This was the final season for the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte, as they would relocate to New Orleans for the following season. However, the NBA added an expansion team to Charlotte in time for the 2004–05 NBA season. In 2013, the now New Orleans Pelicans announced they would relinquished their name and history to the new Charlotte team beginning in the 2014–15 season. Therefore, the official NBA record now states that the Charlotte NBA franchise suspended operations for two years at the conclusion of this season.
This was the last season that both NBC and TBS televised NBA games.
NBA teams wore patches on their jerseys with the American flag and a red-white-and-blue ribbon, in honor of the victims of the September 11 attacks. The Raptors wore the American and Canadian flags on theirs.
The only Canadian team left in the NBA, the Toronto Raptors, after losing seventeen of eighteen to drop to 30–38, win twelve of their last fourteen to finish at 42–40 and go to the NBA playoffs as the seventh seed in the East.
The New Jersey Nets, who had never won fifty games in a season and had only been to the second round of the playoffs once, won 52 games to reach the Finals. With the Nets appearing in the Finals, the Denver Nuggets remain as of 2016–17 only former ABA team to have never reached the NBA Finals.
2001–02 is one of the most memorable in the history of the Milwaukee Bucks. The team got off to a division-leading 26–13 start, and were 10 games over .500 as late as March 6. However, the Bucks would proceed to lose 16 of their last 22 games and miss the playoffs, one of the biggest late-season collapses for a team that was contending for a division title in March.
For the first time since 1985–86, no team won fewer than twenty games. The Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors both shared the league's worst record at 21–61. This had however previous occurred every season from 1973–74 to 1978–79 and from 1983–84 to 1985–86.
Former All-Star Jayson Williams was charged with the murder of his limo driver on February 14. He was immediately fired from his spot on NBC's Verizon Wireless at the Half shortly after appearing on TV during the All-Star Game the previous week.
Marv Albert and Mike Fratello were involved in a limousine crash prior to the start of the 2002 Playoffs and were unable to announce for NBC. Albert returned to announce the 2002 Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals.
The 2002 NBA Playoffs featured several controversial last-second shots. During Game 4 of the series between the Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic, Baron Davis hit a three-pointer at the buzzer that should have counted, but was waved off. Later, Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers was awarded a game-tying three-pointer from half-court against the New Jersey Nets that should not have counted, but was. In the Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers, Lakers forward Samaki Walker hit a three-pointer to end the half that should not have counted (the three points would later haunt the Kings as Robert Horry won the game on a last second shot). After the playoffs ended, it was decided that instant replay was needed in the NBA. In addition, the NBA installed red light beams on the backboard to determine the end of the shot clock and/or the game clock.
This season marked the first time the league's scoring leader (in this case Allen Iverson) failed to make the All-NBA First Team.
This was the last season the NBA Playoffs first round format was a best of five game series, it was changed in the 2003 NBA Playoffs to a best of seven game series.
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