Fantasy basketball’s history is a bit different than the history of other fantasy sports. Where fantasy football has its origins in the 1960s and fantasy baseball began its life as the “Rotisserie league,” fantasy basketball was a bit of an outlier. It was created, in part, as an adaptation of the other types of rotisserie games being played.
Today, we’re taking a quick look at a brief history of fantasy basketball. Its development, the major events that occurred to lead to its creation and the advent of the internet. Let’s talk basketball!
In the early 80’s, Daniel Okrent created a set of rules for a type of game that would be the template for fantasy baseball. The premise of the game was that players would take the role of team owners in a fictional league, picking real baseball players and scoring points based on how those players performed in the real world. The connection to the present day made the new game a hit among Okrent’s friends.
A friend of Okrent’s named Glenn Waggoner introduced the game to some students at Columbia University where he worked. The students then rapidly spread the game among their friends. Waggoner published the official rules, thus bringing the hobby to national attention.
As rotisserie baseball grew in popularity, many authors found its rules could be converted to make other fantasy rule sets. As such, rotisserie rules for football, hockey and basketball were also penned, with some minor adjustments for the sports in question. In those days, fans of fantasy sports had to organize and play in person.
Since the internet wasn’t exactly popular in the late 80’s, stats had to be compiled through newspapers and sports magazines. Keeping up with the teams in the various fantasy leagues had to be done by hand. Commissioners of fantasy leagues had to devote tons of hours each week to manually tally scores and keep track of which players were being traded, picked up on waivers, etc.
Understandably, the logistics of playing fantasy sports by pen and paper limited its popularity significantly. Many casual sports fans couldn’t justify spending hours every week keeping up with sports stats and minutiae. Even some enthusiasts who loved the idea might have lived in an area that didn’t have any fantasy leagues around to play in.
These obstacles affected all fantasy sports, not just fantasy basketball. However, the relative popularity of basketball wasn’t quite at the level of football or baseball, which further marginalized the fantasy hobby.
However, by the mid 90’s, two things happened. The first was that basketball saw a huge uptick in popularity, thanks in part to the stellar personality of Michael Jordan. The second was that the Internet became an easily-accessible way to organize fantasy leagues. Access to like-minded hobbyists and stats made the popularity of fantasy sports in general explode.
Basketball was one of the many sports that benefited from this increase in attention from fantasy sports. By 2000, most major sports networks had their own fantasy leagues dedicated to all types of fantasy sports. The rest is history you’re likely already familiar with.