SB Nation

Tom Ziller | October 23, 2014

20 maps that explain the NBA


    Old School

  1. The Original NBA

    Here's a good reminder of just how different the United States looked just 65 years ago: the population centers were primarily found on the Eastern seaboard, in the Great Lakes region and along the Mississippi River. In the 1950 NBA, the state of Indiana had three teams and Iowa was on the league map. Iowa! Note that two "modern" teams aren't quite what they seem. These Denver Nuggets folded after a couple of years. The ABA later created a new Denver franchise eventually called the Nuggets. The same thing applies to these Baltimore Bullets -- they didn't become the modern Washington Wizards, they folded early on. In fact, the Anderson Packers are the ancestral forefathers of the Wizards, as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks eventually became the modern Atlanta Hawks. And yes, the NBA has an unfortunate Native American mascot in its deep past. The Sheboygan franchise mercifully folded after one season.

  2. The End of the ABA

    The beloved ABA went out more with a whimper than a bang. It's easy to forget that the ABA entered its final pre-merger season with only nine teams, and that two of them -- the San Diego Sails and Utah Stars -- folded early in the campaign, leaving the NBA's rival with just seven squads. When the merger was formalized in 1976, the NBA brought over just four teams, the Spurs, Pacers, Nets and Nuggets. But San Diego and Salt Lake City soon became basketball towns again: the Buffalo Braves became the Clippers and spent a few years in S.D., and the New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah. Virginia, Kentucky and St. Louis remain without top-level pro teams.

  3. A History of Relocation

    There has been a lot of relocation in the NBA's history, and not all of it in the distant past. This map shows all of the moves since 1951, when the Tri-Cities Hawks moved to Milwaukee after one season in Moline, Illinois. (We're counting 1950 as the birth of the actual NBA; the Blackhawks actually played in a lesser version in the NBA in 1949, and had originally come to Illinois from Buffalo.) Both those Hawks and the Kings have moved three times -- the Hawks went Moline to Milwaukee to St. Louis to Atlanta, while the Kings went from Rochester to Cincinnati to Kansas City to Sacramento. (And nearly to Anaheim or Seattle after that.) But the furthest move can be claimed by the Warriors, who in 1962 moved from Philadelphia to the Bay Area, a 2,900-mile jaunt. A year later, Philly landed the Syracuse Nationals, who became the 76ers. We didn't include the Nets' slip from New Jersey to Brooklyn because the Nets had practically been in New York all along. As such, the shortest relocation we count: when the Bullets moved 38 miles from Baltimore to D.C. in 1973.

  4. Divisional Territory

    Here's a graphical explanation of where the six NBA divisions sit. Unlike some other sports, the divisions actually mostly make sense. We've colored in all states with at least one team from a given division, plus given them territory for any adjacent state without an NBA team that is not also adjacent to an NBA state. For example, South Carolina has no NBA team, but it borders both North Carolina and Georgia, which have teams in the Southeast, so South Carolina is part of the NBA's Southeast region. Nevada, on the other hand, borders both Pacific Division states and Northwest Division states, so it stays neutral. The oddest division is the Northwest, and for one reason: the Sonics' rebirth of the Thunder in 2008. (Well, Minnesota being so far afield doesn't help much either.)


  5. Where They're From

  6. The Early Generations of American Players

    The next two pieces are heat maps showing where American NBA players are born. This one covers players born prior to 1945, which covers just about everyone whose career began prior to about 1966. Part of the story of this map is where the American population used to be concentrated: in the Northeast and Great Lakes region. But the dispersion in the Indiana-Illinois-Ohio area is rather interesting. A good number of players came out of the Cincinnati, St. Louis and Indianapolis areas, nearly as many as came out of L.A. or the Bay Area. Also interesting here is that the Northwest might as well not be on the map, and Dallas reigns supreme as a breeding ground in Texas, though even it doesn't match up with the midwestern cities.

  7. The Newest Generations of American Players

    Fast forward a few decades, and everything changes. This heat map covers players born since 1980, or everyone who started their careers around 1999 or later. New York and Philly still produce a lot of players, but a few other regions have popped into prominence: the DMV (D.C., Maryland and Virginia) and L.A. For the latter, population growth explains a lot of it. L.A. has almost tripled in size since 1940, while NYC has only grown about 11 percent over that span. The DMV has also seen increased population, but its basketball production has exceeded that measure. In this map you can also see the rise of the Seattle and Atlanta areas, a nice base for southern Louisiana and Houston's effort to join Dallas as a big producer of NBA talent. One of the more striking things is how few recent players come out of Kentucky given that state's love affair with the sport.

