Sixty numbers for 60 NBA years
The BAA and the NBL merged to form the NBA on Aug. 3, 1949
NBA began with 17 teams before scaling back to 11 clubs the following year
After merger, the league quickly advanced with shot clock, TV, dynastic teams
Sixty years ago today, a future guard for St. Peter's College in Jersey City named Rich Rinaldi was born. Nothing very remarkable about that; Rinaldi played well enough to get drafted 43rd overall by the Baltimore Bullets in 1971 and played 79 games with them over two-plus seasons. After being waived in November 1973, Rinaldi hooked on for five games with the ABA's Nets, wrapping up his pro career with averages of 4.8 points and 10.5 minutes.
It just so happens, though, that Rinaldi shares his birthday with the NBA itself. Sixty years ago today, on Aug. 3, 1949, the league as we know it -- well, kind of as we know it -- came into being when the two reigning hoops organizations blended into one.
Traditionally, the NBA marks its BC vs. AD point as 1946-47, when the Basketball Association of America began play. That's why it celebrated its 50th anniversary at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland and why last season was considered its 63rd. But it's important not to underestimate the impact of the BAA's merger with the older National Basketball League three years later.
Neither the NBL nor the BAA was thriving at the time. The NBL had most of the game's biggest names, including George Mikan and Jim Pollard of the Minneapolis Lakers, but was operating primarily in smallish Midwest towns such as Sheboygan, Moline, Toledo, Fort Wayne and Youngstown. The BAA was located in bigger cities, with more legitimate arenas, but it didn't have the drawing-card players. The lure of bigger paydays enticed four NBL teams to switch leagues before 1948-49, but the official absorption came the following summer.
Newly christened as the NBA, the unified league ballooned to 17 teams in 1949-50 -- the Lakers won their second consecutive championship -- then scaled down to 11 clubs for '50-51. Franchises came and went after that, from as few as eight to the current 30, but the die was cast. Advancements and enhancements came ridiculously fast -- the shot clock, Bill Russell, the Celtics' dynasty, Wilt Chamberlain, network television, expansion, dunk contests, Air Jordans, tattoos and Twitter. Boom! Done. Sixty years gone by in a blink, commemorated here by the numbers:
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's rank in career minutes (57,446), points (38,387), fouls (4,657), MVP awards (six), All-Star berths (19), Milwaukee Bucks' scoring (14,211) and rebounding (7,161) and L.A. Lakers' blocked shots (2,694).
2. People forget that Russell was the second player drafted in 1956, going to Boston when Celtics boss Red Auerbach traded for the No. 2 pick in a pivotal deal with St. Louis. People really forget that the No. 1 pick that year was Duquesne guard Sihugo Green -- the Rochester Royals didn't want to pay a $25,000 bonus Russell was rumored to be seeking. Green averaged 9.2 points across 504 NBA games -- and, in his final season, joined Russell for 10 games in Boston in '65-66.
3. The three-point field goal was adopted for the 1979-80 season, and Boston's Chris Ford officially sank the first one in an Oct. 12, 1979, victory against Houston.
4. Number of ABA franchises that survived the merger on June 17, 1978: San Antonio, Denver, Indiana and New York (later renamed New Jersey).
5. Dikembe Mutombo led the NBA in blocked shots five times, which is the official record. But since blocks, like steals, weren't tracked before 1973-74, odds are good that fellows named Chamberlain, Russell or even Thurmond might hold the real mark.
6. Auerbach spent the sixth pick in the '78 draft on Indiana State's Larry Bird, knowing his Celtics would have to wait a full year for Bird (a junior eligible by rules at that time) to leave school. It proves to be worth the wait.
7. Karl Malone led the NBA in free-throw attempts in seven out of 10 seasons from 1988-89 through '97-98. Only Chamberlain (9) did it more often.
8. In 2002-03, the Detroit Pistons played eight overtime games and won them all. In '79-80, the Golden State Warriors played eight OT games and lost them all. Both are records, for most overtime games in a season without a loss or a victory, respectively.
9. Years that the American Basketball Association survived as an NBA alternative, driving up players' salaries through bidding wars for their services and bringing a red-white-and-blue basketball, a dunk contest and funk to center stage in pro hoops. No one handled all three better than Julius Erving, who averaged 28.7 points in his five ABA seasons.
10. Losses for the Chicago Bulls in '95-96. Which means they won an NBA-record 72 times. This is also the Arabic numeral for "X," which is what former Bulls coach Phil Jackson had on his cap in June after the Lakers got him to 10 NBA championships as a head coach.
11. Jersey number worn by both Earl Lloyd and Chuck Cooper. Lloyd was the first African-American player to appear in an NBA game, participating for Washington on Oct. 31, 1950. Cooper was the first to be drafted (Boston, second round, '50) and Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton was the first black player to sign an NBA contract (Knicks).
13. Moses Malone famously predicted that his Philadelphia team would win the 1983 title in just 12 games ("Fo, fo, fo"). In fact, it took the Sixers one extra because the Milwaukee Bucks fended off a sweep in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
14. In the second quarter of San Antonio's 157-154 victory over Denver on April 15, 1984, Spurs guard John Lucas dished 14 assists, most by a player in one quarter.
15. Years between NBA Finals featuring the Lakers and the Celtics, 1969-84.
16. Washington's Gilbert Arenas, locked in a scoring duel with Kobe, scored 16 of his 60 points in overtime in a 147-141 victory over the Lakers in L.A. on Dec. 17, 2006.
17. Championships by the Boston Celtics. This includes 11 in a stretch of 13 seasons beginning in 1957.
18. Months that the American Basketball League survived from 1961 into '63. Though short-lived, the ABL -- founded by Abe Saperstein of Globetrotters fame -- introduced us to the three-point shot, pro basketball's first black coach (John McLendon) and George Streinbrenner as a team owner (Cleveland Pipers).
19. From 1966 through '84, a coin flip between the teams with the worst records in each conference determined the draft's No. 1 pick. The coin came up tails 12 times, heads just seven. Also, the team calling the flip guessed right just seven times.
20. Percent of their games from which Walter Dukes (21.9) and Vern Mikkelsen (20.1) fouled out during their careers. They're the only guys in league history (minimum 400 games) to be disqualified at a 1-in-5 pace.
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