Expansion of the National Basketball Association

NBA Expansion

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The expansion of the National Basketball Association has happened several times in the league's history since it began play in 1946. The most recent examples of the expansion of the NBA are the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat in 1988, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic in 1989, Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995 (who relocated to Memphis in 2001), and New Orleans Pelicans in 2002.[1]

The fewest teams the NBA has ever had was eight teams in both 1947–48 and 1955–56.

Progression of NBA Expansion
Years No. of teams
1946–1947 11
1947–1948 8
1948–1949 12
1949–1950 17
1950–1951 11
19511953 10
19531955 9
19551961 8
19611966 9
1966–1967 10
1967–1968 12
19681970 14
19701974 17
19741976 18
19761980 22
19801988 23
1988–1989 25
19891995 27
19952004 29
2004–present 30

Early years: 1946–1966

There was a lot of expansion and moving of organizations in the early years of the NBA. During this twenty year time period is when notable franchises entered the NBA like the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers), the Philadelphia Warriors (now the Golden State Warriors), Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers), and Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings).

During this time period the league experienced its first substantial growth, although it was short-lived, as the league was back down to nine teams by 1966.

Expansion Era: 1966–1980

During a span of fifteen years, 14 of the 30 current teams were brought into the league, beginning with the Chicago Bulls in 1966. The San Diego Rockets (now Houston Rockets) and Seattle SuperSonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) joined one year later, with the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks following them in 1968. After two more seasons, in 1970, the Buffalo Braves (became San Diego Clippers, now Los Angeles Clippers), Cleveland Cavaliers, and Portland Trail Blazers all began play. The New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) became the league's 18th franchise in 1974.

Following the 1975–76 season, the NBA merged with the American Basketball Association, a competing league that had operated for nine seasons beginning in 1967. With the ABA–NBA merger, four ABA teams became members of the NBA: the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York Nets (became New Jersey Nets, now Brooklyn Nets) and the San Antonio Spurs. In 1980, the Dallas Mavericks were created as the league's 23rd member.

Modern expansion: 1988 to 2004

The NBA has added seven more franchises from 1988 to present, the latest in 2004. Four teams were created in 1988 and 1989: the original Charlotte Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans), the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic, both in Florida, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. In 1995 the NBA created two new teams in Canada, its first since the inaugural 1946–47 season with one in Toronto; namely, the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies (now Memphis Grizzlies). The league expanded to 30 with the present Charlotte Hornets in 2004, initially as the Charlotte Bobcats.

Team timeline

See Timeline for the history of teams who participated in the NBA.

Expansion drafts

There have been 11 expansion drafts in NBA history.

Year Number of new teams Team(s) Total teams after draft
1961 1 Chicago Packers (now Washington Wizards) 9
1966 1 Chicago Bulls 10
1967 2 San Diego Rockets (now Houston Rockets), Seattle SuperSonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) 12
1968 2 Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns 14
1970 3 Buffalo Braves (later San Diego Clippers, now Los Angeles Clippers), Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers 17
1974 1 New Orleans Jazz (now Utah Jazz) 18
1980 1 Dallas Mavericks 23
1988 2 Charlotte Hornets (now New Orleans Pelicans), Miami Heat 25
1989 2 Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic 27
1995 2 Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies (now Memphis Grizzlies) 29
2004 1 Charlotte Bobcats (now Charlotte Hornets) 30

Possible expansion cities

KeyArena during the Seattle SuperSonics' last home game in 2008 against the Dallas Mavericks prior to the club's relocation to Oklahoma City.


Seattle previously hosted the Seattle SuperSonics from the 1967–68 season until the 2007–08 season, prior to the SuperSonics' relocation to Oklahoma City, and is a leading candidate to host a potential expansion NBA team.[2] Seattle is the most populous metropolitan area and the second largest American media market without an NBA franchise.

