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Basketball Origins, Growth and History of the Game

Basketball History, Changes and Important Milestones including Players, Teams, NCAA and the NBA

Growth Through YMCA Basketball's spread was helped a great deal by the YMCA itself; students who learned the game from Naismith took it across the country and even the world on Christian missions. Naismith himself taught the game in Springfield, in Denver at the YMCA there, and then at the University of Kansas, where he taught the game (as a teacher of physical education) from 1898 until shortly before his death in 1939. While Naismith's rules do not cover everything about the modern game, many aspects were picked up almost instantly; one of the key rules (the 3rd) said that no player could run with the ball, but did not introduce the concept of dribbling, fundamental to today's game. However, many of his players soon figured out that dribbling wasn't against Naismith's rules, and adopted it. Naismith himself liked the invention, and dribbling was made part of the official rules in 1898. Wooden backboards were added in 1896, while the number of players on the court was limited to five in 1900, after some games had gotten out of control, with reports of more than 50 people trying to play on the court at once. The game was also one of the first sports to be played by women as well as men; only 15 months elapsed between the invention of the game and the first women's game, played at Smith College in 1893.

International Popularity Early 1900's Basketball's domestic growth was nearly equaled by its international growth. The Christian missions that brought the game around the world helped make basketball one of the world's first truly global games; the first international basketball tournament was the Inter-Allied Games, played between the U.S., France and Italy in Paris in 1919. FIBA, the Federation Internationale de Basketball, the governing body of the sport internationally, was formed in Geneva, Switzerland in 1932, almost 20 years before the National Basketball Association, the game's governing body in the U.S. Just four years later, basketball became an Olympic sport, only furthering its worldwide popularity (though its first exposure in the Olympics came even earlier, in 1904 as an exhibition). Interestingly, the U.S. was not one of the original members of FIBA; it joined two years later, in 1934. The founding eight countries were Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland.

College Championships:

National Invitational Tournament, or NIT In 1938, a group of sports writers in New York wanted to introduce the concept of a national college basketball champion. They brought six teams to play at Madison Square Garden in the National Invitational Tournament, or NIT. Bradley, Colorado, Long Island, New York University, Oklahoma A&M and Temple competed for the first NIT title, with Temple besting Colorado 60-36 in the championship game. The NIT would grow over time, eventually becoming a tournament of 40 teams in 2002, and is still played today, though the tourney is now considered a consolation prize when not making the NCAA tournament.

National Collegiate Athletic Association NCAA The success of the NIT led the National Collegiate Athletic Association to form its own basketball championship tournament only a year later. In 1939, the first NCAA basketball championship tourney was played between Brown, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah State, Villanova and Wake Forest, with Oregon beating Ohio State for the title, 46-33. Like the NIT, the NCAA tournament would grow over time, most recently expanding to 68 teams.

(An interesting side note: teams used to be allowed to play in both the NIT and the NCAA tournament; in 1950, the CCNY Beavers beat the Bradley Braves in both the NIT and NCAA title games, becoming the only team ever to win both in a single season.)

National Basketball Association NBA The new league's early success was helped by what was arguably professional basketball's first superstar, George Mikan. The 6'10'' Mikan, out of DePaul University, was a giant on the court - at the time, being 6'10'' meant you towered over almost everyone else. Mikan averaged 27.4 points per game (ppg) and led the Minneapolis Lakers to the first NBA title over the Syracuse Nationals. Mikan was not the most exciting player to watch, but he dominated the game, leading the league in points, rebounds and shots, his team winning the title 7 straight years (dating back to the NBL and BAA). The NBA began to change its rules to mitigate the Mikan factor, widening the three-second lane, an area in the center of the court by the basket where a player cannot stand for more than three seconds before being whistled for a violation. By removing Mikan from under the basket, it allowed teams to score more easily against him.

Chuck Cooper First NBA Player Chuck Cooper was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1950, the first black player in the NBA. Two other black players joined him that same year; Nat Clifton actually became the first African-America to sign an NBA contract when New York signed him away from the Globetrotters for $25,000 (in today's money, $223,000). Earl Lloyd, playing for Washington, became the first black player to play in an NBA game, as his team was scheduled to begin the season before Clifton or Cooper's teams.

