1925/26-1944/45: The ABL Era Based around the ABL teams, a league that existed from 1926-1930, and 1933-1952, the league remained small, never increasing over 10 teams. Shorter seasons, and much lower stats, along with much turnover in terms of teams. Despite never having more than 12 teams in the league at any given point, 31 franchises existed in this era. Only two teams from this era still exist with active franchises dating back to it, the Wilmington Bombers formed in the last season of this era, and the Philadelphia SPHAs, joining the league in the prime of the Great Depression, and surviving mass contraction during the second World War. The Fort Wayne Pistons, now in Detroit, exist from this era, but had a hiatus from 1950-1954. The Buffalo Braves and Washington Capitols trace their origins to this era as well, but both had over two decade hiatuses from existing, so they don’t count as much, 1932-1964 for the Braves, and 1929-1954 for the Capitols.
UPDATE: The Wilmington Bombers folded following the 2003 offseason. The Philadelphia SPHAs are the only team from before the NBL merger to still exist in its continuous state. They will celebrate their 90th anniversary in the 2023-24 season. The Capitols and Braves also folded, though in 1994 the New York Bankers were revived.
1945/46-1948/49: The Merger Era The defeat of Nazi Germany and the Japanese Shogunate sent many men home, and basketball’s popularity blossomed in this era. The NBL, which had existed for a while, and the PBLA, which formed in this time period, joined with the ABL to form a large league, ballooning from 12 teams to 45. Seasons also lengthened, 84 games in the 1948-49 season. 29 franchises formed within this 4 year period. 1949/50-1953/54: The Collapse Era The BAA, a league that chose not to join the large merger, made the right move in their eyes as it all came crumbling down. Out of those 29 franchises, only 5 survived a decade after the Merger Era. By 1954, only 12 teams existed, back to the previous number before the Merger Era. Two more of these 29 franchises exist today though. However, in this era, the Milwaukee Hawks were born, now in Atlanta, a merger between the Saratoga Falcons, and Tri-Cities Blackhawks.
UPDATE: The Hawks folded in 2002, and the Saratoga Falcons had a revival run between 1989-2000. The Tri-Cities Black Hawks also had a one season comeback for the 1999-2000 season.
1954/55-1965/66: The Bailout Era The BAA, in collaboration with the Federal Government, bailed out the remaining 12 teams. There were still some turnover, the Tulsa Ranchers, Waterloo Hawks, and Pittsburgh Ironmen are examples of teams that folded in this era. However, after shrinking from 24 to 20 teams, and then to 19 for the 1956/57 due to a clerical error, the rest of the Bailout Era maintained a 20 team league. The Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, from the NIBL, joined in this era as well. Denver and Houston were experimented with, Houston to success, Denver ended up not surviving long though.
UPDATE: This Houston team mentioned is the Houston Comets, which folded during the ABA merger negotiations. Pro basketball is still played in Houston to this day with the Rockets, which moved from San Diego to account for the ABA’s San Diego Sails.
1966/67-1974/75: The Recovery Era With federal oversight over, the new Federal Basketball League was rebranded to the National Basketball Association. Four teams joined the league immediately, including the return of the Indianapolis Jets, whos hiatus lasted between 1957-1966. 24 teams became 25, then 27. Many re-alignments were done during this time, due to tensions between midwest franchises with the league due to being in divisions with west coasts teams, culminating in the Three Conference era, the BAA, the Independent Basketball Conference (the former NBL/ABL teams known as the Federal Basketball Conference in the Bailout Era), and the new Great Western Conference. In the 27 team period, the IBC was merged due to the 5 conference to 3 conference model, the NBL, ABL, and IBC conferences mostly merged to do it.
1976 ABA Players Lockout: Due to the team merger being not accepted by players, the players simply refused to play for the new teams. While this led to not any canceled games, as these new teams simply filled up players from expansion drafts, negotiations were still made, as many of these players were the league’s top stars. It was agreed that any ABA player could simply declare for the upcoming 1976 draft, and be inserted into the league that way. Due to the dearth of talent as a result of more teams but not more players, many teams were excited for this draft. This was also the first year of the draft lottery, in which the Buffalo Braves jumped 2 places to claim the #1 pick of ABA talent, which they used to select Larry Kenon.
