Most younger basketball fans can’t imagine a world without basketball or the NBA. However, while the sport is 128 years old, the first professional league was the National Basketball League which was formed in 1937. The Basketball Association of America was established in 1946, and both leagues merged in 1949 to form the National Basketball Association only a mere 70 years ago.
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Frank Zollner, known as “Mr. Pro Basketball,” was a key player in helping the NBA come into existence. He owned Zollner Corporation, a successful industrial company which created pistons for automotive companies. He and his sister Janet formed the Zollner Pistons in 1939 as an independent basketball team. The team later joined the National Basketball League in 1941. In 1949, he initiated the merger between the NBL and BAA by inviting leaders of both organizations to meet at his home. It was there that the NBA was formed.
While the NBA currently has 30 teams, it started off with only 16. However, the number of teams ended up being cut in half over the following six years due to financial troubles. Zollner was the one who kept the league financially solvent during this time. He was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 for his contributions to the sport.
The NBA only had eight teams until the early 1960s when the Chicago Packers (now the Washington Wizards) joined the league. The first expansion team was the Chicago Bulls, who were formed from an expansion draft in 1966. During the next 50 years, the NBA experienced significant growth with nearly 20 teams joining the league.
In the 1960s, the American Basketball Association came onto the scene creating an opposing organization. It would last nine years before being absorbed by the NBA. While many ABA teams folded with the merger, some turned into teams we know today like the Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and the San Antonio Spurs.
Teams of the Era
Throughout the NBA’s history, there have been periods where specific teams have thrived and dominated. Sports historians have dubbed these teams as the “team of the era.” To earn this title, the teams had to win four or more championships in a decade. During the first decade of the NBA, the Minneapolis Lakers won five NBA championships while being led by George Mikan, who was inducted into the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame.
From the mid-‘50s to the late ‘60s, the Boston Celtics dominated the league with 11 championships within 13 seasons of play. The Lakers and Celtics dominated in the ‘80s, while the Chicago Bulls made a stand in the ‘90s with Michael Jordan. During the 2000s, the Lakers were back on top. While there are no teams of the decade for the ‘70s or 2010s, the Golden State Warriors have three championships within the last four seasons and could make a run for it.
One of the significant contributors to the NBA’s growth spurts throughout the years has been the rivalry atmosphere between players and teams. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had a major rivalry in the ‘80s. This rivalry fueled fans and helped initiate more expansion during that decade.
Michael Jordan’s prowess helped grow the popularity of the NBA and basketball on a global scale. For example, the Chinese Basketball Association was created in 1995 following Jordan’s first retirement. In its 24 years of existence, the CBA has created 20 teams across the country and fed several players into the NBA. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact current players like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, as well as international players, will have on the game.
It’s been only 70 years since the NBL and BAA merged to form the NBA, but in that amount of time, the NBA has shown phenomenal growth in the United States and abroad. The NBA is the premier basketball league across the globe and a lofty aspiration for countless young basketball players.
Jazz History in the NBA
The Jazz started as an expansion team in 1974 as the New Orleans Jazz and then moved to Salt Lake City in 1979. They got off to a slow start, but by 1984, they were in the playoffs and didn’t miss a playoff season again until 2004. They became one of the closest watched teams starting in the late 1980s thanks to the famed point guard-power forward duo of John Stockton and Karl Malone. That momentum carried the Jazz into the 1990s when they became a force to be reckoned with under the direction of coach Jerry Sloan and ascended to the NBA finals twice.
The Jazz remain a powerhouse in the NBA’s Western Conference with dynamic and gifted players who continue to delight fans and make a name for the team with each new season.