The NBA is one of the most popular sports today, and the playoffs are some of the most exciting times for all sports fans. But have you ever thought of the beginnings of the league we know as the NBA, and what those first playoffs looked like?
The Inaugural BAA Season
The first year in NBA history wasn’t even technically the NBA. The league is credited as starting in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America, or BAA. At the start, there were only 11 teams.
Here were the original 11 teams:
– Cleveland Rebels
– Chicago Stags
– Boston Celtics
– Philadelphia Warriors
New York Knickerbockers
– Detroit Falcons
– Pittsburgh Ironmen
– Providence Steamrollers
– St. Louis Bombers
– Toronto Huskies
– Washington Capitols
Of the original 11 teams, only three remain in the game today and only two remain in the same city. Of course, the Boston Celtics and New York Knickerbockers, now known just as the Knicks, are around. The Warriors are around as well, but they are in San Francisco.
The BAA played for three seasons before it absorbed most of one of its competitor leagues, the National Basketball League (NBL), and rebranded itself as the National Basketball Association (NBA). In that inaugural season, the 11 teams played either 60 or 61 regular-season games, with the top three teams from each division advancing to the playoffs.
The team with the best record in the inaugural season was the Washington Capitols with a 49-11 record. The other teams to make the playoffs were the Chicago Stags (39-22), the St. Louis Bombers (38-23), the Philadelphia Warriors (35-25), the New York Knickerbockers (33-27), and the Cleveland Rebels (30-30).
The First Playoffs In League History
The playoff bracket in the first year of the BAA was a lot different from what we’re used to seeing today. The top team from the east and the west division earned a bye in the first round. What’s even stranger about the original playoff bracket is after taking a bye week in the first round, the top two teams end up playing against each other in the next round.
The quarterfinals saw the New York Knickerbockers taking on the Cleveland Rebels and the St. Louis Bombers playing the Philadelphia Warriors. The series was a best of three, and the Knickerbockers and the Warriors each won their series 2-1.
The semifinal round saw the Knickerbockers taking on the Warriors, in a best of three series. The Warriors defeated the Knickerbockers 2-0.
Then the top two teams played against each other. It was the Stags and Capitols, but their semifinals series would be a best of seven. The Stags won their series 4-2, and this set up the first championship series in league history.
The Warriors didn’t have much of a problem against the Stags as they won the series 4-1 to become the league’s first champion. They didn’t give out Finals MVP until the 1969 season, but the player who performed the best was Joseph “Jumping Joe” Fulks.
Fulks led all scorers in the championship series with 26.2 points per game. He also led the league in scoring during the regular season with 23.2 points per game.
Yes, the game wasn’t quite what it is today, in style, pace, and excitement. Fulks isn’t comparable to the stars of today’s game, but the league was moving in the right direction.