In the Hornets first game in New Orleans retired Pete Maravich's jersey number (although he never played with the team and contributed to basketball in New Orleans) on opening night against their former tenants the Utah Jazz.
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 number 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.
The Los Angeles Lakers debuted their white and gold alternate home jerseys in a loss against the Sacramento Kings on Christmas Day, 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 the NBA. Although fellow outfitter Nike still under their contracts. Reebok remained as the outfitter of the NBA until they merged with Adidas became the official outfitter 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 the 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 2004.
The NBA has mandated installation of LED light strips on both the backboard and the scorer's table that illuminate when time expires, to assist with any potential review.
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.