The History of AAU Basketball

There were members of the National Association of Amateur Athletes of America (NAAAA) who weren't too pleased with the way things were going. So on Oct. 1, 1887, they met and did something about it.

What came of it was the formation of the Amateur Athletic Union on Jan. 1, 1888. Sports in the United States haven't been the same since.

Today, the AAU is best-known for its youth basketball opportunities, but the history of the organization is a lot more complicated than that. For many decades, the AAU was tied in tight with most non-professional athletic endeavors, including college and Olympic sports.

The AAU conducted the first National Men's Basketball Championship in 1897. The 23rd Street YMCA out of New York City won that crown. The first AAU Women's National Basketball Championship started in 1926 and was won by the Pasadena Athletic and Country Club.

From there, AAU basketball has grown and grown. But the AAU evolved into what it is today back in the 1970s, thanks to a few landmark moments:

  • The first boys and girls national championships were organized by the AAU in 1972. By the end of the decade, there were six age group championships under the AAU umbrella.
  • In 1978, Congress passed the Amateur Sports Act, which had a huge impact on how the AAU would operate. Under the act, a national governing body was set up for each Olympic sport, which basically removed the AAU from those powers. The AAU then refocused its efforts largely toward youth sports, which is still the case today.

With that, AAU basketball had a sharper focus, and its tremendous growth was on the horizon. Through the 1980s, membership grew and youth basketball was a big reason why. By 1989, the AAU had 13 age group national championships.

The NCAA did its part in adding appeal to AAU basketball. A restructuring of the NCAA recruiting calendar put an emphasis on summer basketball over traditional high school ball. That put the attention of summer hoops into the stratosphere. Non-AAU summer tournaments started to pop up all over the country, and AAU tournaments like the Super Showcase started to mirror evaluation windows for college coaches. Summer basketball has since been commonly referred to as "AAU basketball" even though only a small percentage of summer events are actually affiliated with the AAU.

The AAU headquarters moved to its present home in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in 1994, when the AAU and Walt Disney World agreed to a 30-year alliance. As part of that alliance, many of AAU's national championships in many sports are played at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista.

Today, AAU administers 32 different sports, but basketball is king. Close to 50 percent of more than 1.1 million AAU memberships are for basketball.

It's a startling number that AAU founders couldn't have possibly envisioned more than 120 years ago.

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