The 1996 NBA lockout was the second lockout of four in the history of the NBA. It began and ended on July 10, 1996. The lockout was imposed after the league and the players union could not reach an agreement involving $50 million in profit sharing from television revenue. The league requested 50 percent of the profits be applied toward player salaries while the union pushed for a larger share. After a few hours of talks, the league agreed to allocate an additional $14 million per season in television revenue toward the salary cap during the last four years of the six-year collective bargaining agreement. The agreement ending the lockout was announced a few hours after the lockout began.
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.
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.
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 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 HuskiesBAA 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.
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.