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What Were The Original NBA Teams?

The league that we know today as the National Basketball Association was initially called the Basketball Association of America when the league was founded in 1946.

While there were already two established American professional basketball leagues — the American Basketball League in the East and the National Basketball League in the midwest — the BAA differentiated itself by playing in major ice hockey arenas while the other league played in small venues.

The BAA launched with 11 teams divided into two divisions for the inaugural 1946-47 season.

Eastern Division

  • Boston Celtics
  • New York Knicks
  • Philadelphia Warriors
  • Providence Steamrollers
  • Toronto Huskies
  • Washington Capitols

Western Division

  • Chicago Stags
  • Cleveland Rebels
  • Detroit Falcons
  • Pittsburgh Ironmen
  • Louis Bombers

Three teams from the Eastern Division are still in existence in 2023: the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Philadelphia Warriors (now known as the Golden State Warriors following relocation in 1962).

As with any professional sports league in its fledgling years, teams would often fold and have to be replaced with new teams in order to keep the league going. Such was the case with the BAA, particularly over a four-year period that saw the BAA formed in 1946 and the NBA rebrand and launch in 1949.

Below is a timeline that breaks down those moves as the league went from 11 teams in 1946-47, to eight in 1947-48, to 12 in 1948-49 and 17 when the NBA brand was established in 1949-50.

The Original 11

Boston Celtics (1946-present)

The 1948 Boston Celtics (from right to left, front row) Stan Noszka, Mike Bloom, Ed Sadowski, Art Spector, Gene Stumpf and (back row) athletic trainer, Jack Garfinkel, George Munroe, Mel Riebe, Saul Mariashin and Head Coach John “Honey” Rusdell pose for a team photo.

One of the most storied franchises in NBA history is also one of the original 11. The Celtics have been part of the league’s fabric from day one.

While the Celtics are tied with the Lakers for the most championship in league history with 17, and have one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sport, they played just one playoff series in the first four seasons of the BAA/NBA.

But when Red Auerbach arrived in 1950-51, the Celtics began a 19-year streak of playoff appearances, that included 12 NBA Finals appearances and 11 championships by 1969.

Entering the 2023-24 season, the Celtics own the highest win percentage in league history with a record of 3570-2462 (.5918), narrowly edging out the Lakers at 3503-2419 (.5915).

Chicago Stags (1946-50)

The Stags played four seasons in the BAA/NBA, qualifying for the playoffs each year, including a Finals run in the BAA’s inaugural season.

Chicago (39-22) won the Western Division, but finished with 10 fewer wins than Eastern Division winning Washington (49-11).

But in the semifinal round, the Stags pulled off the upset by defeating the Capitols in six games to advance to the Finals, where they would fall to Chicago, 4-1. Overall, the Stags were 145-92 and 7-14 in the playoffs.

Cleveland Rebels (1946-47)

The Rebels played in the inaugural BAA season before ceasing operations. In their lone season, the Rebels went 30-30 in the regular season before losing in 2-1 to New York in the quarterfinals.

Detroit Falcons (1946-47)

The Falcons played in the inaugural BAA season before ceasing operations. Detroit’s 20-40 finish was good for fourth in the Western Division and it failed to make the playoffs.

New York Knicks (1946-present)

NEW YORK, NY – 1948: Arnie Risen #14 of the Rochester Royals grabs a rebound against Harry Gallatin #11 and Ray Kuka #12 of the New York Knicks circa 1948 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY.

The Knicks hold the distinction of winning the first game ever played in BAA/NBA history as they defeated the Toronto Huskies on the road on Nov. 1, 1946. New York made the playoffs in each of the first 10 seasons of the league, losing in the Finals three times (1951-53). It would be nearly two decades later until the Knicks returned to the Finals and won their first title in 1970 (and another in ’73). The Knicks have been to the Finals twice since 1973, but lost both series.

Philadelphia Warriors (1946-present)

The Warriors were the first champions in BAA/NBA history, defeating the Chicago Stags 4-1 in the first NBA Finals in 1947. They were led by Joe Fulks, who led the league in scoring at 23.2 ppg — nearly seven points higher than any other player in the league.

The Warriors would win the 1956 title in Philadelphia before relocating to San Francisco following the 1961-62 season.

(From left) George Dempsey, Jack George and Tom Gola celebrate after ousting the Fort Wayne Pistons in the 1956 playoffs.

After nine seasons as the San Francisco Warriors, the team would rebrand as the Golden State Warriors prior to the 1971-72 season.

After winning the franchise’s third title in 1975, the Warriors waited four decades for another Finals run. But in 2014-15, their dynasty began as the team won four of the next eight NBA titles — the last one coming in 2021-22.

Pittsburgh Ironmen (1946-47)

Similar to Cleveland and Detroit, the Pittsburgh Ironmen played only in the inaugural BAA season. The Ironmen were a league-worst 15-45 and missed the playoffs.

Providence Steamrollers (1946-49)

The Steamrollers played three seasons in the BAA, ceasing operations before the league became the NBA in 1949. The Steamrollers were 46-122 overall and never reached the playoffs. However, in 1946-47, Providence’s Ernie Calverley led the BAA with 3.4 assists per game.

St. Louis Bombers (1946-50)

The Bombers played four seasons in the BAA/NBA, qualifying for the postseason in each of their first three seasons, but never won a series. They went the distance with Philadelphia in each of their first two seasons – falling 2-1 in the 1946-47 quarterfinals and 4-3 in the 1947-48 semifinals after earning a first-round bye as the Western Division winner. In their final playoff appearance, the Bombers were swept by Rochester in the first round. In their final season in the relaunched NBA, the Bombers were the worst team in the Central Division (26-42).

Toronto Huskies (1946-47)

The Huskies may have only played one season in the BAA/NBA, but they will always own a piece of league history.

On Nov. 1, 1946, the Toronto Huskies hosted the Knicks at Maple Leaf Gardens in the first game in the history of the BAA/NBA. Playing in front of 7,090 fans, the Knicks defeated the Huskies, 68-66. Toronto (22-38) would finish at the bottom of the Eastern Division in its lone season.

Washington Capitols (1946-51)

The Capitols played five seasons in the BAA/NBA, qualifying for the playoffs in each of their first four seasons. Their fifth season was cut short as the team disbanded on Jan. 9, 1951 after just 35 games (10-25).

Overall, the Capitols went 157-114 in the regular season and were 8-12 in the playoffs.

The Capitols dominated the inaugural BAA season, posting a 49-11 record under Auerbach, but were stunned by Chicago in the playoffs’ semifinals.

Two seasons later, the Capitols made their first and only Finals appearance, falling to the Minneapolis Lakers 4-2. In their final season in the NBA, the Capitols were part of history as Earl Lloyd became the first African-American to play in an NBA game when he entered a game for the Capitols against the Rochester Royals on Oct. 31, 1950.

By: Brian Martin
Originally published at: NBA.com

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