The NBA adopts the three-official system used in college basketball permanently. The league experimented with three officials per game in 1978–79, but went back to two officials per game for the next nine seasons, although they actually have three with the inclusion of an alternate referee for all playoff games and selected regular season games.
The Chicago Bulls started a playoff tradition by wearing black sneakers. Prior to that, the Boston Celtics were the only team to wear black sneakers. Following the Bulls' unlikely playoff run, other teams began adopting the style, beginning with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1990.
The first postponement of an NBA game due to a civil disturbance. In the wake of the Miami riots, the game between the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns on January 17, 1989, was postponed.
Head coach Jerry Sloan begins the first season of 23 for the Utah Jazz, the longest tenure of any professional coach for one city and franchise.
Ricky Berry was selected by the Sacramento Kings in the first round, 18th pick overall in the 1988 NBA draft. He had a dazzling rookie year in the 1988–89 season shooting 40.6% from three-point range. It would be his last season due to his death in the offseason.
The League expands from twenty-three to twenty-five franchises, with new expansion teams in Charlotte and Miami.
The Heat began its season as a member of the Western Conference despite its geographical position, enduring its longest road trips when playing Western Conference teams. It also began the season 0–17, at the time the worst start in NBA history. The Hornets finished at 20–62. Such records are typical of expansion NBA franchises in their initial seasons, with 15–67 being the poorest record repeated by the Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Rockets, and Mavericks, as well as the Heat. The Sacramento Kings were belatedly moved to the Pacific Division in their fourth season after leaving Kansas City.
A ticket for Game 1 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls.
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.