The BAA-NBL merger and the question of the NBA's birthday

Mikan, Pettit, Celtics dynasty, Wilt, and early expansion

The BAA-NBL merger and the question of the NBA's birthday

Postby Jared S. » Thu Dec 18, 2008 2:29 am

Hi everyone. I’m a first-time poster with a lot of questions. To avoid annoying everyone, I’ll ask just one now.
I have been trying to do some research into the BAA-NBL merger in 1949. My question is, was the NBA really a continuation of the BAA or was it a new entity created by the merger of the two leagues? I have looked at some news clippings for August 4, 1949, the day after the deal was announced, and it appears that everyone reported it at the time as a case of a new league being created by two old ones. However, the next April, when several ex-NBL teams were booted out of the NBA for failing to post the $50,000 bond required by the league of all teams (and proceeded to form the short-lived NPBL), several news reports began referring to the merger of the previous August as a case of the NBL being absorbed by the BAA, which then simply changed its name to the NBA. Ever since it seems that some basketball writers and historians consider the NBA to have been born in 1946 while others believe that the league started with the merger in 1949. And of course the NBA has always traced itself back to the BAA, but considers the NBL to have been an entirely separate league. When Maurice Podoloff died in 1985, Sports Illustrated included in its obituary a quote of him saying that the merger was merely a matter of the NBL teams jumping over to the BAA. Podoloff’s successor, Walter Kennedy, who served as publicity head for both the BAA and NBA, also referred to the NBA as starting in 1946. During the NBA’s 50th anniversary hoopla someone asked Red Auerbach when the NBA’s real birthday was, and he replied “It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.” Thus it seems to me that the answer to the question of when the NBA was born is “take your pick.”
My own thought is that the BAA-NBL merger technically created a new league (since that’s what all the newspapers reported at the time), but that because the NBA was mostly run by the same people who ran the BAA (Podoloff, Kennedy) and retained the same company headquarters, and because (I think) the new league basically had the same rules as the BAA, most people, including the league itself, consider the BAA and the NBA essentially to be one league while the NBL was more of an old-fashioned, pre-modern operation, even though it attracted many of the best players. Which is why people can go either way when it comes to answering my question.
However, I don’t know that much about the details of the merger or its aftermath, so if someone out there can explain it to me more in detail that would be great. Why did newspapers refer to the merger in 1949 as the creation of a new league but began, in the spring of 1950, referring to it as a case of one league becoming part of another? And if the NBA was technically a new league created in 1949, what is the NBA’s reason for equating itself strictly with the BAA? Do you consider its reasoning valid? Let me know if you can. Thanks!
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Stats! Stats! Stats!

Postby Stan Syckes » Fri Dec 19, 2008 6:55 pm

More importantly ... are the individual player stats for the NBL listed anywhere? :twisted:
:twisted:
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Postby Jared S. » Wed Dec 24, 2008 9:32 am

I have written a letter to the NBA asking if they could offer me some answers to the questions I have already posed above. I also plan to write the Hall of Fame seeing if they can help me out (it sounds like they gave Charley Rosen some similar assistance for his new book). I don’t know if I can expect to hear back from them, but it’s worth a shot.
Anyway, I’ll summarize what I have learned so far from a few books and some choice press clippings:
It sounds like the primary movers for a merger in the summer of 1949 were the NBL owners, at least the majority of them. In particular, Syracuse and Tri-Cities—the only franchises from the 1948-1949 NBL season that would survive the coming years—made it known that they were going to simply jump to the BAA if no deal between the leagues was struck. I’m not sure that NBL commissioner Ike Duffey was that crazy about the idea of a merger, since he was simultaneously trying to up the ante by recruiting the graduating Kentucky stars to join the league as the Indianapolis Olympians and looking to expand to bigger cities like Cincinnati and even as far east as Baltimore (where the BAA Bullets operated). But perhaps he was actually trying to strengthen the NBL’s positioning at the bargaining table. Either way, the BAA certainly had incentive for a merger. It sounds like Podoloff’s expectation was that a merger would make the competition and litigation between the leagues go away and allow for events to run their natural course—by that I mean the smaller-market teams would either go under or move to bigger cities. This effect did occur to an extent, although several big-market BAA teams (Chicago, St. Louis, and Washington) also folded within the next two seasons. While it sounds to me like the NBA was technically a new entity—a new constitution was drawn up, for instance—it also seems clear that Podoloff insisted from the outset of negotiations that the old BAA office and structure be retained. A few old NBL hands were put in prominent positions, but for the most part the old BAA people were in charge of the new league, and were even more so after the spring of 1950, when Anderson folded and Denver, Sheboygan, and Waterloo were excommunicated. And this is around the time when some newspapers began referring to the previous year’s merger as an absorbing of one league by another, rather than as two old leagues creating a new one. How and why that got started is something that I would like to find out.
What puzzles me is why, in its official publications and online articles about basketball history, the NBA gives more prominence to the ABA than it does the NBL. For instance, in its official encyclopedia, a season-by-season review of the ABA is given, while the NBL is explored rather quickly in a chapter that sort of portrays it as pre-modern, along with the ABL and the barnstorming teams. Also, the encyclopedia’s player register includes stats for all ABA players, but only includes NBL stats for players who went on to play in the BAA or NBA. The ABA records for Denver, San Antonio, the Nets, and Indiana are listed, but not the NBL records for the Lakers, Hawks, Royals/Kings, Pistons, and Nats/Sixers. I’m not trying to downgrade the ABA, but it seems to me that the NBL deserves an equal amount of attention in the NBA annals.
Thanks again.
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Postby Mike Goodman » Thu Dec 25, 2008 1:24 pm