It was reported in 2013 that the Sacramento Kings were close to moving their franchise to Seattle, but the NBA Board of Owners voted against relocation, thus ensuring that the Kings would remain in Sacramento, California.[3]

As of 2018 , the only statements that have been made about the NBA returning to Seattle have been that it would likely be through league expansion.[4][2] On December 3, 2018, the renovation of what was once the KeyArena began, bringing the arena to current NBA standards and in preparation for the upcoming Seattle Kraken of the National Hockey League.[5]

Las Vegas

Las Vegas has long been rumored as a potential destination for a future NBA franchise. The city already hosts the NBA Summer League, which as of 2018, all league teams participate in. The 2007 NBA All-Star Game also took place in the city, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas's Thomas and Mack Center.[6] The T-Mobile Arena, opened in 2017 home of the National Hockey League (NHL)'s Vegas Golden Knights, and recently gained the Raiders of the National Football League in the 2020-2021 season, has been suggested as a potential destination for a future franchise in the city.

San Diego

San Diego is the most populous city and second most populous metropolitan area in the United States without an NBA franchise. The city previously hosted the San Diego Rockets (now Houston Rockets) from 1967 to 1971 and the San Diego Clippers (now Los Angeles Clippers) from 1978 to 1984. Both stints for the NBA in the city were cut short due to ownership issues and conflicts over the San Diego Sports Arena. San Diego was also the part-time home of the Golden State Warriors for six games during the 1971-72 NBA Season. The Warriors notably changed their name from "San Francisco" to "Golden State" prior to the season as the team was searching for a new home arena and looked to make a play for the San Diego market following the departure of the Rockets to Houston. The 1971 NBA All-Star Game was also played in the city at the San Diego Sports Arena, where both the Rockets (who hosted the game) and Clippers (later) played their home games.

The NBA notably failed in a lawsuit to return the Clippers to San Diego in the late 1980s after the franchise's then-owner Donald Sterling moved the club to Los Angeles without league approval after being twice denied permission to move.[7][8] Longtime NBA commissioner David Stern, when asked about the potential return of the NBA to San Diego, routinely underscored the need for a new arena in the region for it to be considered for a franchise.[9] The city is widely regarded as one of the most under-served sports markets in the United States, with only Major League Baseball (MLB)'s San Diego Padres calling the city home, following the 2017 departure of the National Football League (NFL)'s Chargers (also to Los Angeles). Discussions surrounding building an NBA and NHL-caliber arena in the city have materialized in recent years.[10][11] On August 29, 2020, following a competitive proposal selection process, local officials announced that they had selected a development team to build a new privately-funded sports arena and entertainment district at the site of the San Diego Sports Arena in the city's Midway District.[12]


Louisville, Kentucky has two basketball arenas with capacities in line with current NBA arenas: the downtown KFC Yum! Center, which holds 22,090 and currently hosts the Louisville Cardinals, and Freedom Hall, which holds 18,865. Both arenas have hosted well-attended NBA exhibition games.[13][14] Louisville has one prior major league basketball team in the Kentucky Colonels, which was a successful franchise during their nine seasons in the American Basketball Association, winning the ABA Finals in 1975 along with winning the most games and having the highest winning percentage of any franchise in the league's history. Since the Colonels were not included among the four ABA teams that were admitted into the NBA, Louisville has attempted to attract an NBA team several times, including the Buffalo Braves in 1978,[15] the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1983,[16] and the Houston Rockets,[17] the Charlotte Hornets,[18] and Memphis Grizzlies[19] in the early 2000s.


General Motors Place was the home for the Vancouver Grizzlies before the club's relocation to Memphis.The arena has since changed its name to Rogers Arena

The city of Vancouver briefly hosted an NBA team (the Vancouver Grizzlies) beginning in 1995 until it relocated to Memphis, Tennessee in 2001 and became the Memphis Grizzlies. The city already has the National Hockey League (NHL)'s Vancouver Canucks and Major League Soccer (MLS)'s Vancouver Whitecaps FC. It has Rogers Arena as well as a large population of 2.4 million in the metro area and a large TV market, province-wide.


Montreal is one of the largest markets in North America without an NBA franchise. It has a metropolitan population of four million and has an arena suitable for basketball, the Bell Centre, which can hold up to 22,000 attendees. In addition, the city has regularly hosted the Toronto Raptors' preseason games. In 2018, a group of local businesspeople led by Michael Fortier have announced their intention of seeking investors for an expansion team.[20]

Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri is one of the largest media markets without an NBA franchise, and a larger TV market than current NBA cities Oklahoma City and New Orleans. It previously hosted the Kansas City Kings from 1972 to 1985 (including three years where the team was shared with Omaha, Nebraska) until they moved to Sacramento. Like Pittsburgh, it has a recently built arena, the Sprint Center, that has hosted Big 12 and both the men's and women's NCAA tournaments. The city is also home to the College Basketball Hall of Fame.


