Following World War II sports in America began to pick up a lot of popularity. Fans clamored for entertainment and Football, Baseball and Hockey brought just that to the American populace. Basketball at the time was still in its infancy, with most leagues lasting less than a season before disbanding. There were two established leagues in the United States following the War, there was the ABL and NBL. Both leagues played in small Midwest cities and were regional at best.
Walter Brown, owner of the Boston Garden and the landlord of the Boston Bruins of the NHL, thought that money could be made on the off-nights if the Boston Garden were to host basketball games. Brown had thought about attempting to purchase an ABL team but that did not pan out. He was skeptical that an NBL team could succeed so far away from the Ohio Valley where most teams resided, and often failed.
Brown got in contact with other business owners in other major cities such as Philadelphia and New York to try and establish a new league based in larger cities with teams playing in large venues.
The first meeting was held in New York City in May of 1946 and an initial frame work was agreed upon. The early basics included 13 teams in 13 major cities, a 60 game league schedule, and a series of rules, and regulations that are still seen today. One of those regulations being that teams cannot Barnstorm, or play no-league sanctioned games, and that players would be under contract with that team and that team only. The league adopted a 48 minute game and allowed players to play until they committed six fouls instead of five which was the norm in basketball at the time. While not specifically banned, black players were not to be part of any of the teams rosters.
The owners met again on June 3, 1946 and officially started the new league, which would be called the Basketball Association of America or BAA. The owners would elect Maurice Podoloff to be the league president. Podoloff who was already the president of the AHL would become the first person to be simultaneously in charge of two league at the same time.
Two of the 13 teams decided to hold off on joining the league. The Buffalo franchise needed more money and agreed to join the following season. The Indianapolis franchise, worried about competition from the NBL's Indianapolis Kautskies dropped out completely. In a bit of irony the Kautskies would actually replace the BAA Indianapolis team and join the BAA the next season as the Jets. Buffalo would have to wait until the 1970s to get an NBA team.
The league started with 11 teams in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Providence, Pittsburgh, St Louis, Toronto and Washington. The league would be broken into two unequal divisions with an Eastern and Western Divisions with the top 3 from each division making the post season.
The BAA had its inaugural games on November 1, 1946. The first game was held in Maple Leaf Gardens and was between the New York Knickerbockers and the Toronto Huskies. New York's Ossie Schectman scored the first basket in league history.
The quality of the games were actually below the quality of other leagues games. One factor in that was that the NBL had the bigger names and star players, but the lax rules of the NBL, which allowed players to sign freely, began to hurt the league as some players began signing with BAA teams.
Because the games were played during the hockey season and at the time most arenas were owned by hockey teams and were for the purpose of hosting hockey games, the league would see problems due to ice. One common problem was that the ice would seep through the floor and cause puddles. Another problem was that the owners often refused to heat the buildings, fearing melting the ice, this caused fans to come to games with blankets and gloves.
Attendance was dismal for the league, averaging only about 3,000 fans per contest. Though attendance was bad, the teams began to gain some popularity in their cities and this made owners hopeful that the league could be a success.
The Washington Capitols ended the season with the best record going 49-11 and winning the Eastern Division by a whole 14 games over the Philadelphia Warriors, the other eastern team to make the playoffs that year was the New York Knickerbockers.. The Western Division was won by the 39-22 Chicago Stags. The Stags were just a game better than the second place St Louis Bombers. The Cleveland Rebels would round out the playoffs.
Joe Fulks would capture the first scoring title in league history averaging 23 points a game for the Warriors. Fulks would be named to the all-BAA first team, joining Fulks would be Chicagoís Max Zaslofsky, Washington's Bones McKinney and Bob Feerick, and Detroitís Stan Miasak.
The Division Champions would get first round byes, but be forced to play each other in the second round. This would create an imbalance as it caused the best two teams in the league to meet before the finals. The divisions also did not matter once the post season began. New York would play Cleveland and Philadelphia would play St Louis. The Knicks and Warriors both won their first round series 2 games 1 and advanced to face each other in the semi finals.
The weird scheduling imbalance caused the Warriors to win their series vs the Knicks in a 2-0 sweep, while the league best Capitols lost their series in six games to the Stags. The Warriors and Stags would play in the first ever BAA finals. The Warriors would win the leagues first title in five games over the Stags.
The first season of the BAA was somewhat successful, in that it set up the foundation for the NBA we see today, but at the same time it had some glaring miscalculations and failures. The league bit off more than it could chew. Having 11 teams stretching from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic coast was too much for 1947. Travel cost alone nearly bankrupted teams before the season ended.
When the dust settled following the first season four of the 11 teams had folded. The Rebels, Huskies, Falcons, and Ironmen all failed to make the playoffs or have winning seasons and fan support wasnít there and they became nothing more than interesting tidbits in NBA history. However, of the 11 teams that started in November of 1946 three still remain in the league today. The Celtics, Knicks and Warriors have combined for 24 of the leagues championships including the first one by the Warriors following the first NBA season.