The Hawks and Sixers (Nats) are in fact the only NBA teams who were in the NBL in 1948-49. That's just 2 of the 9 teams from the final NBL season who proved to be viable. That may be how it was figured this was just a major league absorbing a minor league (and discarding most of it.)

But one year earlier, the Lakers, Royals, and Pistons had jumped to the BAA. These were 3 of the 4 best teams in the NBL, indeed 3 of the 4 teams with winning records. Thus the NBL 'became' a rather minor league in just its last season, relative to the BAA.

http://www.apbr.org/nblstand.html
http://www.basketball-reference.com/lea ... _1949.html

The 1948-49 BAA was dominated by the Lakers and Royals, in their first year of membership.
The 1949-50 NBA superteams were the Nats, Lakers, Royals. Of the 8 winning teams (of 17), 5 were former NBL squads; plus those Olympians.

Had the 3 league-switching teams stayed with the NBL one year longer, then I think the history would have to be written differently. However, it seems the NBL was in the process of self-dismembering before the BAA/NBA finished the job.
`
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Alex Groza & the Indianapolis Olympians

Postby DeeMack » Sat Jan 10, 2009 4:23 pm

In Jim Dailey's "The Great Basketball Experiment" (SPORT 1/50) detailing the NBL's signing of Alex Groza which brought the BAA to the negotiating table.......he uses the words "newly formed" once; "merged" twice.
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Re: Stats! Stats! Stats!

Postby Stan Syckes » Thu Jan 15, 2009 8:33 pm

Gabe Farkas wrote:Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible to find a copy of N&C floating around, as you can see here or here.
I tracked down a whole bunch of these being sold online. I just received mine in the mail today (it took over a week to get here) and I paid maybe $3 total for the book and shipping! STATISTICIANS: ASSEMBLE! 8)

http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?qwork ... ting*title
make sure you get that whole thing
:twisted:
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Postby Jared S. » Tue Jan 27, 2009 8:24 pm

In case anyone’s still interested:

--I stumbled across a description, in a Sheboygan newspaper, of what sounds like the NBA’s 1949-1950 media guide. The description mentioned that the guide included complete statistics from the previous season for both the BAA and the NBL. That suggests to me that, initially, the merger was supposed to have been one between equals and that both BAA and NBL statistics were meant to be included in the league’s official records (or at least given equal weight). It would be interesting to find out what the NBA’s 1950-1951 media guide included (or did not include) as far as stats are concerned.

--At the 1952 All-Star game, a ceremony took place in which players who had been playing since 1946 were honored. Players who had been playing in the NBL since or before that date (like George Mikan) were not included. A Syracuse newspaper columnist found this puzzling, but it’s obvious from our retrospective vantage point that what the NBA was doing was honoring players who had been in the league since its official beginning in 1946. So it was not long after its actual formation in 1949 before the NBA began changing its policy regarding its comparative treatment of its two parent leagues.

