The Rise of the National Basketball Association

The Rise of the National Basketball Association

DAVID GEORGE SURDAM
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt3fh694
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  • Book Info
    The Rise of the National Basketball Association
    Book Description:

    Today's National Basketball Association commands millions of spectators worldwide, and its many franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But the league wasn't always so successful or glamorous: in the 1940s and 1950s, the NBA and its predecessor, the Basketball Association of America, were scrambling to attract fans. Teams frequently played in dingy gymnasiums, players traveled as best they could, and their paychecks could bounce higher than a basketball. How did the NBA evolve from an obscure organization facing financial losses to a successful fledgling sports enterprise by 1960? _x000B__x000B_Drawing on information from numerous archives, newspaper and periodical articles, and Congressional hearings, The Rise of the National Basketball Association chronicles the league's growing pains from 1946 to 1961. David George Surdam describes how a handful of ambitious ice hockey arena owners created the league as a way to increase the use of their facilities, growing the organization by fits and starts. Rigorously analyzing financial data and league records, Surdam points to the innovations that helped the NBA thrive: regular experiments with rules changes to make the game more attractive to fans, and the emergence of televised sports coverage as a way of capturing a larger audience. Notably, the NBA integrated in 1950, opening the game to players who would dominate the game by the end of the decade: Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson. Long a game that players loved to play, basketball became a professional sport well supported by community leaders, business vendors, and an ever-growing number of fans._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09424-8
    Subjects: Economics, History, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The National Basketball Association (NBA) is a successful professional sports league that has either absorbed or thwarted at least three rival leagues. Its athletes are among the most recognized and highest paid on the planet. However, the league and its players were not always so highly acclaimed.

    The Basketball Association of America (BAA), the NBA’s precursor, struggled to gain credibility and popularity among the country’s sports fans. While basketball was quite popular in the 1940s, and college basketball had shown promise as a spectator attraction, professional basketball still had an air of disrepute: barnstorming, uncouth players, and poorly lit (and...

  5. 1 Economics of Sports Leagues
    (pp. 5-19)

    Owners in professional team sports leagues enjoy advantages that other business owners do not. The league owners are, in a sense, a cartel. Cartels are usually against U.S. antitrust laws. All professional team sports leagues have partial or full antitrust exemptions, thanks to the courts and to congressional legislation.

    Not all cooperation between firms violates antitrust laws. The league owners must have a minimal amount of cooperation in setting schedules, arranging playing rules, and determining champions. These minimal activities, denoted by economists as single-entity cooperation, are permissible because they make competition possible and therefore benefit fans.

    The owners are not...

  6. 2 The Beginnings (1946–48)
    (pp. 20-54)

    The popularity of college basketball implied a potentially strong demand for a chance to watch well-known college stars continue their playing careers. Why not professional basketball? Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and professional football were enjoying the effects of pent-up wartime craving for leisure. Surely the time was propitious for big-time basketball.

    The nascent BAA sought the two advantages of territorial rights and the reserve clause that other professional team sports league owners possessed, but the league faced competition from an incumbent league. The two basketball leagues contested just one or two cities and were largely able to...

  7. 3 The Merger and Its Aftermath (1948–51)
    (pp. 55-86)

    Because the NBL possessed George Mikan and other well-known stars, BAA owners faced difficulties in persuading the public that their teams played the best basketball. After two seasons the BAA owners had to decide whether to woo the more attractive NBL teams to join their league. The owners also faced the issue of racial integration.

    Although BAA owners concentrated on signing top collegiate talent, they were unable to overtake the NBL teams in talent. The NBL had already signed eleven college players by June 1947, so the two leagues agreed that the BAA teams would each get one choice before...

  8. 4 Shakedown (1951–54)
    (pp. 87-110)

    With the NBL gone, along with some of the original BAA franchises, the surviving owners hoped consolidation would provide stability if not prosperity. However, the elimination of six weak teams did not immediately create prosperity for the remaining NBA teams. Three more teams folded before the league settled into an eight-team circuit. The owners, seeking to reduce costs and bolster attendance, decided to rely on doubleheaders. They also worried about the growing roughness of league games and worked on trying to improve the product.

    NBA president Maurice Podoloff attributed the attendance doldrums of 1951–52 to football, television, and public...

  9. 5 Stability (1954–57)
    (pp. 111-132)

    With the NBA down to eight teams, owners still faced inadequate revenues. They continued to grapple with the unattractive aspect of the league’s end games, where fouling and rough play were still the tactics of choice. How to reduce the primitive aspects of the game remained a difficult problem, but it was one with an elegant solution. The owners also needed to assess whether television would prove to be a friend or a foe.

    Even in the league’s ninth season, some teams were barely surviving. Ben Kerner, owner of the Hawks, hired Marty Blake as its general manager after the...

  10. 6 Moving to Major League Status (1957–62)
    (pp. 133-164)

    Although some of the eight franchises were still struggling to earn sufficient revenues, the NBA’s stability and the success of its twenty-four-second shot clock encouraged NBA owners. Some began considering relocating their teams to larger cities. Their improved product on the court and growing prosperity spurred other businesspeople to begin seeking teams of their own, leading to increases in franchise values and demands for expansion teams. NBA owners now had to decide whether to relocate existing franchises and whether to expand.

    As the 1950s waned, the NBA enjoyed improved attendance. Teams in the smaller cities transferred to Detroit, St. Louis,...

  11. CONCLUSION: The NBA Becomes “Major League”
    (pp. 165-168)

    Why did the NBA survive and eventually prosper? A series of events and decisions helped improve the league’s prospects. Ned Irish’s high hopes aside, the BAA/NBA’s early history was written in red ink. The attrition of teams during the league’s first decade buttressed the owners’ claims of losses, and the demand for pro basketball did not prove sufficient to ensure many teams’ survival, much less success. The merger with the NBL led to chaos, but out of the chaotic 1949–50 season the league winnowed many of its weak franchises. By the mid-1950s the surviving eight teams were still shaky,...

  12. APPENDIX A: Estimating Factors Affecting Net Gate Receipts
    (pp. 169-170)
  13. APPENDIX B: Tables
    (pp. 171-196)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 197-230)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 231-236)
  16. Index
    (pp. 237-248)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-255)