The NBL started with thirteen previously independent teams in 1937. The league began as the Midwest Basketball Conference in 1935, but changed its name in 1937 in an attempt to attract a larger audience. The league was created by three corporations: General Electric,Firestone and Goodyear. It was primarily made up of Great Lakes area small-market and corporate teams. The NBL lasted twelve years before merging with the three-year-old Basketball Association of America in 1949, with the resulting combination being renamed the National Basketball Association.

The league began rather informally. Scheduling was left to the discretion of each of the nine teams, as long as the team played at least ten games and four of them were on the road. Games consisted either of four ten-minute quarters or three fifteen-minute periods. The choice was made by the home team. Some of the teams were independent, while others were owned by companies that also found jobs for their players.

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