1975/1976-1992/93: The ABA/Four Conference Era Within the world of Basketball, the experimental ABA joined the Three Conference NBA to form the modern playoff system. However, a players strike from the ABA caused an issue with talent distribution. Along with that, there were issues with franchises overlapping, the San Diego Sails and Rockets, and the Indianapolis Jets and Pacers, along with the New York Knicks and Nets. This ended up costing the Houston Comets and Trenton Tigers their franchises, the Rockets and Nets taking their place respectively. The Jets were going to go under as well, but a rich benefactor out of Winnipeg bought the team and moved them there. When Trenton folded, the Dallas Mavericks joined the league for the 1976/77 season, as while the Nets took the Trenton market, the league still was 35 teams instead of 36 due to this. Contracts were shortened, going from 8 year maximums to 5 year maximums, and the ABA’s three point line was added, along with a draft lottery. The Four Conference era introduced two Super Conferences, in which the top 4 teams of each conference would play each other, then the winners of the ABA and GWC finals would play each other, then the IBC and BAA would play each other, and then the two winners would go on to the grand finals. The NBA is looking to expand yet again going into the 1988/89 season, and things seem bright with young stars Ron Harper and Michael Jordan bringing the league’s newest dynasty to Providence, Rhode Island. Tensions between Jordan and the Steamrollers are palpable though, and he has all intentions of seeking other play after his contract year in 1991/92
Tensions between the BAC and NBC/ABA boiled over in the 92/93 season, after face of the league Michael Jordan moved to the ABA Indiana Pacers, along with plans to contract and replace the Toronto Huskies. A lockout occured 35 games in when the ABA and NBC refused to play. With the BAC having a playoff format anyways, for 8 teams, two of these teams chose to participate. The Akron Goodyear Wingfoots, the #1 team in the league at the time of the lockout, elected to participate in order to cater to young stars Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Tate George. The other team was the Pacers themselves, seeking to win Magic Johnson, considered one of the top 10 players of all time to this date, another championship. It is unknown what might happen after this, as solutions are not yet visible for this problem. Due to teams refusing to participate, the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 12th, and 16th ranked teams in the league participated in the 8 team playoffs, with the Golden State Warriors (7th) beating the New York Knicks (3rd) in the finals.
1994/95 Fracturing Continuing on with the Toronto Fiasco, and during the lockout, the three sub-leagues decided that it was war. 19 teams expanded, the most ever, even more than during the PBLA merger in the 1940s. The surviving teams of the Merger era wondered what it meant for them. Play resumed after a lockout-shortened 94/95 season under a few conditions from David Stern, whose high rank within the NBA meant he could help the Player’s Association leverage. The new American Basketball Players’ Association (ABPA) had the three separate leagues essentially promise free movement, and a unified playoffs. A soft salary cap was also introduced. Several markets now had multiple teams, such as LA, New York, and Philadelphia.
1994/95-1999/2000: The Competition Era It was war as it seemed, with the NBA ballooning in size to drive the ABA and IBL teams out of business. The money was good, however, the prospects were good, and the league kept growing, to 60 teams, to 70 team, and at its peak, 94 franchises across the three leagues. However, all good things must come to an end, and the dotcom bubble bursting was severely damaging, especially to the IBL, causing a new era of collapse.
2000/01-2003/04: The Burst Era With economic downturn, the IBL and ABA both went under, and under the guise of the Players Union and David Stern, the NBA re-merged with the two leagues to form a 42 team league, with two conferences, and six divisions of seven teams each. Money began to recover with young stars such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but it was too little too late for the IBL, and the NBA had more than enough money to just buy out the remaining ABA teams anyways
2004/05 80th Celebration In honor of the 80th season, dating back to the ABLs 1925/26 season, I present the export of the GOAT Lab. (See Bottom)
83 players managed to be here for the celebration, 17 sadly have passed away since The oldest player on the list, however, is actually still alive! Amari Otchiband, 1930 draftee, hall of famer, and #96 on the NBA 100 list, was present for ceremonies. He is 94. Connor Haywood is the youngest of all players on the list, at 26 years old. He is ranked #61 on the list. He is joined by fellow league faces Deji Egbunu (#33) and Dirk Nowitzki (#50).
List of Passings: Tavaris Wilson (1904-1999) Mark Williams (1905-1951) Armon Hammer (1910-2003) Trace Idowu (1910-1979) Roger Murdock (1913-1998) Ronny Dobbs (1914-1988) Maya Moore (1915-1999) Joe Biden (1915-1998) Barack Obama (1915-1982) Liz Cambage (1917-1982) George Mikan (1924-2001) Austin Swope (1924-1971) Mike Evans (1925-1987) Dolph Schayes (1928-2000) Brad Roberts (1937-1986) Wayne King (1940-1987) Emir Gallon Sr. (1942-1976) Emir Gallon Sr. was tragically killed in a gasoline accident during the 1975-1976 season, in which he played on the Seattle Supersonics. To honor him in this ceremony, the Supersonics retired his #22. This was not done previously, as Gallon was a journeyman, the season of his death only being the third in Seattle. Only one other player in league history has died while an active player, John Greaves, who died of a drug overdose during the 1926-1927 season as part of the Detroit Gems. His jersey also is hung in the rafters in Detroit, as part of the Gems franchise history. While not retired on the Pistons, the jersey is displayed there as part of the unified history of Detroit Basketball. John Greaves (1899-1927)
2004/05-Present: The Era of Modern Stability
Once the leagues re-merged, the financial situation improved drastically. Teams were no longer going out of their way to shove into each other’s markets (except in philadelphia, where two teams had been proven to work before). No team that existed in the 2004-2005 season has ceased to exist to this day. The money’s going up, and salary spikes not linked to inflation have also occurred, to help this distribute to players. Everything’s going very well, and its unlikely to end anytime soon with new talent on the horizon.
With COVID-19 on the horizon, I’m presently hesitant to expand the league as lore wise these teams might go under as a result of the pandemic hitting young vulnerable franchises. Eventually, I want to expand the league to 48 teams. I’m not 100% sure how far I’ll go into the future, but I’ll at least go to the 100th ABL anniversary (2025-26) season.