A History of Basketball in Baltimore and Maryland

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Many consider Baltimore to not be much of a basketball city, and Maryland to not be much of a basketball state. Still, contrary to this belief, baseball and football are the sports of choice for most who reside in the state. It also doesn’t stop people from following basketball, both at the NBA level and at lower tiers like semi-pro and college teams.

With March Madness down to the final four of the NCAA tournaments, the country’s eyes will begin to switch focus to the NBA Championship. Without an NBA team, Maryland basketball fans are left with a choice of either supporting the Washington Wizards or the Philadelphia 76ers, neither of which a great choice, according to odds comparison website Oddschecker, as both teams rank as outsiders for winning the 2019 NBA Championship.

Unfortunately, the 76ers and the Wizards share the same fate as the historical NBA teams that have called Baltimore their home. Here is a look at the history of basketball in the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland.

Baltimore Bullets

The Baltimore Bullets were a professional basketball team based in the city from their founding in 1944. They took their name from the Old Baltimore Shot Tower in downtown Jonestown of East Baltimore, which was the tallest structure in the United States at the time of its construction in 1828. They started out in the American Basketball League (ABL), one of the early professional basketball leagues in the United States, and they played in the ABL for three years until 1947, when they joined the Basketball Association of America (BAA).

The Baltimore Bullets won their one and only championship in 1948 when they topped the table of the BAA. The BAA then merged with another professional league, the National Basketball League, in 1949. That created the National Basketball Association (NBA) that we know today, making Baltimore one of its original teams.

After 11 years of playing basketball, the Baltimore Bullets folded in the 1954-55 season, leaving the city without a top-level basketball team. That collapse is historical, as it is the only championship winning team in NBA history to have folded. In 1963, this changed, and the Baltimore Bullets returned to the city after the team previously known as the Chicago Packers, and then the Chicago Zephyrs moved to the Maryland capital. In their first year, the team finished fourth and out five teams in their league division. They later turned this bad form around, winning the division title in 1971, 1972 and 1973 as well as the conference title in 1971.

After the 1973 era, the team moved out of Baltimore to Washington, changing its name to the Capital Bullets and then the Washington Bullets, and finally, the Washington Wizards in 1997. The move to Washington signified the end of NBA basketball in Baltimore.

Baltimore Claws

The Baltimore Claws are a mere footnote in the city’s basketball history, collapsing before their inaugural ABA season began in 1975. The Claws had played three non-league games before the season began, losing in each. The team’s owners had originally wanted to call the team the Baltimore Hustlers but had to change the name to the Claws.

Baltimore Bayrunners

Another more recent footnote, the Baltimore Bayrunners were a professional team that entered into the short-lived International Basketball League (IBL). The IBL only existed for two seasons, closing in 2001, and the Baltimore Bayrunners managed to only play in one of these before also collapsing. The team could not secure new investors to fund their 2001-01 season, and ultimately, folded along with a team from San Diego.

Baltimore is a city that has a long history of basketball, with top-tier, professional teams calling it home for many years since 1994. However, these teams have struggled both on the court and off it, with the majority of them suffering from limited-match success and financial problems. Such is apparent by the fact that they have only a handful of division and championship wins between them. Perhaps the future will bring better luck in that department.