What is the NBA?Published: | Updated:
The National Basketball Association, or NBA, is a professional basketball league based in North America. Comprised of 30 teams, it is the world’s premier men’s professional basketball league. 29 of the 30 teams play in the United States. 1 team (the Toronto Raptors) is based in Canada. In North America, the NBA is the third wealthiest professional sports league after the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) by revenue.
What & When is the NBA Finals?
The NBA Finals is the annual championship series of the National Basketball Association (NBA). One team from the Eastern Conference and one team from the Western Conference play a best-of-seven series to determine the league’s champion.
The NBA Finals were initially structured in a 2-2-1-1-1 format. In 1985, to ease the burden of cross-country travel, the NBA changed the format to a 2-3-2. This format change meant the first two and last two games of the series were played in the arena of the team that had earned home-court advantage by virtue of a better record during the regular season. The 2-2-1-1-1 format was restored in 2014. In that format, the team with the better regular season record hosts the first two games before going on the road for two games. The remaining three games are played alternately at each team’s home arena if needed. The NBA Finals are typically played in late May to mid-June.
What is the Larry O’Brien Trophy?
The Larry O’Brien Trophy is awarded to the team that wins the NBA Finals.
Initially, the trophy was named after Walter A. Brown, the original owner of the Boston Celtics, who was instrumental in merging the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL) into the NBA in 1949.
The trophy was renamed the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 1977. O’Brien served as the commissioner of the NBA from 1975 to 1984.
Ironically, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) was founded in 1946 by owners of major ice hockey arenas in the United States and Canada. November 1st, 1946, marks the first game played in NBA history – between the New York Knickerbockers (now just Knicks) and the Toronto Huskies (now Raptors).
Although there had been earlier attempts at other basketball leagues, such as the American Basketball League (ABL) and National Basketball League (NBL), the BAA was the first league to attempt to play solely in large arenas in major cities around the country. 1949 saw several NBL teams merged into the BAA. The league name was changed to the National Basketball Association (NBA) to avoid potential legal complications. This new league had seventeen franchises spread among large and small cities.
In 1950, the NBA consolidated to eleven franchises, a process of dwindling that continued until 1954-1955, when the NBA was just eight teams: the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia Warriors, the Minneapolis Lakers, the Rochester Royals, the Fort Wayne Pistons, the Milwaukee Hawks, and the Syracuse Nationals. The Pistons eventually moved to Detroit, and the Milwaukee Hawks moved first to St. Louis and later to Atlanta.
1954 was a period of significant change to the initial rules of the NBA, as the league instituted the 24-second shot clock. It was an attempt to encourage more shooting (and thus, more scoring) and to discourage stalling by just holding the ball and not doing anything. If a team does not attempt to score or field a goal (or the ball fails to make contact with the rim) within 24 seconds of the play starts, the play is halted, and the ball is given to the opposition.
From 1957 to 1969, the NBA was dominated by the Boston Celtics. The 1957 Celtics already featured promising guard Bob Cousy and coach Red Auerbach. But drafting future NBA Hall of Fame center Bill Russell completely changed the equation. This Celtics core went on to win eleven NBA titles in thirteen seasons.
Throughout the period of Celtics domination, the league also saw the rise of center Wilt Chamberlain, who became the most dominant individual star of the 1960s, setting league records for points in a single game (100) and rebounds in a single game (55).
The league also underwent a period of expansion and reorganization in the 1960s. The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles. The Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco. The Syracuse Nationals moved to Philadelphia and became the 76ers. The St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta. And the first expansion franchise was formed via the Chicago Packers (in 1961), though this team eventually became the Washington Wizards.
In the two years between 1966 and 1968, the NBA added 5 additional franchises. Those teams were the Chicago Bulls, the Seattle SuperSonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder), the San Diego Rockets (who would move to Houston in the 1970s), the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Phoenix Suns.