Fans Turned Off By Changing Game In the NBA, the Minnesota Lakers had a dynasty going; led by Mikan, they won championships in 5 of 6 seasons from 1949 to 1954. Even as the league changed its rules, and as Mikan's scoring dipped, the Lakers rolled. However, the game itself was becoming harder to watch. The league had a distinct lack of rules regarding foul limits and stalling; games became knockdown, drag-out affairs, with the end of games often becoming free-throw shooting contests. The 1953 playoffs averaged 80 free throws per game; today, the average is a little over 50. In a famous 1950 game, Fort Wayne beat Minnesota 19-18, while a five-overtime game between Rochester and Indianapolis saw the team with the ball at the start of the period hold it the entire time, shooting only at the last second in an attempt to win, for all five OT periods. These methods were turning away fans.

Jack Molinas Caught Gambling As a further blow to the league's public image, Jack Molinas, a rookie for Fort Wayne, was caught betting on his own team, the first time something of that nature had surfaced in professional basketball. Even though Molinas was banned from the sport, and the president of the league, Maurice Podoloff, prohibited gambling in the sport, the damage was done.

(An interesting side note: Podoloff was also the commissioner of the National Hockey League, the only person in history to run two simultaneous leagues.)

Shot Clock Introduced in Pro Game In 1954, the league, and more specifically one man, helped revolutionize the sport and save pro basketball. Danny Biasone, owner of the Syracuse Nationals, introduced the concept of the team foul limit and the shot clock. The team foul limit said that only a certain number of fouls could be committed in a single quarter, and after the limit had been reached, any foul would lead to free throw shots, rather than just shooting fouls (fouls committed while a player is in the act of shooting the ball). This helped the sport, but it was the shot clock that really changed the game. Biasone created the 24-second clock, which counted down at the start of each possession. The team with the ball had to shoot it within that 24 seconds, or give the ball to the other team. If someone shot the ball, it hit the rim, and was rebounded by the same team, the shot clock would reset; fouls also restarted the clock. The results were immediate: scoring increased from 79.5 ppg to 93.1 ppg in the shot clock's first season. Average scoring cracked the 100 mark by 1958.

Biasone arrived at 24 seconds by examining some of his favorite games over the years. He discovered they generally had around 60 shots by each team for a total of 120 shots. If you shoot every 24 seconds over a 48-minute game, you arrive at 120 shots. Meanwhile, college basketball would not institute the shot clock until 1985, with a 45-second clock (which it reduced to 35 in 1993).

George Mikan Retires 1954 was also momentous in that it featured the retirement of its biggest star, George Mikan. Mikan left the Lakers after their fifth championship, and without the big man in the middle, the Lakers dynasty ended. That season, Biasone's Syracuse team won the title, a fitting payoff for the owner who changed the sport. A year later, in the 55-56 season, the league first began awarding a Most Valuable Player trophy, with St. Louis Hawk Bob Pettit winning the first award.

MVP trophy's But one wonders how a player that good didn't make every All-NBA First Team and win every MVP trophy. (The NBA's First and Second Teams work like this: each season, a group of basketball reporters and writers select the best player at each position - point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center - which make up the First Team. The Second Team is comprised of the next best guys for each position.) For a stretch of about ten years, the NBA was dominated by two men: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. If Russell didn't win the MVP trophy, generally Chamberlain did. From 1958 to 1968, only two MVP awards were won by players not named Russell or Chamberlain.

Wilt Chamberlain While Russell was all about the team game (evidenced by the Celtics' many titles), Wilt Chamberlain was about stats. Also routinely regarded as one of the greatest to ever play the game, the knock against Wilt was his selfishness. He is often said to care more about his numbers than wins; this is reflected in his career accomplishments. Chamberlain holds the records for career rebounds, career 50-plus point games (118), most points in a single game (the famous 100-point game in 1962), most rebounds in a single game (55), most consecutive scoring titles (7) and is fourth in career points and minutes. He was an All-Star 13 times, made seven All-NBA First Teams, three Second Teams, won the '60 Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, and added four more MVPs before his career ended. But Wilt only won two titles, and one, with the Lakers in 1972, was at the tail end of his career, when he was no longer the best player on the court in any given game.

Philadelphia Warriors Play Boston Celtics Perhaps the best example of the differences between the two comes from the very first game they played against each other. November 7, 1959, Wilt's Philadelphia Warriors came to Boston to play Russell's Celtics. Wilt outscored Russell 50 to 22, but Russell outrebounded him 35 to 28, and the Celtics won the game. Still, despite the arguments made for either side in the debate over who was better, these two players, different as night and day, helped put the NBA on the map, popularizing the sport to levels it hadn't even approached before they came along.