Pittsburgh has a new arena, the PPG Paints Arena (which opened in 2010) that holds over 19,000 for basketball. It was rumored for a short time that the Detroit Pistons were moving to Pittsburgh,[21] and Pittsburgh was one of the cities mentioned by David Stern as a possible relocation site.[22] Pittsburgh has a long basketball tradition with Pitt and Duquesne as well as more recently with Robert Morris Colonials, the 1968 ABA champion Pittsburgh Condors, the 1995 CBA finalist Pittsburgh Piranhas, the Pittsburgh Rens of the ABL and the Pittsburgh Ironmen of the BAA.

Hampton Roads, Virginia

The Hampton Roads metropolitan area in Virginia has no major league sports team, but in August 2017, there was a proposal to bring an NBA team to the area's largest city, Virginia Beach whenever a sports arena is approved and built to host the team in the future.[23] The region also hosted the Virginia Squires of the ABA from 1970 to 1976.

Mexico City

Since 1992, the NBA Global Games have had NBA games hosted in different places around the world, with Palacio de los Deportes in Mexico City (the capital and most populous city of the country) being one of the venues for hosting preseason games and regular season games, with the arena having a capacity of over 20,000. On December 7, 2017, reports stated that the NBA would put a NBA G League team in the city for next season.[24][25] This was furthered fueled by Commissioner Adam Silver's statement that the NBA has been in discussions to place a G League team in Mexico City as well opening of NBA Academy in that city for Latin American and Caribbean players.[26]


Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap 
Download coordinates as: KML · GPX

The NBA originated in 1946 with 11 teams, and through a sequence of team expansions, reductions, and relocations currently consists of 30 teams. The United States is home to 29 teams and one is located in Canada.

In the following table it shows current NBA teams that are participating in the 2018–19 NBA season, in which city they are located, when the club was founded, joined the NBA, number of times relocated and times the franchise name has changed.


Team City Founded Joined Relocated Name changed
Atlanta Hawks Atlanta, GA 1946 1949 3 1
Boston Celtics Boston, MA 1946 1946 0 0
Brooklyn Nets Brooklyn, NY 1967 1976 1 1
Charlotte Hornets Charlotte, NC 1988, 2004* 1988, 2004* 0 1
Chicago Bulls Chicago, IL 1966 1966 0 0
Cleveland Cavaliers Cleveland, OH 1970 1970 0 0
Dallas Mavericks Dallas, TX 1980 1980 0 0
Denver Nuggets Denver, CO 1967 1976 0 0
Detroit Pistons Detroit, MI 1941 1948 3 1
Golden State Warriors San Francisco, CA 1946 1946 2 0
Houston Rockets Houston, TX 1967 1967 1 0
Indiana Pacers Indianapolis, IN 1967 1976 0 0
Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles, CA 1970 1970 2 1
Los Angeles Lakers Los Angeles, CA 1947 1948 1 0
Memphis Grizzlies Memphis, TN 1995 1995 1 0
Miami Heat Miami, FL 1988 1988 0 0
Milwaukee Bucks Milwaukee, WI 1968 1968 0 0
Minnesota Timberwolves Minneapolis, MN 1989 1989 0 0
New Orleans Pelicans New Orleans, LA 2002 2002 1* 1
New York Knicks New York, NY 1946 1946 0 0
Oklahoma City Thunder Oklahoma City, OK 1967 1967 1 1
Orlando Magic Orlando, FL 1989 1989 0 0
Philadelphia 76ers Philadelphia, PA 1946 1949 1 1
Phoenix Suns Phoenix, AZ 1968 1968 0 0
Portland Trail Blazers Portland, OR 1970 1970 0 0
Sacramento Kings Sacramento, CA 1923 1949 4 1
San Antonio Spurs San Antonio, TX 1967 1976 0 0
Toronto Raptors Toronto, ON 1995 1995 0 0
Utah Jazz Salt Lake City, UT 1974 1974 1 0
Washington Wizards Washington D.C. 1961 1961 3 3


