Of the major North American sports, only basketball has a single point of origin that has withstood historical inquiry. The game, invented by James Naismith in 1891 in Massachusetts, quickly achieved widespread popularity.
By the turn of the twentieth century, college teams across the country were playing one another and the first professional leagues were popping up in the Northeast. By the 1920s, there was real money to be made in the professional game, both by legendary barnstorming outfits, such as the Original Celtics, the New York Rens, and the Philadelphia Sphas, and in the first major circuit, the American Basketball League. Starting play in 1925, the league held on until the Great Depression, but was forced to close shop temporarily after the 1930-31 season and never regained its former status.
In 1937, a new organization gave it a go, the National Basketball League. Featuring cities scattered across the Midwest and mostly sponsored by industrial firms, the NBL successfully weathered the growing pains of any new organization and, despite being reduced to just four teams during World War II, persevered and quickly rebounded after peace was declared.
But it was still very much a regional loop and in 1946, arena owners in the big cities of the East decided they would start a league of their own to boost revenue. And that’s where this story begins.