Sixty years ago today, a future guard for St. Peter's College in Jersey City named Rich Rinaldi was born. Nothing very remarkable about that; Rinaldi played well enough to get drafted 43rd overall by the Baltimore Bullets in 1971 and played 79 games with them over two-plus seasons. After being waived in November 1973, Rinaldi hooked on for five games with the ABA's Nets, wrapping up his pro career with averages of 4.8 points and 10.5 minutes.
It just so happens, though, that Rinaldi shares his birthday with the NBA itself. Sixty years ago today, on Aug. 3, 1949, the league as we know it -- well, kind of as we know it -- came into being when the two reigning hoops organizations blended into one.
Traditionally, the NBA marks its BC vs. AD point as 1946-47, when the Basketball Association of America began play. That's why it celebrated its 50th anniversary at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland and why last season was considered its 63rd. But it's important not to underestimate the impact of the BAA's merger with the older National Basketball League three years later.
Neither the NBL nor the BAA was thriving at the time. The NBL had most of the game's biggest names, including George Mikan and Jim Pollard of the Minneapolis Lakers, but was operating primarily in smallish Midwest towns such as Sheboygan, Moline, Toledo, Fort Wayne and Youngstown. The BAA was located in bigger cities, with more legitimate arenas, but it didn't have the drawing-card players. The lure of bigger paydays enticed four NBL teams to switch leagues before 1948-49, but the official absorption came the following summer.
Newly christened as the NBA, the unified league ballooned to 17 teams in 1949-50 -- the Lakers won their second consecutive championship -- then scaled down to 11 clubs for '50-51. Franchises came and went after that, from as few as eight to the current 30, but the die was cast. Advancements and enhancements came ridiculously fast -- the shot clock, Bill Russell, the Celtics' dynasty, Wilt Chamberlain, network television, expansion, dunk contests, Air Jordans, tattoos and Twitter. Boom! Done. Sixty years gone by in a blink, commemorated here by the numbers:
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's rank in career minutes (57,446), points (38,387), fouls (4,657), MVP awards (six), All-Star berths (19), Milwaukee Bucks' scoring (14,211) and rebounding (7,161) and L.A. Lakers' blocked shots (2,694).
2. People forget that Russell was the second player drafted in 1956, going to Boston when Celtics boss Red Auerbach traded for the No. 2 pick in a pivotal deal with St. Louis. People really forget that the No. 1 pick that year was Duquesne guard Sihugo Green -- the Rochester Royals didn't want to pay a $25,000 bonus Russell was rumored to be seeking. Green averaged 9.2 points across 504 NBA games -- and, in his final season, joined Russell for 10 games in Boston in '65-66.
3. The three-point field goal was adopted for the 1979-80 season, and Boston's Chris Ford officially sank the first one in an Oct. 12, 1979, victory against Houston.
4. Number of ABA franchises that survived the merger on June 17, 1978: San Antonio, Denver, Indiana and New York (later renamed New Jersey).
5. Dikembe Mutombo led the NBA in blocked shots five times, which is the official record. But since blocks, like steals, weren't tracked before 1973-74, odds are good that fellows named Chamberlain, Russell or even Thurmond might hold the real mark.
6. Auerbach spent the sixth pick in the '78 draft on Indiana State's Larry Bird, knowing his Celtics would have to wait a full year for Bird (a junior eligible by rules at that time) to leave school. It proves to be worth the wait.
7. Karl Malone led the NBA in free-throw attempts in seven out of 10 seasons from 1988-89 through '97-98. Only Chamberlain (9) did it more often.
8. In 2002-03, the Detroit Pistons played eight overtime games and won them all. In '79-80, the Golden State Warriors played eight OT games and lost them all. Both are records, for most overtime games in a season without a loss or a victory, respectively.
9. Years that the American Basketball Association survived as an NBA alternative, driving up players' salaries through bidding wars for their services and bringing a red-white-and-blue basketball, a dunk contest and funk to center stage in pro hoops. No one handled all three better than Julius Erving, who averaged 28.7 points in his five ABA seasons.
10. Losses for the Chicago Bulls in '95-96. Which means they won an NBA-record 72 times. This is also the Arabic numeral for "X," which is what former Bulls coach Phil Jackson had on his cap in June after the Lakers got him to 10 NBA championships as a head coach.
11. Jersey number worn by both Earl Lloyd and Chuck Cooper. Lloyd was the first African-American player to appear in an NBA game, participating for Washington on Oct. 31, 1950. Cooper was the first to be drafted (Boston, second round, '50) and Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton was the first black player to sign an NBA contract (Knicks).