  1. The Charlotte Hornets are regarded as a continuation of the original Charlotte franchise. Because of this, the New Orleans Pelicans are no longer the same franchise as the original Charlotte Hornets. The New Orleans Pelicans were established in 2002. The Charlotte Hornets rejoined the league in 2004, and were known as the Bobcats from 2004 to 2014.
  2. Spent two seasons as Oklahoma City/New Orleans Hornets due to Hurricane Katrina


Team City Founded Entered NBA Years active Left NBA Reason
Anderson Packers Anderson, IN 1946 1949 1 1950 Small market
Baltimore Bullets Baltimore, MD 1944 1947 8 1954
Chicago Stags Chicago, IL 1946 1946 4 1950
Cleveland Rebels Cleveland, OH 1946 1946 1 1947
Denver Nuggets Denver, CO 1932 1949 1 1950

See also


  1. ^ Fischer-Baum, Reuben; Silver, Nate (May 21, 2015). "The Complete History Of The NBA". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Prada, Mike (October 25, 2016). "Expansion team to Seattle looking more and more likely". SB Nation. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  3. ^ "Kings to stay in Sacramento as owners reject Seattle move". NBA.com. NBA Media Ventures, LLC. Associated Press. May 15, 2013. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  4. ^ Moore, Matt (October 13, 2016). "With NBA expansion rumored, a look at the pros, cons and prospective cities". CBS Sports. Retrieved June 3, 2017.
  5. ^ "$700M: City council approves KeyArena renovations". seattlepi.com. September 24, 2018.
  6. ^ Kantowski, Ron (July 31, 2018). "Las Vegas moves giant step closer to landing NBA team". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  7. ^ "Clippers and NBA Reach Agreement; Suit Dropped". Los Angeles Times. 1987-09-30. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  8. ^ "Column: Thirty-five years later, Clippers' strange run and stunning exit lingers". San Diego Union-Tribune. 2019-12-30. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  9. ^ Bloom, Barry M. "David Stern Was 'An Impressive Guy,' Remembers Former San Diego Padres Owner John Moores". Forbes. Retrieved 2020-08-20.
  10. ^ Spedden, Zach (2016-11-14). "New Arena Talks Picking up in San Diego". Arena Digest. Retrieved 2019-10-27.
  11. ^ "Column: With John Moores aboard, bid for new arena picks up successful track record". San Diego Union-Tribune. 2020-08-13. Retrieved 2020-08-22.
  12. ^ "City reveals plans for new arena, 'revitalized' Midway District". FOX 5 San Diego. 2020-08-29. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  13. ^ https://www.bizjournals.com/louisville/news/2014/11/10/nba-could-visit-louisville-again-next-year.html
  14. ^ "Remembering Freedom Hall". ESPN.com. 5 March 2010. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  15. ^ Miller, J. Bruce, "Airball", JBM Partners, LLC, 2004, pg. 131.
  16. ^ Ibid., pgs. 142-145.
  17. ^ Ibid., pgs. 167-220.
  18. ^ Ibid., pgs. 231-272.
  19. ^ Ibid., pgs. 273-313.
  20. ^ "Group seeks investors for Montreal NBA team". Sportsnet.ca. October 10, 2018. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  21. ^ Belko, Mark (February 4, 2010). "Pittsburgh mentioned in Pistons' relocation speculation". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved July 10, 2017.
  22. ^ Feigen, Jonathan (February 15, 2013). "Stern sees continued prosperity for NBA". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved July 10, 2017.
  23. ^ Minium, Harry. "Will an NBA team come to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront? SB Nation says it could happen". Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  24. ^ Stein, Marc (7 December 2017). "N.B.A. Plans to Put a Minor League Team in Mexico City". Retrieved 31 May 2019 – via NYTimes.com.
  25. ^ Cato, Tim (7 December 2017). "NBA will establish G-League team in Mexico City as soon as next season, per report". SBNation.com. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  26. ^ https://www.nba.com/article/2017/12/07/nba-adam-silver-open-basketball-academy-mexico-city
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