The end of the 1960s saw a threat via the formation of the American Basketball Association (ABA). Though the NBA landed Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), who was the most important collegiate player, the ABA succeeded in luring a number of major stars to its league. Those players included former NBA leading scorer Rick Barry and future NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving (Dr. J.).
That didn’t stop the NBA from continuing its expansion. The NBA added teams in Portland (the Trail Blazers), Cleveland (the Cavaliers), and Buffalo (the Braves – now the Los Angeles Clippers). The New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) was added shortly after that.
Following a settlement with the ABA in 1976, the NBA added the San Antonio Spurs, the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, and the New York (now Brooklyn) Nets. The addition of these franchises brought some additional star power to the NBA in the form of some spectacular individual talents. Some of those players included George Gervin, Julius Irving, and Moses Malone. The end of the decade saw a decline in TV ratings and much lower attendance as a rash of player-related issues (namely, drugs) threatened to upend the NBA.
The late 70s through the late 90s became the saving grace of the NBA. The addition of the NBA’s three-point field goal in 1979 helped add scoring possibilities, while the addition of rookies Larry Bird and Magic Johnson initiated a period of rapid fan growth in the NBA. It didn’t hurt that both players went to historically essential franchises in, the Celtics and the Lakers.
1980s – 1990s:
The 1980s saw the addition of the Dallas Mavericks franchise to the NBA, bringing the total number of teams to 23. 1984 saw David Stern’s nomination as commissioner of the NBA as well. Stern was a driving force in the growth of the NBA during his tenure as commissioner.
The 1984 NBA Draft also saw the league entrance of Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls, and his dominance in the 1990s saw massive popularity in the NBA and basketball as a whole. The 1992 US Olympic Basketball Team (known as “The Dream Team”) continued to expand the global popularity of the NBA.
Late 90s and 2000s:
Though the league suffered during a lockout at the beginning of the 1998 season, the return of the season saw a rise of dominance by two teams in particular – the San Antonio Spurs (who would win five championships between 1999 and 2014) and the Los Angeles Lakers (who would win five championships between 2000 and 2010).
Nowadays, the NBA is dominated by “super teams.” These super teams are created by the constant possible movement of a more player-driven free agency period. In this period, players control their own destinies more so than the teams do and are inclined to team up to chase championships.
Some of these super teams include the Boston Celtics in 2008-2010 (led by Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo), the Miami Heat in 2011-2014 (led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh) and the Golden State Warriors in 2017-2018 (led by Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson).
NBA Individual Awards
The NBA has plenty of awards (colloquially known as “hardware” in the United States) doled out to players during or at the conclusion of the season.
Some of these awards include:
The Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award
- Decided by a panel of eleven media members, the award goes to the player deemed “most valuable” during the NBA Finals
- Michael Jordan holds the record for most Finals MVP Awards with 6, followed by LeBron James with 4, and a three-way tie for 3 between Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan.
The NBA Most Valuable Player Award
- Decided by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada, the award goes to the player deemed “most valuable” during the regular season.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the record for most MVP’s with 6
- Abdul-Jabbar is the only player to win the award despite missing the playoffs (1975-1976 season).
The NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award
- Decided by a panel of 124 sportswriters and broadcasters in the United States and Canada
- Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace have each won the award a record 4 times.
- Traditionally, the award goes to a big man (center/power forward) who rebounds well and blocks a lot of shots.
- Only eight times in the history of the NBA has a non-big won the award.
The NBA Most Improved Player Award
- Decided by a panel of sportswriters throughout the United States and Canada
- The criteria for winning is being an up-and-coming player who improved dramatically. It is not a player who has made a comeback from injury or other ailments.
The NBA Rookie of the Year Award
- Only one Rookie of the past sixty years has won the award despite being drafted in the second round. Malcolm Brogdon won Rookie of the Year in 2016-2017 despite being the 36th overall pick.
