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Fri, 02.19.1937

The National Basketball League is Founded

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*The founding of the National Basketball League (NBL) is celebrated on this date in 1937. This was a professional basketball league in the United States. 

The forerunner of this league was the Midwest Basketball Conference (MBC) in 1935. It changed its name in 1937 to attract a larger audience. Three Great Lakes area corporations created the league, General Electric, Firestone, and Goodyear, comprised of small-market and corporate teams. Each team decided to schedule. If the team played at least ten games and four were on the road. Games consisted either of four ten-minute quarters or three fifteen-minute periods. The home team chose. Games played increased yearly as the popularity of professional basketball and the NBL grew in America. Some teams were independent, while others were owned by companies that also found jobs for their players.

Chicago newspaper sports editor Leo Fischer acted as president of the NBL from 1940–44. In 1946, the Basketball Association of America (BAA) was incorporated, resulting in a three-year battle with the NBL to win players and fans. The BAA played its games in larger cities and venues. However, NBL tended to have bigger stars. NBL teams dominated the World Professional Basketball Tournament, an annual invitational tournament held in Chicago and sponsored by the Chicago Herald American; they won seven out of ten tournament editions. 

On August 3, 1949, after the 1948–49 season, its twelfth, representatives from the 12-year-old NBL and 3-year-old BAA met at the BAA offices in New York's Empire State Building to finalize a merger. This evolved into the new National Basketball Association (NBA), comprised of 17 teams representing small towns and large cities across the country. The NBA claims the BAA's history as its own and considers the 1949 deal an expansion, not a merger. For example, the NBA History online table of one-line "NBA Season Recaps" begins 1946–47 without comment. It celebrated "NBA at 50" in 1996, announcing its 50 Greatest Players, among other things. The NBA does not recognize NBL records and statistics except under certain circumstances. As such, the records and statistics of the BAA and NBL before the merger in 1949 are considered in official NBA history only if a player, coach, or team participated in the newly formed NBA after 1949 for one or more seasons.

The history of the NBL falls into three eras, each contributing significantly to the growth of professional basketball and the emergence of the NBA. The first dynasty centered on the Oshkosh All-Stars and their center Leroy "Cowboy" Edwards. The middle years saw the emergence of the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, who were later instrumental in the survival of the NBA during its infancy. The final period of note during the NBL's existence centered on George Mikan and the emergence of the big man in basketball. The NBL had significant accomplishments, notably in offering black players opportunities.

In the 1942–43 season, with many players in the armed forces, two NBL clubs, the Toledo Jim White Chevrolets and the Chicago Studebakers, filled their rosters by signing blacks five years before Jackie Robinson would break baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Neither team fared well. Toledo signed several black players to start the season, including Bill Jones, who had starred at the University of Toledo. Still, the team lost its first four games and folded due to financial difficulties. Chicago stocked its roster with several members of the Harlem Globetrotters, who worked during the week at the Studebaker plant, but it also folded after compiling an 8–15 record. 

Four former NBA teams also trace their history back to the NBL: the Anderson Packers, Indianapolis Jets, Sheboygan Red Skins, and Waterloo Hawks played in the NBL/BAA/NBA. The Jets played in the BAA for the 1948–49 season only; the remaining teams for the 1949–50 season only. Anderson, Sheboygan, and Waterloo joined the National Professional Basketball League in 1950.


Six current NBA teams trace their history back to the NBL. Three teams joined the BAA in 1948: the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers), the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings), the Denver Nuggets, and the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons). Two more teams were part of the merger that created the NBA in 1949: the Buffalo Bisons/Tri-Cities Blackhawks (now the Atlanta Hawks) and the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers). The NBL also created the Indianapolis Olympians for the 1949–50 NBL season. When the NBL and BAA merged, this team joined the NBA without playing a single NBL game. Also still surviving is the Akron Goodyear Wingfoot's, the initial NBL Champion in 1938.

The Wingfoot's suspended operations for World War II and were not included in the NBL/BAA merger. Instead, they remained in the National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL), which is 1961 became the National AAU Basketball League (NABL). The Wingfoot's are still an AAU Elite team in the NABL.

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