  8. Europe-Born NBA Players

    This map shows the birthplaces of all Europe-born NBA players ever. The highest concentrations can be found in the Adriatic nations (better known as the former Yugoslavia) and in Western Germany. Many of those German-born players are actually Americans whose parents were stationed in West Germany in the post-war and Cold War years. Spain has produced relatively few NBA players given its international status, and Russia isn't a huge producer either. France and Italy do their share for the Old World. One sensible theory as to why the Adriatic nations are so out in front in producing NBA players is due the a higher average height in the region. Unfortunately, global average height data is totally lacking. It's a great theory, though.

  9. Africa-Born NBA Players

    Africa hasn't produced too many NBA players, though a few of them -- Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Luol Deng and Serge Ibaka -- have been great. This is an arena the NBA will be seeking to expand its influence in for decades to come, especially given how many international soccer stars hail from the continent. College programs also play a role here, as they have recruited in Nigeria and Cameroon over the years. Most NBA players from Africa come from the western half of the continent; South Sudan is an exception, and Hasheem Thabeet is the league's only player from Tanzania. Note that east Africa is the birthplace of most elite distance runners. Those notable East Africans tend to be slight and short, whereas the Africans who have made the league are almost universally very tall.

  10. NBA Players From Latin America

    Some 71 players born in Latin America have played in an NBA game. We're going with a loose definition of Latin America, incorporating Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Brazil has produced the biggest number of NBA players in the region, but Puerto Rico's NBA production is perhaps most impressive. The island territory has seven NBA products, more than in nine U.S. states. Argentina, Jamaica and Dominican Republic have also produced a strong number of NBA players.

  11. The Sparse NBA Landscape In Asia

    It's important to remember that despite the NBA's in-roads in Asia, very few players come from the continent. Only 10 players with NBA experience were born in Asia, and two were born to American parents living overseas. Yao Ming is the most famous players from China, and though he raised the profile of the sport an incredible amount in his nation, few have followed him to the NBA. The league has seen one Korean (Ha Seung-Jin, most famous for his fight with teammate Ruben Patterson in Portland) and one Japanese player (the indelible Yuta Tabuse). The next Asian NBA player might be Zhou Qi, a 7'2 Chinese center born in 1996 who turned down a few college offers to play in the CBA. He'll be draft-eligible in 2015.

  12. God Save The Queen

    The Commonwealth realms are nations who claim Queen Elizabeth II as their constitutional monarch. There are 16 Commonwealth realms, and seven of them have produced NBA players, led by Canada's 21. (That doesn't include rookies like Andrew Wiggins without a game under their belts.) Australia has been a solid NBA producer since the early 1990s, while Canada's boom has been fairly recent with multiple lottery picks (Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Nik Stauskas) hailing from north of the border. The United Kingdom hasn't been known for producing star basketballers --another island nation in the Commonwealth, Jamaica, is in fact nearly the U.K.'s equal. If you can name the sole NBA player from St. Vincent and the Grenadines without looking, you are truly unstoppable.

  13. Champions Of The World

    The 2014 Spurs were truly champions of the world. The 15 players who earned rings hail from nine different countries, and that doesn't even include Tim Duncan's native Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory. With two South Americans, a New Zealander, an Aussie, three Europeans, a Canadian and seven Americans, the Spurs definitely boasted one of the league's most diverse rosters ever. In a mildly interesting note, all six mainland Americans hail from southern California or a state beginning with the word "New."

  14. The College Life

    This map shows where every stateside lottery pick since 2006 went to college. (Obviously it doesn't include international players who skipped college or Brandon Jennings.) Kansas is the king since the age minimum went into effect, with 10 lottery picks produced by Bill Self. But the state of North Carolina is the cradle of high draft picks, with 15 prospects going to school at one of the five colleges on the list there. (Apologies for the map in that area -- fitting them all was obviously a challenge. The same applies to the state of Kentucky.) Other interesting notes: California schools really don't produce a ton of prospects any more, Utah's universities have produced as many lottery picks as those in Illinois and taken in combination with the birthplace map, the Southeast really should not land this many top prospects.


