Sporting Focus: A History of the NBA and Its Most Successful Teams

Comprising one Canadian and 29 American teams, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is the world’s most prestigious professional basketball league.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Established on June 6, 1946 in New York City, the BAA initially began with 11 basketball teams. Prior to the start of the BAA’s second season, however, four teams dropped out in rapid succession.

Despite sustaining heavy losses, the BAA enjoyed considerable success against its rival, the National Basketball League (NBL). In 1948, the BAA persuaded four of the NBL’s most important franchises to join, further diminishing the NBL’s prestige.

In 1949, the BAA and the NBL merged, relaunching itself as the National Basketball Association. The merger of the two leagues brought the total number of NBA teams to 17 for the first season.

Plagued by funding problems from the outset, however, the NBA quickly lost teams. Six years later, the total number of NBA franchises had fallen to just eight. Frank Zollner, the owner of the former NBL team, the Fort Wayne Pistons, is widely credited with saving the NBA at this point, propping up the league financially.

The NBA had just 8 teams until 1961. At this point, the league was joined by the Chicago Packers, the team that went on to become the Washington Wizards. From 1966 to 2004, the NBA’s popularity snowballed, with 21 teams joining the league.

The New York Knickerbockers played against the host team, the Toronto Huskies, on November 1, 1946. Ossie Schectman of the Knicks made the first basket.

Over the years, the NBA has been dominated by several “teams of the era.” In its formative years, the league was led by the Minneapolis Lakers, who won five NBA championships between 1948 and 1954. The Boston Celtics then seized the reins, winning 11 championships. By the 1980s, however, the Lakers rose up once more, dominating the league with the Celtics.

In the 1990s, the Chicago Bulls captured six titles, largely driven by Michael Jordan’s exceptional skills.

Signed by the Chicago Bulls in 1984, Michael Jordan is now regarded as one of the most talented players in the history of the sport. In his first season as a professional, Jordan was named the NBA Rookie of the Year, although he missed most of the following season after breaking his foot.

After returning to play in the NBA, Jordan topped the leaderboard for seven consecutive seasons, boasting an average of 33 points per game. In 1987, Michael Jordan became only the second player in NBA history to score 3,000 points in a single season. After a brief stint at trying his hand at professional baseball, Jordan returned to captain the Bulls in 1995, leading them to a 72–10 regular season record; establishing a new NBA best.

Looking back, it seems extraordinary that 5’ 3” Tyrone Bogues made it into the sport at all, let alone blocking 39 shots on taller players.

Nicknamed “Muggsy” after the diminutive character from The Bowery Boys, Muggsy grew up in the Lafayette Court housing projects in Baltimore, Maryland. Both of his parents were of small stature, with his mother standing just 4-foot-11 inches tall.

Though he had a troubled childhood, Tyrone Bogues was a gifted sportsman, excelling at basketball, baseball, and wrestling. Bogues dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference in terms of both steals and assists during his time with Wake Forest. The university subsequently recognized Tyrone Bogues as its most valuable athlete, presenting him with the Arnold Palmer Award. Wake Forest inducted Bogues in its Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.

Despite his diminutive height, Tyrone Bogues remains Wake Forest University’s all-time leader in both assists and steals.

Over the course of his NBA career, Bogues has played for the Washington Bullets, the Charlotte Hornets, the Golden State Warriors, and the Toronto Raptors. Following his retirement, Tyrone Bogues went on to become the head coach of the Charlotte Sting, one of the Women’s National Basketball Association’s original teams.

Having amassed 17 championship titles, the Celtics are the most successful NBA team in the league’s history. Starting in 1959, the Celtics won eight consecutive championships. Lucky the Leprechaun, the team’s mascot, reflects Boston’s large Irish population.

The New York Knickerbockers were founded by Ned Irish in 1964, when Madison Square Garden was granted a charter franchise by the BAA. The team played in the first official league game, winning 68–66 against the Toronto Huskies in 1946.

The Knicks were the NBA’s most valuable team in the 2013–2014 season, grossing $1.1 billion. The name “Knickerbockers” refers to the style of pants worn by the Dutch immigrants who arrived in the New World in the 1600s. The community settled predominantly in New York.

Douglas Healy is a Springfield, Missouri-based attorney with nearly 20 years of legal experience.