On this day in 1949, after a damaging three-year battle to win both players and fans, the rival Basketball Association of America (BAA) and National Basketball League (NBL) merge to form the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The BAA incorporated in 1946, challenging the hegemony of the nine-year old NBL. The BAA established itself in bigger cities than the NBL, which existed only in small Midwestern cities like Fort Wayne, Sheboygan and Akron. While the NBL held its games in small gymnasiums, the upstart BAA played its games in large major-market arenas such as the Boston Garden and New York City’s Madison Square Garden. By the 1948-49 season, the BAA had begun to attract some of the country’s best players, and four NBL franchises–Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Rochester–moved to the BAA, bringing their star players with them. George Mikan, the biggest attraction in either league who by himself could virtually assure a team’s success, defected to the new league with the Minneapolis Lakers.
On August 3, 1949, representatives from the two leagues met at the BAA offices in New York’s Empire State Building to finalize the merger. Maurice Podoloff, head of the BAA since its inception, was elected head of the new league. The new NBA was made up of 17 teams that represented both small towns and large cities across the country. Through the 1950s, though, the number of teams dwindled, along with fan support, and by the 1954-55 season, only eight teams remained. That year, the league transformed the game with the creation of the 24-second clock, making play faster-paced and more fun to watch. Fans returned, and the league, now financially solvent, expanded throughout the 1960s and 70s. Today, the NBA attracts players—and millions of fans—from countries around the world.