12. No NBA player has made more three-pointers in a game than Kobe Bryant (Jan. 7, 2003) and Donyell Marshall (March 13, 2005), who each sank a dozen.
13. Moses Malone famously predicted that his Philadelphia team would win the 1983 title in just 12 games ("Fo, fo, fo"). In fact, it took the Sixers one extra because the Milwaukee Bucks fended off a sweep in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
14. In the second quarter of San Antonio's 157-154 victory over Denver on April 15, 1984, Spurs guard John Lucas dished 14 assists, most by a player in one quarter.
15. Years between NBA Finals featuring the Lakers and the Celtics, 1969-84.
16. Washington's Gilbert Arenas, locked in a scoring duel with Kobe, scored 16 of his 60 points in overtime in a 147-141 victory over the Lakers in L.A. on Dec. 17, 2006.
17. Championships by the Boston Celtics. This includes 11 in a stretch of 13 seasons beginning in 1957.
18. Months that the American Basketball League survived from 1961 into '63. Though short-lived, the ABL -- founded by Abe Saperstein of Globetrotters fame -- introduced us to the three-point shot, pro basketball's first black coach (John McLendon) and George Streinbrenner as a team owner (Cleveland Pipers).
19. From 1966 through '84, a coin flip between the teams with the worst records in each conference determined the draft's No. 1 pick. The coin came up tails 12 times, heads just seven. Also, the team calling the flip guessed right just seven times.
20. Percent of their games from which Walter Dukes (21.9) and Vern Mikkelsen (20.1) fouled out during their careers. They're the only guys in league history (minimum 400 games) to be disqualified at a 1-in-5 pace.
21. Numbers retired by the Boston Celtics, including No. 18 for both Dave Cowens and Jim Loscutoff.
22. Number of playoff triple-doubles by which Magic Johnson leads Oscar Robertson, 30-8. Robertson holds the NBA career mark in regular-season games, 181 to Johnson's 138.
23. One hundred-eighty-six players have worn No. 23, according to basketball-reference.com, but Michael Jordan owns it.
24. Seconds to shoot, thanks to the introduction of the shot clock for 1954-55. In the first game played with one, Rochester beat Boston 98-95 on Oct. 30, 1954. Average team scoring jumped from 79.5 to 93.1 in one year.
25. Points scored by Detroit's Isiah Thomas in the third quarter of Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals -- on a severely sprained ankle. But the Pistons lost and lost again two nights later when Lakers forward James Worthy picked Game 7 for the only triple-double of his career (36 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists).
26. In the 1979 playoffs, six of the 11 series went the distance and the six clinching games were decided by a total of 26 points.
27. Rick Barry ('67) and Jordan ('03) hold the record for most shots taken in an All-Star Game.
28. Kobe sank 28 field goals in 43 tries, seven of them from three-point range, en route to scoring 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006. It ranks second all-time in points scored to Chamberlain's 100-point bar-setter 44 years earlier.
29. In 1965, the Baltimore Bullets were 29-9 at home, 4-25 on the road and 5-8 at neutral sites. Then they got swept from the playoffs by St. Louis, losing twice at home and once on the road.
30. Most assists in an NBA game (Scott Skiles, Orlando, in a 155-116 rout of Denver on Dec. 30, 1990).
31. Best No. 31 ever? Got to be Reggie Miller, the NBA's all-time three-point leader with 6,486 attempts and 2,560 makes.
32. Chamberlain, despite notorious problems at the foul line throughout his career, shot 32 free throws and made 28 on March 2, 1962. Added to his 36-of-63 field-goal shooting, the Dipper finished with 100 points against the Knicks in Hershey, Pa.
33. With a 134-90 spanking of the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 7, 1972, the Los Angeles Lakers won for the 33rd consecutive time, an NBA record.
34. In 34 road games in the NBA Finals, Milwaukee (4-1), Chicago (12-6) and San Antonio (7-4) are the only franchises with winning records. Everybody else is a combined 112-217, .340. That includes the Celtics (27-31, .466) and the Lakers (33-53, .384).
35. The Miami Heat didn't score 100 points in a game in 2001-02 until a 102-96 victory over the Lakers in L.A. on Jan. 16, 2002. Their streak of 35 games in double digits is the NBA's longest.
36. Total franchises played for by the NBA's three most-traveled performers: Chuck Brown (12 teams), Jim Jackson (12) and Tony Massenburg (12).
