The changes in the system to add talents were part of the gradual opening that the American basketball league had.
The Draft of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the system for choosing new players facing the season to begin, had an evolution in the more than seven decades that it has been in force that allowed him to break down sports, social and even geographical barriers that allowed the United States league to be the best in the world.
The first NBA Draft was held on July 1, 1947, prior to the second season of the competition that had had a small structure of only eleven teams and counted as the first champion the Philadelphia Warriors.
Just before that second edition of the American Basketball League there was a cut in the number of franchises, which was reduced to eight. And it still wasn’t the NBA, but at that time it was called BAA (Basketball Association of America).
The first number one of the Draft was Cliifton McNeely, a veteran of World War II that on his return he entered Texas Wesleyan University, where his outstanding performances on the basketball team led him to be chosen by the Pittsburgh Ironmen.
However, he resigned from being a professional before signing his contract, which was also an indication of how still unattractive the brand-new league could be at the time: McNeely prioritized raising a family and dedicating himself to being a college basketball coach.
An analogous situation happened four years later, when the Baltimore Bullets drafted Gene Melchiorre as the first draft pick in 1951, but he never played pro. In this case, the particularity occurred because the 1.73-meter base was suspended for life when it was discovered that he had participated in match fixing in his college days to obtain advantages in betting.
Thus, McNeely and Melchiorre have been, until now, the only top two draft picks that didn’t make it to the NBA.
The first great figure to emerge from the draft was Dolph Schayes, a 6-foot power forward chosen by the Syracuse Nationals in fourth place in 1948; was champion of the NBA In the 54-55 season, he played twelve times in the All Star Game and in 1973 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Since 1949 the NBA was institutionalized, with the merger of the BAA and the NBL (National Basketball League), which had been founded in 1937. The new league maintained a policy to promote regionalism: the ‘territorial choice’ allowed teams to choose to players who came from the universities closest to the city of the franchise.
This modality was maintained until 1965. Thus, great stars of those times were chosen by franchises close to the university in which they had developed: Wilt Chamberlain, who came from Kansas, was signed in 1959 by the Philadelphia Warriors; then they followed figures like Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals in 1960), Jerry Lucas (Cincinnati Royals in 1962) or Dave DeBusschere (Detroit Pistons in 1962).
In the 1950 Draft the first black player was chosen: Chuck Cooper joined the Boston Celtics through Red Auerbach, a glory of the New England franchise that built the multi-champion team in the 1950s and 1960s. a foundational step in the NBA, which was beginning to break the barrier of racism that had marked professional basketball in its first years of competition.
In 1953 there was another advance in the integration of blacks into the league: Walter Dukes was the territorial choice of the New York Knicks, while Ray Felix was the first number one in the Draft, selected by the Baltimore Bullets.
It took until 1970 for the first foreigners to be included in the election: one was Manuel Raga, selected in 167th place in the tenth round by the Atlanta Hawks, although he never played in the NBA, but continued his career in Italy, where he was recognized as the Flying Mexican for his jumping ability (he rose 1.10 meters) and Varese, his team, paid him much better contracts than those offered in the United States.
The Hawks also opted that same year for the Italian Dino Meneghin, who was the first European booked to play in the NBA, but he also did not play in the United States.
Darryll Dawkins, in 1975, was the first player to jump from high school directly to the NBA: from Maynard Evans in Orlando, his hometown, he passed the Philadelphia Sixers, who selected him in fifth place. Other notable cases over time were Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, but the first No. 1 in the draft since high school was Kwane Brown, a very underperforming center who entered the league with the Washington Wizards.
In 1978, a non-American player was chosen for the first time in the first round of the draft, Bahamian Mychal Thompson. The following year, in 1979, Earvin Magic Johnson was the first player who had not completed four years of college to be selected by an NBA team: the Los Angeles Lakers signed him from Michigan State University.