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 Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets enter the NBA as the league's 24th and 25th franchises. Because of this the Sacramento Kings move to the Pacific Division. The Heat, however, began their season as a member of the Western Conference despite its geographical position, enduring its longest road trips when playing Western Conference teams. They also started the season 0–17, at the time the worst start in NBA history, eventually finishing at 15–67. The Hornets finished a little better at 20–62.
The 1989 NBA All-Star Game was played at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, with the West defeating the East 143–134. Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz takes home the game's MVP award.
The Detroit Pistons play their first game at The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Palace would start a trend of new arenas complete with revenue-increasing luxury boxes and club seating, which other teams soon follow.
The Sacramento Kings play their first game at ARCO Arena.
TNT begins airing NBA games. They share the cable broadcast rights with sister network TBS.
Michael Jordan records ten triple-doubles in eleven games near the end of the season.
Prior to the season, the first-year Hornets announce that they choose teal as their primary color, which caused a buzz. In the next decade, expansion teams in the other professional sports leagues (most notably the San Jose Sharks of the NHL, the Florida Marlins of Major League Baseball's NL, and the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL) further popularized the use of the color.
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 season marks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's last, after 20 seasons. All NBA teams paid tribute to Kareem by staging special events to honor him.
The Los Angeles Lakers became the first team to sweep a seven-game playoff series, and then be swept in the next, courtesy of the Detroit Pistons in the 1989 NBA Finals.
Larry Bird played in only six games for the Celtics (the first six games) due to heel spurs. Bird was in the prime of his career, having finished no worse than third in NBA MVP balloting over the previous 6 seasons, winning three MVP's over the span. The Celtics, who had won no fewer than 57 games over the previous 9 seasons, won only 42. This season marked the first time that Larry Bird did not win the all-star weekend three-point shootout contest (Bird had won the first three shootouts).