It was 70 years ago—on June 6, 1946—that the original NBA team owners met in New York City and changed the history of American pro basketball, establishing two divisions with 11 teams total. The organization they founded (then called the Basketball Association of America) was the product of their professional interest in filling arenas, according to the NBA Encyclopedia, not in the sport itself. After all, many of them owned the venues too. The first season would begin that autumn.
The BAA wasn’t the first basketball league to be formed, and it had competition in the form of the National Basketball League. But NBL games tended to take place in small venues, as described by Michael Schumacher’s Mr. Basketball, and the league wasn’t really successful as a big business. Even though the BAA founders weren’t the biggest hoops fans in the world, they knew how to make the league a success. So it’s perhaps no surprise that, though the BAA and NBL merged in 1949 to become the National Basketball Association, the NBA still counts that 1946 day as its founding date.
TIME reported in 1949 that “pro basketball is gradually taking on a big-league glow. The Basketball Association of America is a twelve-city circuit, playing to enthusiastic crowds from Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden to St. Louis’ Arena. Its stars get paid as much as $17,500 for a 20-week season.”