The Hornets relocate from Charlotte, North Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana, leaving Charlotte without an NBA team until the Charlotte Bobcats (who would rename themselves the Hornets in 2014 following the New Orleans franchise's rebrand as the Pelicans the year before) were formed in 2004. They also play their first game at New Orleans Arena. As a result, the NBA prohibits NBA games (except national games) from being broadcast in the Carolinas for two seasons. Twelve years later, revised records between the two teams suggest that the Charlotte NBA franchise suspended operations following the original team's relocation to New Orleans, thereby theating the 2002-03 season as an establishing year for the New Orleans franchise.
In their New Orleans debut (Oct. 30, 2002) against the city's former occupants, the Utah Jazz, the Hornets posthumously retired Pete Maravich's No. 7, even though he never played for the team, but was honored for his basketball contributions to the city.
The 2003 NBA All-Star Game was held at the Philips Arena in Atlanta. The West won 155-145 in double overtime, the longest All-Star game in NBA history. Minnesota's Kevin Garnett took the game's MVP honors. It was also the last time an Eastern Conference city hosted an All-Star Game (until 2012), and the last time a rookie played (until 2011) and started an All-Star game, with Yao Ming making his all-star debut.
Michael Jordan announces his third and final retirement. He plays his last game on April 16, 2003 in Philadelphia.
The NBA on ABC begins (replacing NBA on NBC) again after a 29-year hiatus when the NBA signs new television deals with TNT and the consortium of ABC and ESPN. This agreement significantly decreased the amount of games on network television, including the playoffs, in which very few games are shown on ABC, with the exception of the NBA Finals, which are shown entirely on ABC. Also, both conference finals are shown live on cable for the first time.
For the first time in NBA history, two former ABA teams contest each other in the NBA Finals, the New Jersey Nets versus the San Antonio Spurs. The Nets became the only team in NBA Finals history to wear a throwback uniform in a Finals game, wearing their 1976 home uniforms in Game 5.
A new instant replay rule is in effect to help officials in determining close calls. Bright red lights are installed on the backboards and scoring tables to make the shot easier to figure out.
The NBA changes the first round format from a best of five game series to a best of seven game series for the 2003 NBA Playoffs.
A new low in television ratings for the NBA Finals is reached, replacing the 1981 series as the least watched Finals (later surpassed by the 2007 finals).
The Los Angeles Lakers debuted their white and gold alternate jerseys in a loss against the Sacramento Kings on December 25, 2002, at Staples Center. The jerseys were designed as a tribute to long-time announcer Chick Hearn, who died on August 5 from a head injury caused by a fall. The Lakers also sport a black patch in his honor.
Lenny Wilkens becomes the all-time leader in losses surpassing Bill Fitch.
Reebok became the official outfitter for NBA teams, except those still under contract with Nike. Reebok would later become the endorser for all NBA teams in 2004 until its merger and subsequent transfer to Adidas in 2006.
David Robinson announced his retirement. He would eventually go on to win the championship with the Spurs.
The elimination of Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs marks the end of 18 year Karl Malone–John Stockton tandem. Stockton would go on to retire, while Malone would play with the Lakers next season before retiring in mid-2004.
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.