Minor League Basketball In North America — A Brief History

Minor league basketball, unlike baseball in the United States, has almost always lacked structure and organization. There are several semi-professional leagues around North America, most regionally based. Sometimes those regions have more than one team and more than one league which can confuse the media and fan alike.

In 1949 the Basketball Association of America (BAA) merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) to form the National Basketball Association (NBA). When the NBA merged with the upstart American Basketball Association in 1976 it became the premier league in the world.

Just two months previous to the formation of the NBA, the Eastern Pennsylvania Basketball League (renamed Continental Basketball Association in 1978) formed as a minor league with six teams. The league saw success with TV coverage by ESPN and BET. In the early 1980's an agreement with the NBA allowed CBA players to sign a 10-day contract, allowing minor league players opportunities to advance their careers.

For almost three decades the CBA provided a clear path towards playing at the highest level of the sport. It presented a platform for not only players, but officials and management to learn their trade at a professional level.

The CBA went bankrupt in February of 2001 before a ‘new’ CBA formed and played until 2009. By this time minor leagues began forming across the U.S. with little structure, organization and management.

One of those leagues was the NBA Developmental League, organized by the NBA. It was the second attempt to create a true minor league system in North America. The league began in 2001 with eight teams. At present there are 18 NBADL teams, 17 affiliated with one or more NBA clubs.

30 NBA teams. 18 NBADL teams. With over 350 NCAA Division I schools playing college basketball, as well as the NCAA Division II, Division III, NAIA and NJCAA levels, opportunities to move on to the professional level after college could be considered very slim. Consider that players turning pro immediately out of high school, the number gets smaller.

In comparison, Minor League Baseball has over 240 affiliated teams to feed 30 Major League Baseball. Players come from college programs and some immediately after high school. Opportunities for players to develop and advance are aplenty, all under one “major” league.

Canada formed its own professional league in 2011 with the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL). The 2014–15 season began with eight teams based in Ontario and the east coast.

Today there are 16 semi-professional leagues with over 250 teams around North America. Many feature paid players while some offer the opportunity to keep the dream alive with no compensation. None of these leagues are affiliated with the NBA or present a clear path to the pros.