37. Fewest points, two teams, in an NBA game: Fort Wayne 19, Minneapolis 18 on Nov. 22, 1950.
38. Elgin Baylor averaged 38.3 points in 1961-62, the most in NBA history by anyone not named Wilt. But his average doesn't officially rate in the league's record book because Baylor, with military obligations, played only 48 games, squeezing in his appearances on weekends.
39. With Cavaliers coach Mike Brown focused more on the playoffs, he goes heavy with subs in Cleveland's final game and loses it in overtime to Philadelphia. As a result, the Cavs join four other teams in NBA history to finish with a 39-2 home record, rather than tying the 1985-86 Celtics at 40-1.
40. Bill Russell grabbed 40 rebounds, a Finals record, in Game 2 of the 1960 series against St. Louis. Two years later, in OT against the Lakers, he grabbed 40 again.
41. You say Dirk Nowitzki or Glen Rice, I say Wes Unseld. All of them wore No. 41.
42. Jerry West's team lost Game 7 of the 1969 Finals, but his 42 points, with 13 rebounds and 12 assists, earned him the inaugural Finals MVP trophy. He remains the only member of a losing team to win it.
43. Sacramento went the equivalent of a full road schedule (plus) without winning, losing its last 37 in 1991-92 and its first six in '92-93.
44. Kevin Willis -- born in September 1962 -- became the oldest player in league history, playing five games with Dallas in 2006-07 and averaging 2.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 8.6 minutes.
45. Jordan's alternate jersey number, worn briefly upon his return from Retirement No. 1 in the spring of 1995.
46. At All-Star weekend in Phoenix last season, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant scored a record 46 points in the Rookie Challenge, hitting 17-of-25 shots and earning MVP honors. That's four points more than Chamberlain scored in setting the All-Star Game record in 1962.
47. Wish Patrick Ewing (born Aug. 5, 1962) a happy one on Wednesday.
48. Blame it on the sun: New York (20) and Ft. Wayne (28) combined for the fewest rebounds, two teams, in an NBA game. The 1955 game was played on Valentine's Day in Miami.
49. Alaska, 49th in joining the United States, last in NBA players produced. Only Miami guard Mario Chalmers lists Alaska as his birthplace, as basketball-reference.com notes.
50. Dominique Wilkins, Bernard King, Bob McAdoo, Alex English and Bob Lanier were among those feeling a little snubbed when the NBA honored its alleged 50 Greatest Players at NBA All-Star weekend in Cleveland in 1997 (celebrating an anniversary almost as forced as this one).
51. Denver's Kiki Vandeweghe, with 51 points, holds bragging rights for the high individual scorer in the highest-scoring game in NBA history. In a 186-184 triple-overtime dazzler won by Detroit on Dec. 13, 1983, Isiah Thomas and Alex English each scored 47. John Long had 41 and Kelly Tripucka 35 for the Pistons, while Dan Issel chipped in 28 for the Nuggets. By the way, each team attempted just two three-pointers.
52. Larry Bird's playoff winning percentage (32-20, .615) as a head coach, in 52 games for Indiana, is better than Auerbach's (.589), Tom Heinsohn's (.588), K.C. Jones' (.587) and Bill Russell's (.557).
53. David Thompson scored 53 points in the first half, en route to 73, on the final day of the 1977-78 season, temporarily claiming the scoring title at 27.15 ppg. Seven hours later, though, San Antonio's George Gervin dropped in 63 -- 53 in the first half -- to finish at 27.22 ppg for the crown.
54. People actually thought the Utah Jazz, with home-court advantage and free from Finals jitters, had a chance to beat Chicago in 1998. Until Utah scored 54 points, an NBA playoff record low, in losing Game 3 at the United Center.
55. Grabbing 55 rebounds in a game always was a bigger thrill, Wilt Chamberlain said, than scoring 100 points. Probably because he did it against Boston and rival/friend Bill Russell on Nov. 24, 1960.
56. Who's the best ever to wear No. 56? Er, take your pick: Francisco Elson or Brandon Hunter?
57. In 1999, soon after winning their first NBA championship, the San Antonio Spurs selected Manu Ginobili with the No. 57 pick in the draft. It might be the best late pick in draft history.
58. When the 2008-09 season opened, there were 58 former ACC players on NBA rosters, more than from any other college conference.
59. While Philadelphia (9-73) was sputtering to the worst record in NBA history in 1972-73, the Boston Celtics were going 68-14. That left the Sixers 59 games behind in the Atlantic Division.
60. Candles on the NBA's birthday cake today.