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What were the original 11 NBA teams?

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the world’s best basketball league and one of the major sports organizations in North America. The league was founded as the Basketball Associtaion of America (BAA) in 1946 in the city of New York and has gone from strength to strength ever since, with its brand and athletes being some of the most recognised and adored across the globe. Like everything, even the high flying, glamor dripping NBA had humble beginnings.

What were the original 11 NBA teams? The original 11 NBA teams were: Bostons Celtics, Cleveland Rebels, Chicago Stags, Detroit Falcons, New York Knickerbockers, Pittsburgh Ironmen, Philadelphia Warriors, Providence Steamrollers, St Louis Bombers, Toronto Huskies and Washington Capitols. The first ever NBA game was contested in Toronto between the Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers on 1st November 1946. 

At the very beginning, the league was called the Basketball Association of America (BAA). It consisted of 2 divisions, which included 11 teams. Over time, in 1949, after the addition of 6 more clubs, it officially became known as the NBA. However the NBA regards it’s history as starting in 1946, we explore why in more detail below.

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Professional Basketball – pre 1946

Before the NBA appeared in the basketball world, the first professional league was formed in 1898. Called the National League by its aspiring organizers, it was barely national, consisting of six teams in the immediate vicinity of Philadelphia. Team Trenton, coached by Fred Cooper, won the first two championships of the National League.

After five years it closed and many of its players found a place in the new Philadelphia League. This in turn gave birth to the Eastern League and the Central League. The Troy Trojans dominated the Hudson River League, and when it disbanded they became the leaders of the New York State League.

The early leagues were fickle. There were no contracts that tied the players to one team. More often the players played for those who paid more. This happened for one game, which led to a massive mess in the lineups. It was never known who would play for whom in any given match.

In 1919, Joe Lapchik, a center from New York, played for four different teams in four different leagues. Why was he in such demand? At that time, after each made basket, a jump ball was assigned, and therefore the services of 6ft5 Lapchik fetched a high price. “My income increased rapidly,” recalls Lapchik, who became a coach after a successful career as a player. “I made deals with managers for every game.” Sometimes he received as much as 75 dollars per match, well above the then standard fee of 1 dollar. “At first, my fees depended on the number of minutes on the court, but soon it no longer mattered and my earnings increased to $90-100 per game, regardless of how many minutes I played. When there were several offers, I took the best financially.”

Such was the state of professional basketball in the early 1920s, a collection of loosely organized leagues made up of teams whose players could change teams daily, depending on who paid the most.

The Formation of the NBA

The NBA came into prominence in the 1940s, first as the BAA and then from 1949 known by it’s modern name. The National Basketball Association (NBA). The name change came after the BAA merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) making it 17 teams strong and truely national for the first time in history. The teams were divided into 3 divisions, East, West and Central. The modern NBA recognizes the BAA’s history as its origin. The joning of the NBL teams is seen as an expansion as opposed to a merger. This means the NBA does not recognize NBL records and statistics as part of it’s history.

A year later, in 1950, 6 teams left the NBA: Anderson Packers, Chicago Stags, Denver Nuggets, Sheboygan Red skins, St Louis Domders and Waterloo Hawks. Leaving just 11 teams. This process continued as the new league struggled to find it’s identity. By the 1956-57 season it had hit it’s smallest size with just 8 Franchises. All of whom technically still exist in the league today. Albeit some in different locations and under different Franchise monikers.

New York Knicks

Boston Celtics

Philadelphia Warriors (Golden State Warriors)

Minneapolis Lakers (LA Lakers)

Rochester Royals (Sacremento Kings)

Fort Wayne Pistons (Detroit Pistons)

Tri-Cities Blackhawks (Atlanta Hawks)

Syracuse Nationals (Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers)

It could be said that these franchises from 1956 are the 8 Original NBA Franchises.

The NBA, for the most part, considers the historical context of the BAA to be its own. BAA enjoyed much more notable commercial success at the time of the organizations’ merger—it played large venues such as Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden while NBL played smaller gyms primarily in the Midwest. 

In the mid-forties, a major battle broke out between the basketball leagues in the United States. The Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL) entered the rivalry. They competed to attract the most talented players and teams to their league. And also for the fans, because they guaranteed the success of the league they chose. 

After such a three-year battle for dominance in basketball, on August 3, 1949, these leagues nevertheless agreed on a peace and merged into one league called the National Basketball Association (NBA). 

By coincidence the same year, 1956, the NBA introduced a 24-second shot clock, which increased the speed of the game and, as a result, the attraction of spectators. From this point the NBA would accelerate towards the globally dominant league we know today.

The Development Period

So many things happened when the new basketball league was developing. The BAA was a much younger league than the NBL, but they established themselves in bigger cities. The NBL, on the other hand, was based in Central America, in small towns and universities. Over time, the BAA began to poach more and more cities, players and teams from rivals, gaining an advantage. After that, the leagues decided to meet at the Empire State Building and discuss business. As a result, a decision was made to merge, and Maurice Podoloff was elected the new head of the league. The NBA first consisted of 17 teams, which this time represented both big cities and small ones. 

The sad thing is that in the 50s there were only 8 teams left in the league, and most of the fans abandoned this sport. But in the 60s and 70s, with the addition of new rules and interesting features the game got more dynamic, both the fans and the teams returned. In modern times, this league has become extremely wealthy and popular, and basketball has become a national sport in the United States.

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