Published September 3, 2022
The NBA Time Machine:
Welcome to a new series called The NBA Time Machine. The goal of this is to recap all seventy-five seasons in NBA history – as well as the nine seasons of the rival ABA – before the end of the 2022-23 season, ideally. See this as a database of sorts, with information and fun facts to look back onto.
The main motivation behind starting this series is having an ongoing project to keep up with over time. There’s a lot of content to touch upon, so it’ll feel infinite. I also want to highlight the history of the game from start to finish, as there are so many eras of basketball that should be better known than they are.
A Fresh League
Rewind back to 1947. The brand new Basketball Association of America, commonly referred to as the “BAA“, had a large end goal. In comparison to the other two U.S. professional leagues – the American Basketball League (ABL) and National Basketball League (NBL) – the BAA wanted to get comfortable with hosting games in large arenas to draw in big crowds.
Said arenas included iconic locations like Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden, which often hosted hockey teams. Owners would simply put a wooden floor directly over the ice for basketball games, which often led to leakage and poor conditions for the players. They managed, but not without several cancelled games and unhappy athletes.
Being young and under development, the BAA had very inconsistent attendance and coverage. Team executives often had to resort to antics to draw in fans – for example, the Detroit Falcons offered free admission to anybody who shared the same last name as star player Stan Miasek. Did it work? Not quite, but it showed the extent to which owners were willing to go for success.
Although there were key differences, the integral style of play was the same.
- Each basket was worth two points, and if fouled, a player would go to the “foul line” for a chance at an extra point.
- There were four twelve-minute quarters, which was a notable increase from the forty-minute games college played. If a game was tied, it would go into one or more overtime periods until there was a final winner.
- There were three main positions – guards, forwards, and centers. Specific positions (i.e. point guards) were recognized, but not yet commonly highlighted.
- There were eleven teams split into Eastern and Western Divisions – the winningest squads from each would find themselves in the annual playoff tournament.
However, some rules were vastly different, or did not exist yet:
- There was not yet a 24-second shot clock – teams had as much time as they wanted to score the ball. This led to an abnormally low-scoring league, with the team average being 67.8 points per game (compare that to the 110.6 of the past 2021-22 season).
- Players could commit up to five fouls before fouling out, compared to today’s six.
- Zone defenses were instantly banned, forcing each player to commit to another man or a double team. If they were caught wandering without an assignment, an “illegal defense” technical foul was called on the team.
- The lane was only six feet wide, which made it very easy for centers to control the paint.
- Keep in mind that various things were either illegal or considered unsportsmanlike, including advanced dribbling (i.e., a crossover would be called as a carry), and dunking.
- This naturally led to most offenses being focused on ball movement, as opposed to any sort of isolation play.
The league’s first true superstar, being the undisputed best from the regular season to playoffs. He can be credited with inventing the jump shot – at the time, this was a rare asset that made him stand out amongst the crowd.
Feerick was considered an elite sharpshooter, shooting 40% from the field – while that’s nothing special for today’s standards, it floated far above the 27% league shooting average. What makes it even more impressive is that he scored primarily from range, as opposed to getting easy looks inside.
The best guard in the league, Zaslofsky was immediately considered a premier player despite his young age. He became the youngest All-First Team member at only twenty-one years old.
Sadowski is one of the more influential players of this era, being a huge center for the time (6’5″ was above average big man height). He failed to succumb to the “clumsy center” stereotype, cementing himself as one of the best scorers. He impacted winning basketball all season, finding a good rhythm with the Cleveland Rebels after forcing his way out of Toronto.
Around the League
An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.
- The Washington Capitols set an all-time record for win percentage, winning 81% of their matches.
- The team was so successful because of their elite defense and knowledge of the fast break, which overwhelmed opponents. A lot of that strategy can be credited to coach Red Auerbach.
- The Chicago Stags, led by great scorer Max Zaslofsky, were the league’s first “all-offense, no-defense” team. They were by far the highest scorer, but also gave up a lot of points.
- The New York Knicks notably had one of the worst offenses at the time – none of their players surpassed ten points per game. Instead, it was their concentrated defense that led them to a positive record.
The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season.
p – points
a – assists
If a stat is not listed, it was not recorded at the time. As time goes on, this section will begin to include rebounds per game, turnovers per game, etc.
PPG – points per game
APG – assists per game
FG% – field goal percentage (percentage of shots that hit)
FT% – free throw percentage (percentage of foul shots that hit)
Note: All-Team selections were not yet selected based on position yet. This was the only major award given at the time.