The NBA Coach of the Year Award
- Three coaches have won the award three times: Gregg Popovich, Don Nelson, and Pat Riley
- Johnny Kerr is the only coach to win the award with a losing record (33-48 in 1966)
The NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award
- To be eligible for the award, a player must come off the bench more than he starts
- Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams are the only three-time winners of the award
- Manu Ginobili is the only winner to simultaneously be named to an All-NBA team in the same season
NBA Odds and Bet Types, Explained
- Moneyline is often the most straightforward bet in any sport. It is simply a wager on one of the two teams to win the game. Unlike the point spread or totals, the odds tend to vary dramatically here. You’ll typically see lower odds on the favored team (such as -500) and higher odds on the underdog (such as +400). Here is how a bet might look on a money line market.
- Lakers (+280 to win)
- Celtics (-300 to win)
- If you were to back the Celtics, you’d have to wager $300 to make a profit of $100. If you were to back the Lakers, you’d wager $100 for a shot at making a profit of $280. Being the better team, the Celtics require a bigger bet to make $100.
Point Spread Bets
- The point spread is the most popular bet when it comes to the NBA. This market (also known as sides) is one where the odds makers will try to ensure that each team has a 50/50 chance of winning. They do this by taking what they consider the right amount of points from the favored team. Here is an example:
- Lakers +9.5 (-110)
- Celtics -9.5 (-110)
- The sportsbook considers the Celtics to be 9.5 points better here. If you back the Celtics, they must win by at least 10 points for you to win your bet. If you back the Lakers, you’ll win if the Lakers win or lose by fewer than 9 points. In either case, the odds of -110 mean that a placed wager of $110 will see a profit of $100 if your bet wins.
- When betting on NBA totals, you are effectively trying to predict whether the total amount of points in a game (by the combined teams) will be over or under the line given by a sports book. Here is an example:
- In the Celtics v. Lakers game, the total is 204.5 points
- Over 204.5 -110
- Under 204.5 -110
- In this game, the sports book considers that 204.5 is the expected number of points. You can either wager over or under that number. In either case, the odds of -110 mean that a placed wager of $110 will see a profit of $100 if your bet wins.
Prop Bets and In-Game Bets
Many sportsbooks now offer in-game bets and prop bets. These offerings are meant to spice things up for bettors interested in the live occurrences. Bets like theses might include:
- A market on which team will be leading at the end of any given quarter
- Which team will score 50 points first
- If Player A scores more than Player B
Some books even offer genuine live in-play betting options. For example, DraftKings live markets are powered by sports betting tech startup, Simplebet. These markets include options like the next basket (free throw, two-pointers, or three-pointer).
There are 30 teams in the NBA. 29 are American, and one (the Toronto Raptors) is Canadian.
16 teams make the NBA playoffs. A play-in tournament decides the 7th and 8th seeded teams. The top six teams in each conference advance to the playoffs. The seventh through tenth-placed teams qualified for a play-in tournament. The seventh and eighth-place teams get up to two chances to win one game to qualify for the playoffs. The ninth and tenth-place teams needed to win two consecutive games to advance.
NBA rosters are limited to 15 players during the regular season, though teams are allowed to carry up to 20 players during the offseason. There are usually breakdowns based on contractual obligations – fully guaranteed contracts, partially guaranteed contracts and non-guaranteed deals. Players can also be signed to two-way contracts – meaning they can accrue time both in the NBA and the minor league (the G-League).
NBA rims hang 10 feet from the floor, sitting on opposite ends of a court that is 50 feet wide and 94 feet long. Both ends of the floor feature a free throw line (15 feet from the rim) and a 3 point arc that runs from 23 feet and 9 inches from the basket at the top to 22 feet at each baseline. The corner three has become a popular shot because of the difference in distance.
Each NBA basketball measures nine inches in diameter, and must be inflated between 8.5 and 9.5 pounds per square inch.
This one is largely up to debate. Players that are unanimously regarded as top-ten players all-time include Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. Celtics fans will inevitably be upset that we’ve left Bill Russell off this initial list, so I’ll include him as well.