whereas, an association is a body that oversees a league. In this sense, the two are very similar. There are not really any major differences in the way major. Using the NBA as the main example, it is difficult to see any major differences between the way in which the NBA is run, when you compare it to major leagues like the NFL, NHL and MLS. There really is not much difference in how the NBA season works, or how the players are treated. It seems as though there are much more similarities than differences in these leagues. This is no surprise. Players from other big leagues will use other leagues as examples when discussing revenues share, player rights or salaries. The leagues are all very comparable and therefore players do exactly that.

So Why is the NBA Known as an Association?

There really is not much of a specific reason why the NBA is an association. It is really just because that is how they decided to name the league when it was formed in 1949. It was mainly due to the fact that the two leagues who formed the NBA wanted to make it clear that it was a merger between the two, not one buying another out. So they took the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League and combined the two, to make the National Basketball Association. The name does not really have any specific meaning, and does not change how the league works. It was just how the two leagues decided to combine. Possibly something like the American Basketball League would have been a smarter choice, but the NBA could not have predicted that the name would become so popular and therefore also scrutinised. 

The NBA really does not have the most accurate name when you look at it. Firstly of course, the NBA is really more of a league than an association. Secondly, national does not always apply to the NBA. The NBA has had multiple teams from outside of the USA compete in the NBA. The 2019 NBA championship was won by Canadian based team, the Toronto Raptors. The NBA has also in the past feature the Vancouver Grizzlies, who were a team until the Grizzlies were moved to Memphis. It is slightly odd for a national league to feature teams from another country. But it just shows that not much thought was put into the NBAs name when it was formed, and that the people who chose the name were mainly just looking for the best combination of the two merging leagues that created the NBA.