Skip to Content

What was the first expansion team in the NBA?

The current landscape of the NBA is wildly different from how the league was 75 years ago at its founding. New franchises have been founded, changed cities and/or names, and folded many times over the decades, to what is now a mostly-stable, 30-team NBA. Revisiting the history of the NBA means looking at how it grew into the league it is today, and it all starts with the first franchises.

What was the first expansion team in the NBA? The first expansion team in the NBA were the Chicago Packers. The Packers joined the NBA for the start of the 1961-1962 NBA season, at the time when there were only 8 other teams in the NBA. The Chicago Packers played for two seasons, after which they moved the franchise to Baltimore, Maryland. The franchise is now known as the Washington Wizards, who are still an active NBA franchise.

If you are thinking of buying a basketball jersey or NBA clothing then make sure you use one of the NBA official suppliers below. Sign up to our newsletter to be in with a chance to win an NBA Jersey, each month a subscriber wins a jersey from the NBA Store.

Retailer
Promo CodeHOOPERGAME
Discount20% Off20% off & Free Shipping10% off
Join Newsletter
Visit RetailerGo to NBA StoreGo to FanaticsGo to Mitchell & Ness
Please note that the above links are affiliate links to the NBA suppliers and if you make a purchase Basketball Noise will earn an affiliate fee.

How many teams did the NBA start with?

The first NBA season was the 1946-1947 season, back when the league was still known as the Basketball Association of America (BAA). The league was created with 11 teams, of which only three remain active: the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks, and the Philadelphia Warriors (now known as the Golden State Warriors). The BAA was active for three seasons, when in 1949, it decided to merge with the National Basketball League to create the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Due to the merger, there were now 17 teams in the NBA: in addition to the three previous franchises mentioned, a further 5 teams still are active in the NBA: the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers), the Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons), the Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now the Atlanta Hawks), the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers), and the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings).

Depending on one’s view on which season is regarded as the inaugural NBA season (it is widely agreed, as well as supported by the NBA themselves, that the first BAA season in 1946 was the first NBA season; if one were to consider it literally, the first season during which the league was explicitly known as the NBA was in 1949), the NBA started with either 11 teams (in 1946-1947) or 17 teams (in 1949-1950).

What is an NBA expansion team?

An expansion team is generally known as a new team added to a professional sports league, in this case, the NBA. Expansion teams are part of a league’s growth, mostly used to enter a new geographical market or a market that does not currently host a team. Expansion teams are an opportunity for the NBA to increase their regional popularity or overall popularity, or capitalize on expansion fees; both create significant financial gain for the league (current NBA commissioner Adam Silver stated that expansion fees for an NBA team would be well over $2.5 billion). Prospective team owners are interested in the financial benefits from expanding into a new market, benefiting from ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorships, and other revenue streams associated with owning an NBA franchise.

How do NBA expansion teams find players?

NBA expansion teams build their roster through a special draft called the expansion draft. The new team can pick from a pool of players from other teams’ rosters and eligible free agents (teams have a number of players they can choose to protect). A majority of the expansion team’s roster is built through the expansion draft; they are also eligible to use their picks for that season’s NBA Draft.

What is the history of the Chicago Packers?

The Chicago Packers are considered the first expansion team in the NBA (teams joining via the BAA-NBL merger are not considered expansion teams), joining the league in 1961. Their name was a nod to the city’s meatpacking industry, but only after a year, they changed their name to the Chicago Zephyrs. And just another a year later, they moved from Chicago altogether, moving to Baltimore and renaming themselves as the Baltimore Bullets. The franchise is now known as the Washington Wizards.

Image from NBA Jersey Database

The Packers were not a glorious franchise, finishing with the league-worst record in their inaugural season. There was one bright spot, however: Walt Bellamy, the Packers’ rookie, was an outstanding player. He averaged 31.6 points and 19 rebounds a game, and won Rookie of the Year as well as the All-Star Game MVP. Despite the Packers’ lack of success, Bellamy had an illustrious career, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

How many expansion teams have joined the NBA?

22 expansion teams have joined the NBA since the 1949-1950 inaugural season. There have been a total of 11 NBA expansion drafts (there have been instances where more than one team joined the NBA at the same time). Combined with the original 8 teams, the added 22 expansion teams has led to a 30-franchise league; no franchises have folded ever since the first expansion team was added in 1961.

What was the most recent NBA expansion team?

The most recent NBA expansion team are the Charlotte Bobcats, who joined the league in 2004. This was primarily because the previous Charlotte franchise, the Charlotte Hornets, relocated to New Orleans. The NBA opened up to allow a new franchise to take hold, which led to the creation of the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats later renamed themselves as the Charlotte Hornets, which is their name to this day.

Will the NBA add more expansion teams in the future?

For the time being, no expansion teams have been added to the NBA in nearly 20 years. However, current commissioner Adam Silver has said that the NBA will “invariably expand” at some time in the future. Major markets where an NBA team has been highly rumored to expand into include Seattle (who had a franchise, the Supersonics, before they were relocated to Oklahoma City), San Diego, and Las Vegas.

After a few initial years of considerable chaos regarding new franchises popping up and folding up, the NBA has been mostly stable for a large part of its history. The expansion of the NBA has been carefully considered to be in the best interest of the league; allowing new teams to merge from other leagues (such as the ABA-NBA merger), as well as entering major geographical areas to grow the league’s popularity. And when the NBA decides it’s in the league’s best interest to expand, there surely will be new NBA franchises to root for.

Sign up to our newsletter, for your chance to win an NBA jersey

Each month we choose one lucky winner, who can spend up to $150 on a jersey of their choice. 

*T&C's apply please see here for detail

You have Successfully Subscribed!