--Most writers’ accounts of the BAA-NBL war regard the BAA as having the upper hand by the time of the merger and the NBL as being on its last legs. But some newspaper accounts at the time report that the NBL, after signing the Kentucky stars, thought it was in better shape. There were also reports that some BAA owners were going to pull out if another season went by without a merger or peace treaty with the NBL. But both leagues probably needed a merger in order to avoid being wiped out.


If I had to guess, I would say that shortly after the 1949-1950 season concluded the NBA heads, which were mostly ex-BAA people at that point, decided to treat the league as a continuation of the BAA and treat the NBL as a separate league. Perhaps it was simply some turfsmanship thing, or perhaps it had to do with not wanting to give credibility to the NPBL, which was modeled after the NBL and included several former NBA members who had come over from the NBL. But I suppose the ex-NBL owners who stayed in the NBA were okay with this policy, even though it gave the short shrift to their NBL records and accomplishments.

Also, while I enjoyed Charley Rosen’s new book, I think that a book on the NBA’s actual first season in 1949-1950, when there were 17 teams stretching from Boston to Denver and ranging in size from New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago to Anderson, Waterloo, and Sheboygan, would be even more interesting and entertaining. Plus, Red Auerbach was coaching in Tri-Cities!
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Postby Jared S. » Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:15 am

Thanks for the encouragement. Here are a few more tidbits:

--A few weeks before the season started the NBA sent out notice of the league’s rules and the refs chosen to work for the league. Again, this seems like the sort of thing a new league would do, rather than a continuing one, even if the NBA used mostly BAA rules (such as the 48-minute game and the six-foul limit).

--Initially, the league was to be divided into American and National Conferences that would as closely as possible preserve the previous year’s NBL and BAA alignments. Each conference would in turn be divided into eastern and western divisions. The set-up was:

National:

East:
Syracuse
Indianapolis
Sheboygan
Anderson

West:
Tri-Cities
Denver
Waterloo
Milwaukee

American:

East:
Boston
New York
Philadelphia
Baltimore
Washington

West:
Minneapolis
Rochester
Fort Wayne
Chicago
St. Louis

But after the Milwaukee franchise (which was replacing Oshkosh) dropped out, the set-up was revised to three geographic divisions. I think this was meant to correct the imbalance between conferences without breaking up too much the old NBL and BAA alignments. This is why all the ex-NBL clubs (including the Olympians) save Syracuse were put in the Western Division (and the Nats still played more of their games that year against Western Division teams than against teams in their own division), even though it didn’t make perfect geographic sense (Indianapolis and Anderson are east of Chicago and St. Louis, for instance).

--For comparison’s sake, I looked at the reports for other major sports mergers. The NBA-ABA merger was quite clearly reported as a case of one league being folded into another. The setup of the NFL-AFL merger was not fully worked out at the time it was announced in 1966, but by the time it was completed after the 1970 Super Bowl it was clearly reported as a case of the AFL joining the NFL, although the organization of the AFC and NFC preserved the old alignments as much as possible. The NFL’s inclusion of AFL stats and records in its own official records, and the fact that all teams in both leagues were included in the deal, made this more of a merger of equals.

The NFL-AAFC merger, which occurred about six months after the NBL-BAA merger, is an interesting case, because it was originally announced as a merger that would create a new league. But a few weeks later it was announced that the merger would actually be a case of the NFL scooping up the remains of the AAFC. Based on that example, then, I suppose that it’s possible that in the process of working out the details of the NBL-BAA merger that it was decided that the NBA would after all be a continuation of the BAA rather than a new league. But I have yet to find a news clipping reporting such a change in the terms of the merger, as I did for the NFL-AAFC consolidation. And most other evidence I have gleaned via news reports suggest otherwise.
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Postby Jared S. » Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:17 pm

I sent an e-mail to Prof. Murry Nelson, author of the forthcoming book on the NBL (thanks to rlee for posting about that, which brought it to my attention), asking about the NBL-BAA merger. I brought up some of the points mentioned above. I also mentioned that both John Taylor and Leonard Koppett, in their histories of the early NBA, take the official NBA line about it starting as the BAA in 1946, which is why he addressed them in his response below:


