From a very humble start to a juggernaut
It started in 1946 with 11 teams and 160 players. The shot clock was almost a decade away, the 3 point line was a few generations away. The buildings were smaller. The players too. And it wasn’t even called the National Basketball Association.
The NBA 75 years ago was different in almost every way imaginable.
Over the next few months, The Associated Press will be revisiting what the league was on and off the pitch, how it came to be what it is and where it will go over the next 25 years as it gets closer. of the century.
The series will be remembered for those humble beginnings, with Ossie Schectman – who scored the first basket in league history – earning $ 60 per game. It will show how what was going on in the country seemed to mirror what was going on in the league, from the league’s path of integration in the 1950s to its stance on social issues and race relations today.
During those early years, the teams lost a lot of money. Some of the inaugural franchises only had inaugural seasons, ending after the first year. There was no solid follow-up and the NBA had little to no impact on social issues.
And all the players were white.
âNone of us playing at the time knew what it would be like,â said Schectman, who played for the original New York Knicks, in a 2010 interview, three years before his death. “We didn’t know if this was going to work and become something.”
Schectman scored the first basket in Basketball Association of America history; he wasn’t called the NBA until three years later, but the NBA counts those years as its own. It was a devious layup for the Knicks in a game against the Toronto Huskies on Nov. 1, 1946, the first two points of 13.7 million in league history.
In time, Schectman got his answer: the NBA, indeed, would become something.
Today, the 30 NBA franchises are worth at least $ 100 billion combined, possibly far more than that. The league has a fan base that spans the four corners of the world and a reputation for being a leader when it comes to social issues.
Richard Lapchick, the son of former New York Knicks coach Joe Lapchick and a social and racial researcher in the sport, said the league platform has always provided the opportunity to be a vector of change – perhaps never more than today.
“I sincerely believe that the NBA, with Adam Silver as the current leader, is here for the right reasons and has the backing of America’s largest integrated workforce in terms of percentage of the population,” Lapchick said. . “They are also very wealthy, so they can use their resources – and this is new – to invest in social justice campaigns in their communities.”
There has been a major player commitment to spur change in recent years, ranging from additional and almost unprecedented levels of support for historically black colleges and universities, to LeBron James leading a voting rights and registration campaign that ended up playing an important role in the 2020 presidential election.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer thinks he knows why basketball tends to have such an impact on society.
âI’m going to say something a little silly,â Ballmer said. âHow many sports can you really see the players? Football, you have helmets. The baseball players are quite far away, in the middle of the field. Even in soccer, hockey, you have guys who move super fast with helmets. People can relate to basketball players. You can see them. You can feel them.
âThere are fewer players, which means you get more interviews and get to know certain personalities more than you would in just about any other sport,â he added. “In fact, this is a very important aspect where basketball is becoming much more at the forefront of societal change.”
As with many things, the first few days were the toughest.
The Philadelphia Warriors – now the Golden State Warriors – won the league’s first title in 1947, against the Chicago Stags. By the start of the following season, four of the original 11 teams had folded; the league added a team from Baltimore and played with eight franchises for the second season.
A 60-game schedule has been reduced to 48 to save money on travel. Maurice Podoloff, a hockey executive who served as the first president of the BAA and ultimately the first commissioner of the NBA, was tasked with saving the league and winning a battle with the rival National Basketball League to attract players. and attention.
In May 1948, the battle was won. Four teams left the NBL – Indianapolis, Rochester, Fort Wayne and Minneapolis, which arguably had the biggest name in basketball at the time with George Mikan – for the BAA.
“Maurice Podoloff laid out the unknown for the NBA,” said the late David Stern, who served as NBA commissioner for 30 years, upon Podoloff’s death. âHe took an idea and nurtured professional basketball throughout his formative years. It is thanks to the efforts of sports pioneers like Podoloff that the NBA has become a daily part of the American sports scene.
In 1949, the NBA had reached a milestone. The league had up to 17 teams, more than double what it was. The teams were making a profit. The rebranding in the NBA was over. And once the evolution of meeting rooms was over, it was time to evolve in the field as well.
While the racial barrier had been broken – Wat Misaka, a Japanese-American player, was drafted and played for the Knicks in 1947 – it was barely noticed, in part because he only played three games. . The first black players were three years away from joining the league, changing the face of the game for good.
As the country changed from World War II to the civil rights movement, the NBA kept pace. The change then led to unrest and division, just like in recent years in the United States. But the NBA continued, yesterday and now.
“This is what this country is and should be,” said Jerry West, NBA great player and Basketball Hall of Fame member. âIt’s a question of fair play. And for years there hasn’t been a lot of fair play in this country. I think the NBA has been at the forefront in this area, and it’s great to see. “
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