On This Day in Sports Law History: August 3, 1949

Not only is it the One True G.O.A.T.'s 40th birthday today (S.O. to Tom Brady - Happy Birthday!) but it is an important day in sports law history.


Happy 68th Birthday, NBA!

Here's to another year closer to Space Jam becoming real.

On August 3, 1949, the Basketball Association of American merged with the National Basketball League to create the National Basketball Association. Today, we recognize the NBA as the major men's professional basketball league in North America (not just the United States since the league has been international since conception) and, dare I say it, the premier men's professional basketball league in the world! *GASP* So, let's take a look at the parent leagues which birthed the product bearing the world's highest paid athletes (based on average player salary per player).

The National Basketball League (NBL) is the older of the two parents. Three corporations - Firestone, Goodyear, and General Electric - created the NBL in 1937. It was formerly known as the Midwest Basketball Conference, but in an attempt to gain popularity outside the region in tandem with professional basketball's increasing popularity overall, it changed its name. The league was made of both independent small-market teams and corporate teams that had almost complete control over their own schedules, the games were either four ten-minutes periods or three fifteen-minute periods (the home team got to choose), and it notably offered African Americans new job opportunities when players had to serve in the armed forces in the early 1940s. Even today, five operating NBA teams have origins tracing back to the NBL: (1) the Minneapolis Lakers, a.k.a. today's Los Angeles Lakers (see how it all makes sense now?); (2) the Rochester Royals, a.k.a. today's Sacramento Kings; (3) the Buffalo Bisons/Tri-Cities Blackhawks, a.k.a. today's Atlanta Hawks; (4) the Syracuse Nationals, a.k.a. today's Philadelphia 76ers; and (5) the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, a.k.a. today's Detroit Pistons. So, thank you, NBL, for giving us Michiganders a team.

Then, the new kid in town strolled up in bigger and badder cities. The Basketball Association of America (BAA) was established in 1946.... Today, six operating NBA teams have their origins in the BAA: (1) the Boston Celtics; (2) the New York Knickerbockers; (3) the Philadelphia Warriors, a.k.a. today's Golden State Warriors; and (4) through (6) are former NBL teams with lineage present today with the exception of the Hawks. Yes, the Lakers, the Royals, and the Pistons left the NBL and joined the BAA in the 1948-49 season. The BAA's last even was the 1949 college draft to obtain new players for the up-and-coming merger. Personally, I think the most interesting thing about the BAA is the NBA's perspective - the NBA views the BAA's three-year history as the start of its own in an expansion sense rather than a merger sense, failing to acknowledge the NBL's records whatsoever (e.g., the NBA at 50 event celebrating the NBA's "50th" birthday in 1996).

When a new sports league is created, multiple legal issues and angles come into play. Traditional business law concepts apply in a special way that call for engaging in other areas of law like property, labor and employment, torts, antitrust, intellectual property (because we cannot forget about that NBA logo, brahh), tax, and even international laws when a league ventures beyond U.S. borders. That, folks, is only the beginning of it. Just thinking about league formation makes the "sports lawyer" in me giddy.