How the NBA Works

With a global fan base in the millions, a TV deal valued at over $24 billion, a $1 billion contract with Nike, rapid international expansion and a league average team value of more than $1 billion, the NBA is one of the most lucrative and popular sports leagues in the world. Its popularity continues to grow worldwide as players, coaches and executives continue to find new ways to increase revenue streams.

The NBA was founded in 1946 and began with seventeen franchises based in a mix of large and small cities, playing in arenas ranging from stadiums to armories. A process of contraction began in 1950, when the league consolidated to its current fourteen teams.

A draft lottery — made up of ping-pong balls drawn in an audited event in the spring — decides the order of selection for each team’s top 14 picks. The winners of the lottery choose first and second, followed by the remaining teams choosing sequentially in order of their regular season finish. Teams can move up or down in the draft order with trades and other events.

After the regular season, a series of playoff matchups determine who will be the league champions. Teams play best-of-seven games in each round, and ties are broken by a system of head-to-head records and, if necessary, conference record.

The top four seeds in each conference are guaranteed a spot in the NBA Finals. This year, the first-seeded Boston Celtics beat the eighth-seeded Miami Heat in seven games to advance to the conference championship. The second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers will face the third-seeded Golden State Warriors in a highly anticipated showdown.

After a summer break, NBA teams begin training camp in late September. This allows coaches to evaluate their rosters, scout the talent of other teams and prepare their squad for the rigorous season ahead. In addition to determining their 12-man active roster and 3-man inactive list, teams also assign players with less than two years of experience to the NBA G League.

During the playoffs, the highest-scoring teams meet in a best-of-seven series to determine the league champion. The playoffs have featured some memorable moments and historic upsets. In the past, low-seeded teams like the Toronto Raptors, New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks have made it to the finals.

The NBA All-Star Game is played in February at the Smoothie King Center in Atlanta, and consists of the league’s best players. Each team is represented by two All-Star starters, chosen by fans through online voting, media balloting and the votes turned in by NBA players. The All-Star captains are usually selected a few days before the game, with the final selection taking place just before the All-Star Weekend. The All-Star Weekend is capped by the All-Star Game itself, where the selected captains choose their teammates and compete against each other in a variety of skills challenges. Following the game, a number of awards are presented, including the Most Valuable Player award and the Defensive Player of the Year award.