The concept of a professional organization for NBA beat writers and other men and women who cover professional basketball was first discussed in the early 1970s.
Working conditions were exceedingly difficult. Pro basketball was growing in popularity, and news coverage was expanding. But it was hard for even the most dedicated beat person to perform his or her job. The NBA did not have a firm policy on access to locker rooms, team practices, players or administrators. Some teams were cooperative. Others were not. Cooperation often depended on the mood of a coach, player or general manager on a given day.
Something had to be done to protect the rights of the reporters covering the game.
The first formal meeting of what was to become the PBWAA (Professional Basketball Writers Association of America) was held during All-Star Weekend on January 18, 1972, at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, Calif. A year later, on January 23, 1973, the PBWAA formally was organized during a meeting at the O’Hare Hyatt Regency. Bob Logan of the Chicago Tribune was a driving force. Officers were elected and a constitution was adopted. With the addition of the teams in Canada in 1995, the PBWAA dropped the ”of America” and became known as the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
The first PBWA president was Joe Gilmartin of the Phoenix Gazette. Bob Logan was elected vice president and Mike Janofsky of The Baltimore Evening Sun was elected secretary-treasurer. Leonard Koppett of The New York Times formulated and wrote the constitution, which was patterned after the document used by the baseball writers organization.
Working first with Commissioner J. Walter Kennedy, later with Larry O’Brien and then David Stern, the PBWA has made enormous strides. Working conditions, including press seating and pre- and post-game access to locker rooms improved considerably. We continue to foster a mutually cordial relationship with the commissioner’s office and the league’s media relations staff.
The PBWA conducts an annual contest for writers that recognizes the best work of its members. It was originally underwritten by the Phillips Petroleum Company, but that relationship ended in the 1980s. The contest was first named for Dan Blumenthal, who was the PBWAA secretary-treasurer from 1980-83, but was later changed as a memorial to late members.
The organization currently presents four annual awards. Since 1975, the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, named for the late commissioner, has been presented to the coach, player or trainer who has given freely of his time to promote charitable works. In 2001, the PBWA inaugurated the Magic Johnson Award, which is presented annually to the player who best combines excellence on the basketball court with cooperation and exemplary behavior with the media and the public, and in 2011 a similar award for coaches was created, the Rudy Tomjanovich Award. Since 2007, the Brian McIntyre Award, named for the long-time public relations director of the league, has been presented to an NBA PR staff that exemplifies standards of professionalism and excellence worthy of acclaim.
Certainly, a great deal remains to be done as coverage of the NBA changes and expands. Meanwhile, the PBWA continues to promote cooperation and fraternity among its members, strives to maintain high standards of journalism and pursues its original goal of of improved working conditions for its membership.
This history of the Professional Basketball Writers Association was originally written in 1987 by William Halls. It was subsequently updated in 2007 by Sam Smith. In 2013, it was updated by Mary Schmitt Boyer.