The 1996–97 NBA season was the 51st season of the National Basketball Association (NBA). The league used this season to mark its 50th anniversary, which included the unveiling of the league's list of its 50 greatest players. This particular season featured what has since been acknowledged as one of the most talented rookie-classes, featuring the debuts of Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace and Stephon Marbury. The season ended with the Chicago Bulls defeating the Utah Jazz 4 games to 2 in the NBA Finals to win the franchise's 5th championship.
* The Chicago Bulls missed back-to-back 70-win seasons, going 69–13, tying the second best all-time record (with the 1971–72 Los Angeles Lakers season). With four games to play, the Bulls' record stood at 68–10, only needing a 2–2 split; however, they went 1–3 in those games. In the final game of the regular season, the Bulls lost to the Knicks 103–101 as Scottie Pippen missed a three-pointer that would have given the Bulls back-to-back 70-win seasons. This loss also prevented the Bulls from tying the best home record of 40–1, set by the 1985–86 Boston Celtics, finishing 39–2 at the United Center.
* The 1997 NBA All-Star Game was played at Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, with the East defeating the West 132–120. Glen Rice of the Charlotte Hornets was named the game's MVP after scoring a record 20 points in the third quarter, and 24 in the second half. Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett became the youngest player to play in the All-Star Game.
* The New Jersey Nets and Orlando Magic both played two games against each other in Tokyo, Japan early into the season.
* The Philadelphia 76ers played their first game at the Core States Center (later First Union and Wachovia Center, now Wells Fargo Center).
* The Los Angeles Lakers signed free-agent center Shaquille O'Neal. Along with the addition of Kobe Bryant, the duo would become a fixture on the team for eight years, winning three championships together. However, a media created feud would eventually lead to O'Neal being traded to Miami in 2004.
* Allen Iverson set a rookie record scoring with forty points or more in five successive games.
* Due to extensive renovations at Oakland Coliseum Arena, the Golden State Warriors played their home games at the San Jose Arena (later the HP Pavilion at San Jose, now known as the SAP Center at San Jose), home of the NHL's San Jose Sharks. Following the season, the renovated arena became known as The Arena in Oakland, and was later renamed after the Oracle software company.
* Dennis Rodman was suspended for 11 games after kicking a cameraman in a road game against the Minnesota Timberwolves after tripping over him.
* In the last game of the regular season for both teams, the Washington Bullets defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers to obtain the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Had Cleveland won, the Cavaliers would have qualified instead. As for the Bullets, this was their final playoff appearance until 2005 where the team was renamed the "Wizards". It was the last time until the 2017-18 NBA season a regular-season game has served as a direct play-in game to the postseason.
* Following a last-second three-point shot by John Stockton in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Utah Jazz made their first ever NBA Finals appearance.
* The rivalry between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat got underway in Game 5 of the Conference Semifinals with a brawl at Miami Arena. In that brawl, P. J. Brown flipped Charlie Ward on the hardwood, inciting a bench brawl between the two. As a result, Brown was handed a two-game suspension, while Ward was suspended for Game 6. Meanwhile, as a result of leaving the bench during the brawl, Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston were suspended for Game 6, while Larry Johnson and John Starks were suspended for Game 7. The Heat eventually won the series in seven games.
* In Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Lakers, Karl Malone hit all 18 of his free-throw attempts, setting a playoff record for most attempts without a miss, since broken by Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki.
* After seven seasons of futility, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally made a postseason appearance, becoming the last of the late-1980s expansion teams to do so. In addition, their expansion counterparts (Miami, Orlando, and Charlotte) also made the playoffs. It would be seven years, however, before they could win their first playoff series.
* The Atlanta Hawks played their final season at The Omni Coliseum. The site of The Omni was demolished to make way for Philips Arena, forcing the Hawks to play most of their home games at the Georgia Dome and, in games featuring lesser-profile opponents, the Alexander Memorial Coliseum for the next two seasons.
* The season marked the fiftieth anniversary of the NBA. To commemorate the occasion, some NBA teams wore throwback uniforms, the NBA logo was decorated in gold for all uniforms, and the 50th anniversary logo patch was featured in the warmups. The 'NBA 50' logo also adorned all 29 NBA courts for the first month of the season, decorated in the respective team colors. In addition, the NBA also unveiled the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History during halftime of the 1997 NBA All-Star Game. One team, the Toronto Raptors, honored the Toronto Huskies BAA team by wearing the Huskies' throwback uniforms, and even played the New York Knicks at the SkyDome on the 50th anniversary of the first ever BAA/NBA game on November 1, 1996.
* The Boston Celtics not only set a record for the worst winning percentage and number of wins in franchise history, but also become the only NBA team to win only once in 24 games against other teams in its division, in its last game therein versus the Philadelphia 76ers. Several other teams, previously the 1970–71 Cleveland Cavaliers and latterly the 2005–06 Houston Rockets, won only one divisional game in a shorter schedule.
* For the first time in NBA history, multiple teams – the above-mentioned Celtics and the second-year Vancouver Grizzlies – finished with a winning percentage below .200. This was to be repeated in 1997–98 (the Nuggets and the Raptors) and again during 1998–99 (the Grizzlies again and the Los Angeles Clippers) but has never occurred in any season since 1999–2000.
* After the San Antonio Spurs got off to a poor 3–15 start, general manager Gregg Popovich fired head coach Bob Hill. Popovich immediately took over as the head coach, beginning (as of the 2016–17 season) the NBA's longest active coaching tenure. The Spurs, after finishing the previous season with 59 victories, plunged to a 20–62 record while dealing with a myriad of injuries, especially to David Robinson and Sean Elliott. The 39-game decline was the worst regular-season turnaround in NBA history, surpassed 14 seasons later by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost 42 more games than the previous year.
* The greatest comeback in National Basketball Association play occurred on November 27, 1996, when the Utah Jazz, down by 36 points to the Denver Nuggets late in the second quarter (70–34), overcame this deficit to win 107–103.