The history of the NBA and the more recent WNBA starts with the actual invention of basketball by James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts way back in 1891. James Naismith created a game that could be played indoors during the cold winters between football and baseball season. Professional basketball as we know it today was born out of hockey arena owners who wanted to tap into the success of the NCAA basketball tournament. They were looking for a way to have more than just hockey games to occupy their arenas.
In June of 1946 a collective of league owners including Boston Garden owner Walter Brown started the Basketball Association of America (BAA). Three years after their inception, the Basketball Association of America merged with their competitor, the National Basketball League (NBL) forming what we know today as the National Basketball Association or NBA. Some of the early teams of the day were the Syracuse National now known as the Philadelphia 76ers. Other teams included the Minneapolis Lakers now known as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia Warriors now known as the Golden State Warriors just to name a few. The early years of the NBA saw the expansion of new teams while some established teams moved to different cities like then Rochester Kings eventually becoming what we know as today’s Sacramento Kings.
The newly formed league now had 17 teams after the merger. The league stretched across the country in both small towns and large cities. During the 1950’s interest and fan support for the new league began to decline. By the mid 1950’s there were only eight official teams making up the NBA. In an attempt to win fans back and speed up the game, the NBA implemented the 24 second shot clock. The new shot clock enhanced the pace of the play and made the game more engaging thus winning back the fans. The NBA continued to expand and grow in the 1960’s and 1970’s adding teams to the league. In 1976 the NBA merged with the American Basketball Association (ABA) adding another four teams to the league. New teams from the ABA included the Denver Nuggets, the New York Nets who became the New Jersey Nets and eventually moving again to play as the Brooklyn Nets. The Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs were also acquired through the new league merger. Through the years the NBA has expanded to a total of 30 teams. The first official champions of the inaugural 1949-1950 NBA season were the Minnesota Lakers who defeated the Syracuse Nationals. The most championships for a franchise are shared by the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers each with 17 apiece. The history of the NBA has had some of the most iconic moments in sports history. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game back in 1962 against the New York Knicks, “The Shot” by Michael Jordan in the 1989 playoffs and LeBron James stuffing a 2 on 1 fast break against the Golden State Warriors with “The Block” leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a ring in 2016.
Women’s basketball as a sport began shortly after the invention of basketball itself in the early 1890’s. Women played in dresses as was the way back then. Women’s basketball was not accepted as a sport in the early days. For a long time, the women’s game only went as far as college here in America. Following the great success of the women’s collegiate and Olympic programs the NBA created the WNBA in April 1996. The original eight teams were in cities that already had NBA teams. The Cleveland Rockers, the Charlotte Sting, the Houston Comets, and the New York Liberty formed the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference you have the Los Angeles Sparks, the Sacramento Monarchs, the Utah Starzz and the Phoenix Mercury. The WNBA adopted the slogan “We Got Next” as a way to announce and promote the new professional women’s basketball league. As of today, the WNBA has grown from eight to twelve teams. Sheryl Swoopes was the first player ever signed in the WNBA by the Houston Comets. The newly formed WNBA would counter the NBA and run their own season in the summer with less competition from other major sports. History was made when the New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks tipped off on June 21st, 1997. While the height of the net and dimensions of the court are the same, the WNBA uses a smaller basketball and slightly closer three-point line. The WNBA also plays two 20-minute halves instead of the NBA four quarters format. The teams with the most championships in the WNBA are the Minnesota Lynx and the Seattle Storm each with four rings. Some of the more notable players in WNBA history are Sheryl Swoopes, Sue Bird, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.
The NBA and WNBA are well established leagues with a global reach. As the game evolves for both the men and women it will grow even more. The WNBA has proven they are as good of a game with their own high-level superstars. Basketball has always been a thrilling game with buzzer beaters and last second drama keepings fans captivated throughout the years. High level athletes performing amazing displays of acrobatic moves and hardnosed toughness in an end to end nonstop spectacle of dazzling play. This is why basketball is now a global phenomenon that will continue to grow and inspire the next generation of both male and female superstars.