1963 - 1964 Season Clash Between Owners and Players In the 1963-64 season, things came to a head. Leading into the All-Star Game in Boston that year, the players' grievances included low wages (hardly any players made over five figures, whereas today the rookie minimum is $300,000), extended travelling and no pension. The night of the game, the All-Stars informed commissioner Walter Kennedy two hours before tip-off they would not play the game without a pension plan in place with the owners. ABC, who was broadcasting the game, told Kennedy they would scrap their entire contract if the players didn't play, and Kennedy, just fifteen minutes before the game started, told the players he would facilitate an agreement. It was the first major victory for the NBA Player's Association (which had actually been founded back in the 1950s), and really, the first victory for a player's union in American sports history. The NBA Player's Association became the first player's union to engage in a collective bargaining agreement with its league's owners.

Lew Alcindor Even as some of its stars began retiring (Russell in '69 and Chamberlain in '72), one of the games biggest and greatest players emerged. A young man named Lew Alcindor had played for UCLA for three years (at that time, freshman couldn't play college basketball). He was a part of a UCLA squad that, over the three years Alcindor played, won 88 games and lost only two, with one of those losses coming against the University of Houston in the first-ever nationally televised regular season college basketball game. He won three championships with the Bruins, and college basketball even outlawed the dunk for nine years because of Alcindor's domination with the shot. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks as the first overall choice in the 1969 draft, and in his first season was second in the league in scoring and third in rebounding, winning the Rookie of the Year award. The next season, Alcindor won the first of his record six MVP trophies, as well as his first NBA title. Prior to the following season (71-72), Alcindor converted from Catholicism to Islam, changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the name he is more commonly known as. By the time Jabbar finished his career, he held the record for points, blocked shots, playoff games and total games played. He still holds the records for points, with 38,387.

The Rival League:

New League Forces Player Wages Up With the challenge of the ABA to NBA supremacy, perhaps the biggest change was in salaries. The late 1960s saw an explosion in player contracts, with some top rookies now getting deals in the range of $250 to $300 thousand dollars (in today's money, around $1.5 to $1.7 million, getting far closer to modern standards of rookie contracts). The NBA, desperate to keep the players in their league and away from the ABA, felt they had no choice but to pay increasingly high salaries.

Spencer Haywood However, it was the ABA's signing of a rookie in 1969 that ultimately forced a change. To that point in history, the NBA had a clause that forced its players to play four years of college basketball before they could be drafted into the NBA. The ABA had no such rule, so when University of Detroit star Spencer Haywood tried to leave school after his sophomore year and was denied by the NBA, the ABA swooped in to claim him. The NBA saw this as giving the ABA a huge advantage in signing away top players, and a merger was agreed upon in 1971. Ten of the eleven ABA teams (all but Virginia) joined the NBA, and in return, the ABA withdrew their antitrust suit against the NBA. However, the Player's Association objected to the merger, with a lawsuit (nicknamed the Oscar Robertson suit, because Oscar was one of the most high-profile names involved) filed that would last five years. Primarily, the legal action was a challenge to the NBA's reserve clause, identical to Major League Baseball's. Haywood, meanwhile, jumped to the NBA after only a year in the ABA, and after successfully challenging their ban on drafting players without four years in college, was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics, permanently ending that ban. A few years later, in 1974, Utah drafted Moses Malone, a center out of high school, ending the ban on drafting high school players, something that would last for over 30 years.

ABA Teams Denver, New York, San Antonio and Indiana Join NBA As the Oscar Robertson suit languished in court, the ABA continued to poach players away from the NBA, becoming more and more successful over time. Between 1970 and 1974, the NBA scoring average dropped from over 116 points per game to just under 103 ppg. By the summer of 1976, the NBA was tired of waiting for the court case to end, and an agreement was reached. Only four ABA teams joined the NBA: Denver, New York, San Antonio and Indiana. They each had to pay $3.2 million dollars to enter the league, and could not receive TV money for three year or take part in the 1976 draft. The NBA agreed in the merger to get rid of the reserve clause and allow free agency. Salaries began escalating even further.

Magic, Larry and Cable Television:

NBA Lifted In The 80's By Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson The 1979-80 season also saw the arrival of two players who would largely set the tone for stardom in the NBA in the coming decade. Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson had just played each other in the NCAA title game before joining the NBA with the Celtics and the Lakers, respectively. Between the two, Bird and Magic would win six MVP awards in the 1980s, with their two teams winning eight of the ten titles in the decade (the Lakers winning five, with both Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whom they acquired from Milwaukee in a trade). As Bird's Celtics and Magic's Lakers battled each other throughout the 80s, the NBA began to recover from the disastrous years of the 70s.