The question you ask requires a long and complex answer, one not really possible in an email. I will provide a synopsis of comments and hope that you will be able to get a fuller discussion when my book comes out in late spring. First, let me comment on sources without seeming to be attacking anyone ad hominem. Mr. Taylor is a journalist who writes on a lot of topics, including sports. He is not a researcher and, as journalists are wont to do, relies on second hand data, in many instances. Mr. Koppett was a great person and an excellent writer. He began covering pro basketball as a BAA beat writer and continued to cover the Knicks and the NBA after the merger. He was close to the NBA offices, both literally and personally, and his work reflects that. He has significant errors in his coverage of the "merger" and new entity, the NBA, in "24 Seconds to Shoot". Most of the players at the time were unhappy with the merger because it meant the loss of competitive bidding for contracts. As for whether it was a merger or a takeover, most didn't care about the details; they just knew that they were the losers. A few, like Dick Triptow, were more interested and did further research after their careers ended and fully agree that the merger was just that. Carl Bennett, the GM of the Ft. Wayne Pistons and the only man still alive who actually was involved, also agrees that it was a merger, though he has softened his contention as the years have passed. Nevertheless, he provides a strong personal case for the position. And, indeed, the 1949-50 NBA Guide (I have a copy in front of me) does discuss the merger of the two equal leagues and provides records for them from the previous year. Over time it has become useful for the NBA to create a revisionist history that is mythological and creates real giants among the founders of the BAA. The facts are much more nuanced. The initial merger talks were in 1947, after the first year of the BAA, but those all fell apart and the NBL became much more wary after the BAA raided the NBL for four teams (initially 3, but the Royals and Les Harrison managed to wrangle their way into the deal) before the beginning of the 1948-49 season. Both leagues were losing money and a merger had to happen. It was not a takeover, though the result might seem that way because of the ingenious requirements of Maurice Podoloff. Now the NBA continues to perpetuate a convenient myth, i.e. that the NBA began with the BAA.

Murry Nelson
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Postby rlee » Tue Feb 17, 2009 9:30 pm

Nice research, Jared.

Thanks!
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Postby rlee » Sat Mar 13, 2010 9:12 pm

To follow up on Jared's research re: the early "media guides" (actually called "record books"):

1949-50:

"History of League" page states, in part: "The basketball season of 1949-50 finds a new name flashing across the national court scene - the National Basketball Association. It is an off-spring of a mid-summer merger between the 12 year old National Basketball League and the four-year old Basketball Association of America.
The two leagues, who have been rivals since the BAA was established in 1946, finally got together in August 1949. The merger brought 10 of the old BAA teams into the NBA with seven of the former National League teams."

The book contains in-depth records for all 3 BAA seasons but only for 48-49 for the NBL.

1950-51:

"The NBA enters its second season of play in 1950-51, streamlined down form last year's seventeen club organization to a two division, eleven club circuit."
"In 1946, when the BAA was being organized by some of the top arena men in the country, Podoloff's genius for organization with hockey was remembered and he was named president of that new league. His success with the BAA and is efforts in bringing about a merger with the old NBL resulted in his being elected president of the NBA in 1949, when the two organizations merged, a post he has held since."

In the section, labeled "NBA Lifetime Individual Scoring Records", it lists the year by year scoring of each individual player for NBA & BAA play only. (If a player played exclusively in the NBL prior to playing in the NBA, his NBL stats are not shown.)
Last edited by rlee on Wed Jun 09, 2010 2:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Chuck Durante » Wed Jun 09, 2010 12:52 am

This thread, and the ensuing publication of Murry Nelson's book, help us understand the creeping BAA-ization of the NBA's pre-1949 history.

The issue will come into sharp focus if the Lakers win the current series, which would give them 17 championships, equal to the Celtics.

We know that the Lakers have won 16 championships, which can be summarized as 6 with Mikan, 1 with Wilt, 5 with Kareem, 3 with Shaq and 1 with Gasol.

Some news outlets may accurately report this total. I believe a few did so last year. Most, however, will glance at the NBA Guide, as it has been formatted since Haskell Cohen and Bill Mokray, overlook the Lakers' 1948 NBL championship and give a truncated total of 15.
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Postby sunnyday » Wed Jun 09, 2010 1:24 am

I always say that the Lakers won 7 championships with Mikan, the 7th being the World Professional Tournament in 1948, which was a worthy accomplishment IMHO. This took place between the NBL semis and finals. The Lakers beat the Rens 75-71 for the WPT and Rochester 3-1 in the NBL.
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Postby Chuck Durante » Wed Jun 09, 2010 4:17 am

Sunny: You only get on championship per year. Mikan won a 7th title [anchoring the Gears in '46-47], but the Lakers won 6 with him, the 6th being the title of the strongest pro league in '47-48.
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Green Bay Packers

Postby luckyshow » Sun Jul 04, 2010 5:29 am

At the time of the first two Super Bowls, the NFL championship game was considered more important (a perceived stronger opponent) than the Super Bowl. Although two TV networks broadcast the first Super Bowl, no known copy of either broadcast is extant. It just wasn't seen as as important as the NFL championship game.

