Clifton was the first black player to sign an NBA contract.

The NBA went from an unwieldy 17-team league to a more manageable 11 teams in two divisions, with Minneapolis, Rochester and Fort Wayne reverting to the Western Division. The Eastern Division began the season with six teams, but Washington, which had lost Coach Red Auerbach a year earlier, disbanded after going 10-25.

The season also marked the first appearance of black players in the league. Chuck Cooper became the first black player to be drafted when he was chosen by Boston; Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton became the first to sign an NBA contract when he signed with New York, and Earl Lloyd became the first to play in an NBA regular-season game because the schedule had his Washington team opening one day before the others.

Philadelphia won the East by 2½ games, while Minneapolis bested Rochester by three games in the West. The Playoffs were a different story, however. New York blitzed Boston and barely edged Syracuse to reach the Finals, while Rochester, behind 6-9 Arnie Risen and backcourt star Bob Davies, defeated Fort Wayne and finally overcame Minneapolis to meet the Knicks in the Finals. For the first time, the NBA Finals came down to a seventh game and Rochester prevailed 79-75, in a close, exciting finale.

Chuck Cooper joined Red Auerbach in Boston.

When Rochester took the first three games of the 1951 Finals, a quick knockout seemed in order. But the Knicks stormed back, winning three games by margins of six, three and seven points to send the series to a seventh and deciding game in Rochester.

The Royals led by as many as 16 points during the first half, but the Knicks battled back to take a two-point lead with two minutes to go. With 40 seconds left and the score tied, Davies was fouled on a drive to the basket and sank two free throws. The Royals hung on for a 79-75 victory, and temporarily interrupted the Minneapolis dynasty.