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Sports Industry: A Research Guide


Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Chicago Bulls basketball game at the United Center, Chicago, Illinois. Carol M. Highsmith Archive. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The sport of basketball traces its history back to 1891 when James Naismith, a physical education professor and instructor trying to keep his gym class active wanted a indoor game to keep his students occupied and maintain the proper levels of fitness even during winters. Eventually, he wrote a few basic rules and nailed a peach basket onto a 10-foot elevated track and basketball was born.

The sport has grown since those early days when it was predominantly associated with colleges and high schools. When the National Basketball Association (NBA) was founded, there were 17 teams, but by 2018 that more than doubled to 38: there was a professional women's league, many universities had both women's and men's teams, and it had become a big international sport.

Men's Basketball

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the league that represents professional men's basketball. It traces its history to two leagues - the National Basketball League (NBL) founded in 1937 and the Basketball Association of America (BAA) founded in 1946 - that merged in 1949.

Interest in major league basketball games originally was predominantly about people going to the game, but the attention to games has gone beyond that. In the 1950's games began to be televised when the league signed a contract with DuMont, and in the early 1960's they signed a deal with NBC and other big networks which meant an even bigger audience. The advent of cable brought additional opportunities including deals with USA Networks and ESPN. Television and cable expanded basketball's viewership and, consequently, interest in the game in the U.S. and internationally. The 21st century has brought in fans following games on Twitter and Facebook, giving the league and teams the additional benefit of connecting to fans around the world.

As with other big team sports, revenue and expenses at the professional level are tied to television contracts, player salaries, attendance figures, and licensing fees and arena revenues. Player, owner, and league relations are often dictated by the collective bargaining agreement because of revenue-sharing formulas and salary caps.

Regular games and post season play expand viewership and revenues but the NBA like other sports associations, has instituted additional revenue and interest opportunities. The All-Star game has become the All-Star Weekend with the addition of specific events/contests like the Rising Stars Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest, the Three-Point Contest, and Skills Challenge. Even the G League participates with the G League Dream Factory Friday Night and the G League All-Star Game. The NBA has also sponsored Summer League which is an off-season competition and features rookie, sophomore and G League affiliate players.

Basketball has grown as an international sport, particularly connected to the Olympics and the NBA has also made a push into markets like China External, Europe, and Mexico. Beyond that, in December 2018 it was announced that the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings would play two preseason games in Mumbai in October 2019.External

Here in the U.S. there have been major changes in recent history that have increased the interest in basketball: the introduction of a women's professional basketball league and, even more recently, an official minor NBA league.

G League

The NBA didn't always have a minor league as baseball has had - in some ways college teams served that function. However, in 2001 the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) was launched. In 2005 the name changed to the NBA Development League (NBA D-League) and again in 2017 to the G-League (Gatorade League). When it started in 2001, there were 8 teams, by 2013 there were 16, and as of 2018 there were 27. Beyond just participating in All-Star weekend events, the G league also has its own showcase event. Since 2005 the players Showcase has been a way for NBA teams to look at the best of the these players. The league does have a draft much like the bigger NBA draft to recruit new players into the league.


The Big3 is a professional 3-on-3 basketball league. It was founded in 2017 by hip hop musician and actor Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz and consists of teams with players who played in the NBA and on international teams. The Big3 began in 2017 with eight teams and expanded to twelve teams in 2019. Unlike the NBA and most other sports teams, the Big3 teams do not represent any cities or geographical regions.

Women's Basketball

Women have always played basketball, but the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) wasn't founded until April 24, 1996. It began with eight teams: the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets and New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference; and the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Starzz in the Western Conference. Currently, there are 12 teams - the Eastern Conference includes the Washington Mystics, Indiana Fever, Connecticut Sun, Chicago Sky, Atlanta Dream, and the New York Liberty while the Western conference includes the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Minnesota Lynx, San Antonio Silver Stars (was the Utah Starz), Seattle Storm, and the Tulsa Shock.

Books & Periodicals

These are just a few of the more business-themed resources related to basketball. Note that there may also be relevant information in the General Resources section of this guide.

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to article titles will lead to fuller bibliographic information about the periodical title (not to the article itself). Links to digital content are provided when available.

Internet Resources

We have included some resources that are not business specific in an effort to provide sources that can help researchers understand the sport itself and its structure.


General Resources

Official Sites


Search the Library's Catalog

If you are looking to search the catalog for more general titles see the Search the Library's Catalog page. Additional works on the basketball business in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of Library of Congress subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. For assistance in locating the many other subject headings which relate to basketball as a business, please consult a reference librarian.