Salary Cap Introduced In 1983, the league and the player's union signed a new collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA introduced two important components to the game: the first was a salary cap. Players were offered bigger revenue shares in return, but the salary cap in place helped curb the runaway contracts being offered (including $25 million over 25 years to Magic Johnson in only his second season), as well as help level the playing field for smaller market teams. The other new element was a new drug policy, employing a "three strikes, you're out" method. The first strike came with a suspension, the second with a suspension and a team option of waiving the player, and the third a lifetime ban from the game (though that was reviewable every two years).

NBA Markets Itself Better At the same time, the NBA was making strides to market itself better, creating the NBA Entertainment Division and signing new TV deals. By December 1989, the NBA had signed four-year contracts with NBC and Turner worth a total of $875 million dollars (over $1.5 billion today). Those contracts replaced the old contract with CBS worth $93 million over four years (valued today at $192 million). The NBA was becoming a booming business, primarily under the guidance of David Stern, a lawyer who became commissioner in 1984 (after working for the NBA since 1966, including as its chief negotiator in the ABA merger). Stern, still running the league today, is its longest tenured president/commissioner.

College Teams Share Championship Spoils in the 80's Parity also helped college basketball in the 80s. In the decade, only two teams won multiple championships, Indiana and Louisville, and those championships were each separated by six years. Some of the biggest names in the NBA in the 80s were also some of the biggest names in college; Larry and Magic played each other in the NCAA title game in '79, with Magic's Michigan State squad beating out Larry's Indiana State team. The 1982 North Carolina Tar Heels won the title with two future Hall-of-Famers on the roster, Michael Jordan and James Worthy (who would win three championships with the Lakers in the 80s). 1984 champion Georgetown's star center Patrick Ewing became the number one overall pick a few weeks later. Danny Manning, considered one of the best college players of all time, won the 1988 championship with Kansas University, and was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers.

College Team Underdogs College was also helped by its underdogs. Manning's Kansas team was nicknamed "Danny and the Miracles" because it wasn't viewed as a favorite going into the tournament, despite Manning's status as a top player in the game. The 1983 champs, North Carolina State, came into the title game as huge underdogs to the University of Houston, led by Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, two future NBA Hall-of-Famers. While the Lakers and Celtics dominated the professional basketball landscape, the NCAA tournament made for compelling viewing because the "best team" didn't always come out on top.

Michael Jordan Draft To Chicago Bulls After Houston locked up number one overall, definitely taking Olajuwon, it was up to the Portland Trail Blazers to choose who they would pick second. At the time, they were having trouble choosing between a center out of Kentucky, Sam Bowie, and a young guard from the University of North Carolina named Michael Jordan. Portland claimed they needed a center badly, and ended up taking Bowie, leaving Jordan to Chicago. It is probably the worst draft decision of all time, perhaps in any sport, and certainly in basketball. Bowie would have a non-descript career, playing ten injury-plagued seasons without making a single All-Star team. Michael Jordan played 17 years in the NBA, won six NBA titles (and was named the Finals MVP in all of those series), was named MVP of the league five times, won 10 NBA scoring titles (for having the highest ppg average), an NBA record, won Rookie of the Year, was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year in the 87-88 season, was named to the All-NBA First Team 10 times (and the Second Team once, the first year of his career), was named to the All-Defensive First Team 9 times (tied for the most in NBA history), has the highest career ppg average in NBA history, the most 30-point games in NBA history, the most consecutive games scoring double-digit points (with 866), the most points scored in career playoff games, and was named ESPN's top athlete of the century. Suffice to say, Portland would go on to regret their pick.

The 1990s:

1992 Olympic men's basketball Dream Team The 1990s also saw the creation of the "Dream Team," the 1992 Olympic men's basketball team. Up to that point in Olympic history, basketball had been played by amateurs, primarily college players (many of whom would go on to play in the NBA). However, the NBA, seeking to market basketball globally, assembled a group of the best players in the world for the U.S. team in 1992. The roster consisted of Jordan, Magic, Bird, Barkley, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen (Jordan's Bulls teammate), Stockton, Chris Mullin, Clyde Drexler and Christian Laettner, all of them All-Stars, many of them Hall-of-Famers. The team destroyed its competition, winning by an average of 44 points at the Barcelona Games, but accomplished its primary goal: to help grow the game worldwide. Twelve years later, Argentina won the first non-American gold medal since 1988, while foreign-born players flooded NBA rosters. Hakeem Olajuwon (from Nigeria) was the first foreign-born player to win an MVP award, while Steve Nash (Canada) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) have won in recent years. In the 2009 NBA Finals, eight different countries were represented by players in the series (not including the U.S.).