Thus the Packers won the NFL "world championship" and then the Super Bowl which history now looks at as the only championship for 1967.

But at that time, it might have been said that the Packers won two championships in the same season (one game was in December, the other in January) As well, the Jets beat the Raiders for the AFL championship before winning the Super Bowl. Two championships.

CCNY won two championships in 1950.

(The Kentucky team that graduates therefrom formed the aforementioned Indianapolis Olympians, had tried a couple years earlier, but didn't succeed- they may have been throwing games in one of the tournaments)
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Re: Green Bay Packers

Postby Jon Scott » Sun Jul 04, 2010 12:42 pm

luckyshow wrote:CCNY won two championships in 1950.

(The Kentucky team that graduates therefrom formed the aforementioned Indianapolis Olympians, had tried a couple years earlier, but didn't succeed- they may have been throwing games in one of the tournaments)


Just to clarify this, the Kentucky players were accused of shaving points, initially over and later under the point spread, but to my knowledge none were accused of throwing or dumping games (unlike players at some of the other schools caught in the scandal).

UK lost the Loyola (IL) game in the opening round of the 1949 NIT. This was mainly attributed to Alex Groza's poor guarding early in the game which kept the game even for most of the contest. Loyola pulled ahead late after Groza and others tried to aggressively get UK back into the game and ended up fouling out.

The following webpage is something I updated last year concerning UK's role in the 1952 Gambling Scandal for anyone interested.

Link

There's a lot of detailed information there, more than anywhere else previously available in one place.

One noteworthy new piece of information IMO is the role that SEC Commissioner Bernie Moore played at the time. News reports at the time which quoted him had him suggesting that he would be an advocate or at least be impartial when it came to UK, however based on Walter Byars' memoirs, he was actually the driving force behind not only the SEC but the NCAA's sanctions against UK.

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shavings

Postby luckyshow » Sun Jul 04, 2010 5:37 pm

During the 1950 season, CCNY shaved points. I think they only lost one game. Close. Attributed later on to a shaving that became a loss.

Supposedly and this was widely believed always as true, no shaving took place in the tourneys by the Lavender players. Also, it was considered that they were so good that they could shave points and win most of the games during the season. This hadn't proven true with LIU that year. They were considered disappointing and I don't even think even made the tournament. They lost a lot of close games.

As to Kentucky. They did lose games with shaving. Also, it was never a point that they didn't also do shaving during the tournament. So Groza's shoddy defense work could have been to keep that game close. They were probably big favorites.

Exactly how does one shave points to win over the spread? Seems playing well would do that. Otherwise, fouling or other legal means seem how to win by more than expected. Usually it was the lesser teams who couldn't prevent a loss if they tried and shave points. Though 1949 Kentucky was not a lesser team, it was thought at the time that the arrests began to be made, that they did not have CCNY's skill at shaving points and still winning almost all of their games that they fixed.

It was an odd era. Earlier in 1940s, Brooklyn College players were being offered bribes to throw games, shave points. Adainst schools like Pratt and Upsala. And in one NFL Championship game, the Giants starting QB was offered money to fix a game where the Giants were at least 14 point underdogs to the Bears.

Probably the more interesting part is that in New York, I think the only school of importance at the time to not be accused of having any suspicious or guilty players was St. John's.

An interesting aside is that St. John's and Seattle were the last schools to play in both the NIT and NCAA tournaments. [In 1952, St. John's lost by 6 in quarter-finals to LaSalle, but had a 1st round bye and that was their only game in that tourney. 11 days later they began play in the NCAA tournament, beating NC State and Kentucky in the Regional at Raleigh, then Illinois in the national semi-final before losing to Kansas by 17 in the championship. 3 days later they losy by 9 to LaSalle, in Madison Square Garden again, in the Olympic Trials eliminations 1st round]. Seattle also was in both. I forget if it was 1952 or 1953. The national final four took place in Seattle in 1952, 1st year out of the Garden after the scandals, so this was probably year that Seattle was in both. Soon enough this became impossible to do.
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