During the 1980s, the NBA experienced its first full explosion into American pop culture. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were the main stars of the decade, and the rivalry between the two was one of the most important elements of the game. This led to increased attendance and revenue.
The 1980s also saw the start of a major expansion boom in the NBA. Six franchises moved to larger cities during the decade, and four more were added. There were also several new teams joining the league, and the competition between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird grew. In addition to the expansion, a number of new accreditation requirements were introduced. Lastly, there were several major TV deals signed during this time.
When the NBA first began, the league was called the Basketball Association of America. It played for three years, and was a rival to the National Basketball League (NBL). By 1949, the two leagues merged, creating the NBA. It continued with eight teams for the next six years. During this time, the Western Division was plagued with financial troubles. During this period, four teams moved away from their original cities. One of the teams, the St. Louis Hawks, moved to Atlanta. Another, the Milwaukee Bucks, moved to Houston.
The NBA had seventeen teams when the merger took place. This was the largest number of franchises in the league’s history. When the merger occurred, the new NBA had eight teams in the Eastern Time Zone, and seven in the Western Time Zone. In 1954-55, the NBA consolidated to eight teams. During this period, the NBA moved its franchises to larger cities, and added Indianapolis, Denver, San Antonio, and Indiana Pacers. This expansion was a strategic move. The revenue for each team was re-distributed between the teams. This allowed the NBA to financially survive.
The NBA’s early years were characterized by wild and untamed behavior, and players were not necessarily considered gentlemanly. Players had drug and alcohol problems, and some had off-court problems. There were also issues with social acceptance of players.
The NBA was also a joint venture partnership, and the members owed each other fiduciary duties. Each member also had the right to petition the court for judicial expulsion of a recalcitrant member. This was also a time of tension, and the league faced financial problems. The NBA had to find a solution fast. The league had to make money while simultaneously expanding.
The 1980s also saw some of the first franchises to move to the West Coast. The Los Angeles Lakers moved to the West Coast, while the Milwaukee Bucks moved to Houston. In 1989, the Minnesota Timberwolves moved to Minneapolis. The Clippers also made the move. The NBA had two expansion drafts, and one team joined each year.
The 1980s also saw some of basketball’s best stars, including Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Pete Maravich, and Elvin Hayes. This is also the decade that saw the first major TV deals signed. The NBA has continued to evolve, and is now divided into two conferences, with 30 teams divided into three divisions.