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Confidential

Pro Basketball is Born

Even though Dr. Naismith had intended basketball to be a non-contact game of finesse rather than brute strength, early basketball games were very physical. In fact, some YMCAs determined the sport was too rough to be played in their facilities. This led to the start of pro basketball.

In 1896, a team in Trenton, New Jersey, couldn’t play at the local Y. They decided to rent a Masonic Hall for a game, charge admission and to split whatever proceeds were left. Each player made $15. The captain of the winning team made $16. There were no salary caps that we know if in those days.

The first pro league was formed in formed in 1898. Many leagues came and went during the next 50 years. Players often played for more than one team in more than one league depending on who was paying the most money. This was the age of barnstorming—traveling around the country and being paid to play against local teams.

Notable teams from the barnstorming era included:

  • The Buffalo Germans-Once won 111 straight games.
  • The Troy Trojans-Won 35 straight games on a 1915 barnstorming tour and popularized the bounce pass
  • The Rens-An all-black team that played at the Harlem Renaissance Casino Ballroom. Had a 112-7 record in 1939 and won the World Pro Tournament.
  • The Original Celtics-The first team to sign players to exclusive contracts. The Celtics were the first team to switch between man-to-man and zone defense and the first to use a pivot play.
  • The Harlem Globetrotters-A more serious version of the team we know today, the Globetrotters were actually from Chicago, not New York. They won 101 games in their first year and won the World Pro Tournament in 1940.

    In 1937, Goodyear, Firestone and General Electric formed the National Basketball League from industrial teams sponsored by companies and independent teams. Most of these teams were based in the Midwest. After the end of World War II, a move to establish a true nationwide league lead to the founding of the Basketball Association of America. In 1949, the NBL folded and its remaining teams joined the BAA. The new league was named the National Basketball Association—the NBA.


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