Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash

The National Basketball Association, better known simply as the NBA, is the world’s premier men’s basketball league. It is part of the United States’ “Big Four” major professional sports leagues, alongside Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), and National Hockey League (NHL). 

While historically the sport of basketball has been primarily a North American pastime, it has become increasingly popular on the international stage over the decades, in no small part due to the rise of the NBA, particularly in recent years, as well as the ever-present Harlem Globetrotters exhibition team. As well as drawing in a huge TV audience each year, thousands of fans watch their favourite teams in-person; if you’re looking for NBA tickets 2022-23 or Harlem Globetrotters World Tour tickets, you can find them from a range of suppliers at

A Brief History of Basketball

Before exploring the origins of the NBA, it’s worth looking at the history of basketball itself. Sports enthusiasts have been playing basketball since 1891. Created in December of that year by physical education professor James Naismith in Springfield, Massachussets, basketball is the only major sport of entirely US origin, albeit Naismith himself was Canadian. 

With a New England storm preventing him and his students from playing outdoor sports, Naismith invented a game comprised of throwing a soccer ball into a basket mounted on the wall. His plan was to use boxes, but instead he only had access to peach baskets; these would lend the sport its name. To improve the flow of the game and speed up point-scoring, Naismith cut the bottoms of the baskets out; initially the ball had to be manually retrieved after each successful basket!

A new sport was born, and it wasted little time in spreading throughout North America and before long it was being played in the far-flung reaches of the world from European countries such as England and France to China, Japan, and India in Asia, and even Australia. 

The NBA is Founded

Professional basketball leagues emerged in the 1920s, approximately 30 years after the sport was invented, but they did so in a haphazard fashion with disparate leagues and teams coming and going. It was in 1946 that this began to change, with the formation of the Basketball Association of America (BAA).

The league was formed after an idea struck the owner of the Boston Garden arena, Walter Brown, that major ice hockey venues could host basketball games on hockey’s off-nights to keep spectators coming through the doors. This became the first concerted effort to play basketball professionally in major arenas and cities around the United States, and in 1949 the BAA merged with the rival National Basketball League (NBL) to become the NBA. 

Tweaks and refinements have been made to the sport over the decades since the NBA was formed, including the notable addition of the introduction of the 24-second shot clock (which is still used today!) in 1954 to encourage attacking play and more frequent attempts at the basket.

The league particularly began to grow in popularity in the 1980s, thanks to the emergence of stars such as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, and today it enjoys global popularity.

The NBA’s Format Today

While just 11 teams contested the inaugural BAA season in 1947 – and just 6 of them survive today – the league has been expanded greatly over the years and is now comprised of 30 teams from across the United States, with the exception of the Canadian-based Toronto Raptors. Similar to other major US sports leagues, the teams are divided into Eastern and Western Conferences and there are further geographical divisions within each conference. The former is made up of the Atlantic, Central, and Southeast Divisions, while the latter is comprised of the Northwest, Pacific, and Southwest Divisions. The teams are distributed as follows:

Eastern Conference


  • Boston Celtics
  • Brooklyn Nets
  • New York Knicks
  • Philadelphia 76ers
  • Toronto Raptors


  • Chicago Bulls
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Detroit Pistons
  • Indiana Pacers
  • Milwaukee Bucks


  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Charlotte Hornets
  • Miami Heat
  • Orlando Magic
  • Washington Wizards

Western Conference


  • Denver Nuggets
  • Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Portland Trail Blazers
  • Utah Jazz


  • Golden State Warriors
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Phoenix Suns
  • Sacramento Kings


  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Houston Rockets
  • Memphis Grizzlies
  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • San Antonio Spurs

The NBA season usually runs from October to June, with the regular season ending April. During the regular season every team plays a total of 82 matches. The fixtures are conducted asymmetrically; each team will play every opponent in the opposite conference twice, while within their own conference they face 10 teams (including the 4 within their geographical division) on 4 occasions and 4 teams on 3 occasions.

At the end of the season, the teams are ranked within their conferences according to their win-percentage, with the top 6 in each proceeding directly to the NBA Playoffs post-season tournament. The final 2 Playoff places for each conference are decided by a “Play-In Tournament” contested by the teams who finished 7th through 10th. Once the Playoff line-up is complete, the 16 teams are separated into brackets by conference and battle through 3 knockout rounds – each a best-of-7 series of games – to determine the Eastern and Western Conference champions, who then face off in the NBA Finals to become the overall league champions.

Naturally, the high-stakes drama of the Playoffs makes them unmissable viewing each season, and being there in-person makes the viewing experience even better. But with more than 1,200 games played over the course of the regular season, there’s also plenty of opportunities for even more casual fans to dip in and out, watching some iconic teams and star players such as LeBron James or Steph Curry along the way!