  15. Whimsy

  16. Where Kobe Scores The Most

    Kobe Bryant has 133 career games with at least 40 points. Some 81 of those have come in Los Angeles. This map illustrates where the rest of them happened. One interesting note is that Kobe has four 40-pointers in Seattle despite the Sonics disappearing in 2008. That shows that most of these 40-point games came in Kobe's younger days. It's also interesting that Bryant has three 40-pointers in both New York and Boston, same as in Sacramento and Oakland. This despite Kobe's Lakers playing in other California cities twice as frequently as in one of the Gardens most years. Chalk that up to L.A.'s Finals matchups against Boston and the fact that the Mamba tends to rise to the occasion under the brightest lights.

  17. California Un-Love

    Here's a map to illustrate how awesome the Lakers have been basically forever, in addition to how bad the other three California teams have been. All four teams were born elsewhere, but this map only includes data from when each team moved west. Twelve championships have been won by NBA teams in California; the Lakers have 11 of them. The Lakers have 23 of the 29 Pacific Division titles claimed by the California teams, and a .682 winning percentage within the state. In particular, the Lakers' historical dominance of the Clippers and Kings is astounding. What's sad about the weakness of the group is that the regional rivalries have floundered. The Warriors and Kings have never both made the postseason in the same year, and the Clippers and Lakers are rarely both good at the same time. (Mainly because the Clippers have rarely been good.)

  18. Hail To The Champs

    Over the past 25 years, only eight franchises have won NBA titles. Here they all are. The first one listed is the Pistons in 1989 -- they also won in 1988 if you extend this back 26 years. The Bulls, Lakers and Spurs account for 16 of the 25 titles just themselves (so selfish), and the state of Texas has eight. Surely the league office would like to see this map in 2039 have a lot more logos: heavy generational dominance by a few markets seems counter to the drive for competitive balance. But fans in Chicago, Texas or L.A. surely don't mind how the system's been working.

  19. The Drew Gooden Tour

    The Platonic ideal of a modern NBA journeyman, Drew Gooden has played for 10 franchises in his 12 seasons. This map shows his path to Washington, where he figures to be somewhere between useful and an afterthought in his second season with the Wizards. His longest stop was in Cleveland, where he spent 3-1/2 seasons before being traded in the Ben Wallace deal. His shortest reign: one game in Sacramento after the Brad Miller/John Salmons deal. The Kings cut him lose after one game, and he later signed with the Spurs. That one game as a King was glorious, though, with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes. So glorious he still ranks No. 7 in Sacramento franchise history in PER.

  20. Rodeo Trippin'

    The Spurs have completed 12 "Rodeo Trips" now. The annual sojourn is meant to bring San Antonio down a notch as the team leaves home for up to a month in February. But somehow the Spurs manage to steamroll through the challenge most seasons. This map shows how many times San Antonio has stopped in each city on the Rodeo Trip and the team's record in each arena. Note that the Spurs have a losing record in only two Rodeo Trip stops: Philadelphia and Miami. They are at least .500 everywhere else they have stopped. Overall, the Spurs are 71-29 on the Rodeo Trip. That's just unfair.

  21. Texas Triangle

    One of the best regional rivalries in the league is the three-way battle of Texas. While visitors loathe to hit all three stops on a road trip, the trio itself has a history of internal bruising. Thanks to a dominant 15-year run, the Spurs can claim a winning record against each rival and the most championships. The Mavericks and Rockets are, amazingly, tied up in the all-time series heading into this season. Houston had one more title, though not as much recent success as Dallas. Texas is for winners, apparently.

  22. Shooting Across The Bay

    Stephen Curry has hit 969 career three-pointers in the NBA. Assuming an average distance of 24 feet, his successful threes have spanned 23,256 feet. The Bay Bridge, which connects Oakland to San Francisco, spans 23,556 feet. That means that Steph has almost shot his way across the entire bridge. He'll need 13 more three-pointers to do it, which means he has this locked up by like the second quarter of the Warriors' second game. At this rate, he'll be in the Caldecott Tunnel by 2017 and halfway to Nevada by the time his career ends.

About the Author

I write and publish Good Morning It's Basketball, an independent newsletter on the Substack platform.