TV Ratings Drop Following Lockout Though no "hard cap" was ever put in place (which restricts how much many a team can spend on its players), there were salary limitations put in place, which put a cap on how high any one player's salary could be. The most damaging backlash from the lockout came in the form of public perception; public polls showed a widely negative view of the lockout by both the general public and fans of the sport. Many of the players themselves, including stars like John Stockton and Charles Barkley said publicly that it was a mistake, and a loss for the league in general. Television ratings for the sport dropped every year after the lockout for five years (though that can also be attributed to Jordan's retirement from the Bulls).

College Game Suffers With some of the top talent in the country foregoing college, the college game suffered, with a somewhat steady drop in ratings from 1995 onward. Many believe the quality of play also suffered. At the same time, perception of the NBA suffered greatly; many of the high schoolers who came into the league did not do well, and many attributed it to immaturity. In 2005, under a new collective bargaining agreement, the league imposed restrictions on the draft; players now had to be at least 19 years old in the calendar year of the draft and be one year removed from high school. This has led most players who would've joined the NBA after high school to spend a year in college before joining the league. Some players, notably Brandon Jennings in 2008, played abroad for a year before joining the NBA. The last three Rookie of the Year award winners in the NBA (as of 2010) all played one year in college before joining the NBA, while the previous four number one overall picks did the same thing.

LeBron James Signed By Cleveland Cavaliers Arguably, the most compelling player of this decade, however, hasn't won an NBA title. LeBron James was probably the most hyped young talent of all time; he received a Sports Illustrated cover story when he was still a junior in high school. Upon entering the league, he was almost immediately considered one of its top players. He has been the youngest player to achieve over a dozen accomplishments, including numerous scoring records. Most recently, he signed a new contract with the Miami Heat, leaving his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to join Dwyane Wade and All-Star Chris Bosh (who signed with the Heat from Toronto). His decision was announced in a televised one-hour special on ESPN called, "The Decision." Though the special was widely criticized, it was viewed by 9.95 million viewers, ESPN's highest rated non-NFL program of the year. Despite criticisms, however, the next decade of NBA basketball may belong to the Miami Heat; only time will tell.

The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons (ISBN: 978-0345511768)

Sports Illustrated: The Basketball Book (ISBN: 978-1933821191)

NBA.com Dr. James Naismith history (http://www.kansasheritage.org/people/naismith.html)

FIBA history (http://www.fiba.com/pages/eng/fc/FIBA/fibaHist/p/openNodeIDs/5683/selNodeID/5683/fibaHist.html)

NCAA tourney history (http://www.ncaa.com/history/m-basketball-d1.html)

NCAA tourney history (http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/mayhem/history/yearbyyear?tag=pageRow;pageContainer)

Bill Garrett history (http://hoopshall.com/hall/g/bill-garrett/)

George Gregory Jr. history (http://hoopedia.nba.com/index.php?title=George_Gregory_Jr.)

NCAA TV deal (http://www.ncaa.org/wps/portal/ncaahome?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/ncaa/ncaa/media+and+events/press+room/news+release+archive/2010/announcements/20100422+cbs+turner+ncaa+rights+agreement+rls)

NBA TV deal (http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jun/28/business/fi-espn28)

Michael Jordan at Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/lists/2008/53/celebrities08_Michael-Jordan_UGGU.html)

Jet Magazine Michael Jordan contract (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n17_v92/ai_19783684/)

International NBA stars (http://thehoopdoctors.com/online2/2010/01/top-20-all-time-best-international-basketball-players-in-the-nba/)

Kevin Garnett in Jet Magazine

The Lockout (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/steve_aschburner/07/08/lockout.revisited/)

Ratings for "The Decision" (http://www.suntimes.com/sports/basketball/2483956,CST-SPT-nbant10.article)

Our New Sports Section and the specific sports pages were written and researched by a passionate sports fan while majoring in journalism at the University of Missouri. He is now the State News Reporter for Indiana Public Broadcasting