The number of officials is reduced from three to two following a one-season experiment with three-man officiating crews. The three-official system will be re-adopted permanently for the 1988–89 season.
The Kansas City Kings are forced to play most of the season at the Municipal Auditorium after the roof at Kemper Arena collapses due to high wind on June 4, 1979. The Kings played the 1972–73 and 1973–74 seasons at Municipal Auditorium while splitting their home schedule between Kansas City and Omaha.
This was the first season the NBA had a cable television partner. The USA Network signed a three-year, 1.5 million dollar deal.
Magic Johnson's and Larry Bird's rookie season, the 1979–80 season is considered, by many, to be the birth of the modern game. Playing an up tempo style, the NBA appealed to a wider audience.
Darryl Dawkins broke two backboards: one at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium on November 13, 1979, and a second backboard 23 days later at the Philadelphia Spectrum. Because his dunks resulted in delays while teams went to find another backboard, the NBA eventually modified their basketball rims to make them collapsible.
Former NBA official and CBS analyst Mendy Rudolph died on July 4, 1979. All NBA referee shirts sport the No. 5 patch in his honor, and it was retired permanently.
Finishing 16–66, the Detroit Pistons suffer the worst NBA record since the infamous 1972–73 76ers won only nine games. In between, no team had won fewer than 22 in a season, but expansion and the availability of more-skilled players from overseas made such poor records more common in subsequent seasons.
Teams in bold advanced to the next round. The numbers to the left of each team indicate the team's seeding in its conference, and the numbers to the right indicate the number of games the team won in that round. The division champions are marked by an asterisk. Home court advantage does not necessarily belong to the higher-seeded team, but instead the team with the better regular season record; teams enjoying the home advantage are shown in italics.
^See Berri, David J., Brook, Stacey L., Frick, Bernd, Fenn, Aju J. and Vicente-Mayoral, Roberto; ‘The Short Supply of Tall People: Competitive Imbalance and the National Basketball Association’; Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Dec., 2005), pp. 1029–1041