Why Are There 82 Games in an NBA Season?
Wilson Basketball
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA has gone through major changes in recent years, including updating the rulebook and introducing a Play-In Tournament, among other adjustments. But when it comes to NBA’s length of season, the league has been very conservative.

How many NBA games were played in the 1980s season? The answer is: Just as many as these days. The NBA has kept its basketball season length 82-game format for decades, even as the number of participating teams more than doubled along the way.

Below, find out how the NBA’s season history format has changed since the league’s establishment over 75 years ago.

When Did the NBA Go to 82 Games?

The NBA basketball tournaments introduced the 82-game format in 1967-68, more than 20 years after the league’s volatile beginnings. This change in the number of games was not without controversy.

From the launch of the Basketball Association of America (BBA) in 1946, through its merger with the National Basketball League (NBL) that led to the creation of the NBA in 1949, until the near dawn of the Minnesota Lakers’ dynasty in the early 1950s, teams played from 48 to 71 games a season.

The schedule changed frequently, as franchises kept joining and leaving the newly-created Association. Some didn’t stand the test of time and folded soon after they were created. The number of participating times differed each year, ranging from eight to 17 franchises.

The NBA reached a level of stability in 1953-54 when the Lakers competed against eight other sides to win their fifth — and last — NBA finals championship of the Minneapolis era. The league set the length of season to 72 games that year, which would remain in place for half a decade.

Barring the collapse of the Baltimore Bullets in 1954, the last NBA team to fold, the league would only grow in size from then on. But even before the Association’s rapid expansion began in the late 1960s, the schedule had already ballooned to 80 games per season in 1961.

The NBA added another fixture to the calendar in 1966, the year of the Chicago Bulls’ debut. Then, the San Diego Rockets (now based out of Houston) and the Seattle SuperSonics (which would become the Oklahoma City Thunder) joined the league for the following season.

Now consisting of 12 teams, the NBA set on the 82-game schedule ahead of the 1967-68 campaign, which would remain in place for half a century — and counting

Special Circumstances That Changed the Length of a Season

Even though the NBA has stuck with the 82-game schedule since 1967, special circumstances have forced the league to shorten the schedule on a few occasions in the past.

Disagreements between the Association and the players have been responsible for two truncated seasons. As the NBA and NBPA couldn’t agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in time to begin games as scheduled, the league went into lockouts in 1998 and 2011. Although the two seasons would eventually take place after the new deals were finally struck, the NBA had to come up with an alternative, condensed schedule to account for a delayed start of games.

In the end, the 1998-99 season consisted of 50 games; 13 years later, the NBA managed to squeeze in 66 fixtures in the 2011-12 calendar.

More recently, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the Association to deviate from an 82-game schedule in back-to-back seasons between 2020 and 2021. The 2019-20 campaign restarted after an over four-month hiatus in late July — with 22 franchises participating in the NBA restart in the Orlando bubble.

The invited teams played only eight seeding games before the 2020 NBA Playoffs commenced, taking the total number of regular-season fixtures to 75 that year.

After the shortest offseason in NBA history, the 2020-21 campaign began in December 2020, more than two months after the original start date. While drawing up the schedule, the league had to take into consideration that the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo had been moved to July 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having a limited time to finish the season, the NBA adopted a 72-game format that year, before returning to an 82-game schedule in 2021-22.

What NBA Player Has Played the Most 82 Game Seasons?

Staying healthy over the course of 82 games requires exceptional endurance from players — and some luck when it comes to injuries. Only four players have managed to play the full 82 games in 10 or more NBA seasons. Randy Smith and Karl Malone are tied for third with 10 on the all-time list.

A.C. Green ranks second with 14, two short of John Stockton’s record. Stockton managed to make 82 appearances in 16 of his 19 seasons in the NBA, never playing fewer than 50 games in a campaign.

However, Green tops the list of players who put up the most 82-game seasons for the Lakers, doing so eight times in his nine-year spell with L.A. Derek Fisher ranks second with seven and Michael Cooper third with six 82-appearance campaigns to his name.

Will an NBA Season Always Have 82 Games?

Although there have been calls for shortening the NBA schedule, the league doesn’t seem interested in cutting down on the number of regular-season games anytime soon. If anything, the league has increased the number of fixtures for certain teams through the introduction of the Play-In Tournament in 2019-20 — further extending NBA season length by one to two games for the participants.

The tournament takes place after the regular season concludes and before the playoffs start. Starting from 2020-21, it involves teams ranked sixth through 10th in the final standings. The winner of the clash between the ninth and tenth-placed teams in each conference faces the loser of the game between the sixth and seventh-placed teams — hence adding two extra fixtures to their schedules before the postseason commences.

Furthermore, there have been reports claiming the NBA could roll out an In-Season Tournament in the future, which could earn the winning team $1 million in prize money per player.

Why Are There So Many Basketball Games?

That’s the question more and more people in and around the NBA ask, particularly as many of its stars have suffered serious injuries in the past few years. But it appears that even if the league finally decides to amend the format after all these years — particularly as rumors about the league potentially expanding again in the future come up from time to time — the teams are unlikely to play fewer games anytime soon.

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