Chapter 2: The Myth of Foundation, June 6, 1945 (Taste)
“Do I make the game? Or do they make the game?”—Donald Sterling
June 6, 1946 emblematizes the myth of foundation because the NBA gives that as its date of origin. On that day, a group of wealthy hockey arena operators from various cities in the Northeast gathered to form an association with the explicit intention of capitalizing on the rising post-War popularity of college basketball to create a league of professional basketball teams that could fill their otherwise empty arenas when neither hockey games nor other events like circuses were in town. As any number of versions of the myth of foundation tell the story, these owners sought to present fans with a big-city, major league alternative to the existing, Midwest-based National Basketball League (NBL), based in the Midwest. After a couple of years of uneasy, but mostly peaceful coexistence, four of the best NBL teams in larger cities found the growth opportunities available in the new league enticing enough to jump to it for the 1948-1949 season. After that season, the story goes, the new league generously absorbed the last handful of insignificant NBL franchises. And that is the tale the NBA and basketball culture more generally tell about the origin of the NBA. That is its myth of foundation.
Just one thing: the NBA was not founded on June 6, 1946. What was founded on that day was a now-defunct league called the Basketball Association of America (BAA). As newspapers reported on June 7, 1946, “The Basketball Association of America, a professional basketball league involving 13 cities in the United States and Canada, was organized here today with President Maurice Podoloff of the American Hockey league at its head.” The NBA was not formed until three years later, on August 3, 1949, as the result a merger of the BAA and the NBL, and was reported as such in the papers. What’s more, of the seventeen franchises comprising the nascent NBA in 1949, only six were from the original BAA. In other words, almost two thirds of the franchises in the new NBA had nothing to do with the BAA’s original vision, or its June 6, 1946 origin date. And yet, the NBA, most fans, and many popular and scholarly historians of the sport—most of the basketball world in short—persists in backdating the NBA’s formation to June 6, 1946, when the BAA was formed.