By Cameron Haires
On August 3rd, 1949, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was founded. The association came about as the result of a merger between two rival basketball leagues: the Basketball Association of America (BBA) and the National Basketball League (NBL).
In 1937, the NBL was founded by three companies: General Electric, Firestone, and Goodyear. Their league consisted of thirteen teams in small market cities such as Dayton, Cincinnati, Chicago and Minneapolis. The BBA was founded in 1946 by Walter Brown (previous owner of the Boston Garden), Al Sutphin, (previous owner of what is now known as Quicken Loans Area in Cleveland), and Ned Irish (previous president of Madison Square Garden). Their plan was to compete with the NBL by establishing teams in bigger markets and drawing the NBL’s fan base.
By the start of the 1949 basketball season, four NBL franchises switched leagues and bought their players with them. This would urge the two leagues to meet in New York City, resulting in a new, jointed league, the NBA. This new league would start out with seventeen teams and represent small and big market cities. George Mikan was one of the first NBA superstars, winning five championships with the Minneapolis Lakers establishing themselves as one of the NBA’s first dominant teams.
The number of supporting fans dropped since the new NBA began and financial problems also hurt the league. By the beginning of the 1954 season, the league transformed the game by instituting a 24-second shot clock. This new shot clock helped make the games more exciting and faster. This tactic worked as many fans returned.
Another reason that fans may have regained their interest in basketball was because of the addition of Bill Russell to the Boston Celtics. Russell became one of the first superstars to play the game, who also transcended it to a grander audience because of his rivalry with fellow superstar Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain held the record of averaging the most points (50.3) in the 1962 season. Although seemingly a better individual superstar, the Celtics would win eleven championships from 1957-1969 and the two would establish one of the greatest rivalries in sports history.
Teams also began to expand during the 1960s and 70s by relocating. However, the NBA was met with competition by the American Basketball Association (ABA). This time, there was more at stake for the NBA because their leading scorer, Rick Barry, along with four veteran referees switched to the ABA. By 1968, the NBA expanded from nine to fourteen teams. They also managed to draft the most prolific superstar of that era, Kareem Abdul Jabber, who currently leads the NBA with the most points scored over his career (38,387). In 1969, a man named Jerry Dior created the now famous NBA logo, which features a silhouette of Lakers legend, Jerry West.
The ABA signed many stars in the 70s, including Julius Erving who may have been the biggest basketball superstar at the time. The ABA would end its competition and partner with the NBA in 1976, agreeing to bring four teams over with them and thus expanding the NBA to 22 teams.
1979 was an important year for basketball for several reasons. This was when the NBA created the three-point line, which would allow players who shoot from behind the line to score three points. Again, this new rule was to help the declining TV ratings and attendance to basketball games. Also that year, then NCAA superstars, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, would be drafted to their respective teams. In their college championship game, Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Bird’s Indiana State team. That rivalry would transition into the NBA and they would face each other three times in the NBA finals. Their feud was another component that transcended the game of basketball. Their rivalry was very intense on court, but they were great friends when they didn’t have to play each other. Journalists often super analyze their relationship and point out the amount of respect they have for each other as rivals.
The court rivals proved to many that basketball is not just a sport, but also a game that has the potential to bring all people together.
This became even more evident when Magic Johnson made his famous announcement to retire from basketball in 1990 after contracting the HIV virus. There was an uncertainty about the disease and many people did not want to be around Johnson, but he played in the All Star game the year he retired after being voted in by fans. His appearance in the All Star game has been documented in many sports videos as one of the reasons people began being more accepting of people with the HIV virus.
While Bird and Johnson had the biggest rivalry of the 1980s, this time also established the presence of future superstar, Michael Jordan, who joined the league in 1984. In his second season, he scored 63 points in a playoff game against the defending Boston Celtics team featuring Larry Bird. Although the Celtics won, Bird would described Jordan’s performance that night believing he was “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” The Detroit Pistons were a powerhouse team during that time as well, winning two back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990 and also eliminating Jordan’s Bulls from the playoffs.
The rivalry between the Bulls and Celtics is considered iconic more because of the way the Pistons stormed the court before their game against the Bulls was over. This moment would shape the NBA for a new era: The Jordan era. Michael Jordan, along with hall of famer, Scottie Pippen, would win three consecutive championships from 1991 to 1993, never allowing opponents to win more than two games in a seven game playoff series. At the top of his game, Jordan retired from basketball due to the unfortunate murder of his father. He returned to the league in 1995 to complete a second three-peat through 1998. He is widely regarded as the best basketball player ever because of his unmatched dominance and will to win especially coming out of retirement.
The 1990s also saw more expansion of the NBA. In 1995, the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors became the first teams to be located in Canada. The NBA created the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 1996. The NBA also had a lockout in 1998 that lasted 191 days. Although it was the third NBA lockout at the time, this one lasted into the season while the previous two were settled by the start of the season. The problem stemmed from players not agreeing with the collective bargaining agreement. The lockout ended on January 18th, 1999, and the season was reduced to 50 games.
The Lakers and Spurs, who won seven of ten titles that decade dominated the 2000s. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal became one of the most dominant teams in sports history. They completed a three peat in the playoffs from 2000 to 2003 before the two began to publicly feud, resulting in O’Neal being traded. The Spurs featured Tim Duncan who is regarded as the best power forward to play the game, retiring with five championships.
Lebron James would also establish his dominance in 2007, leading a Cavaliers team to the 2007 finals where he was considered their only exceptional player. In 2010, James made a highly controversial decision to televise his announcement to play with the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010. Eventually winning his first two championships there, he made another controversial decision of returning to Cleveland following the 2014 finals. Shifting the league once again.
As the game of basketball is ever changing, players are now taking control of the league by developing “super teams” which consist of teams with multiple superstars. Stephen Curry has emerged as the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history by winning MVP two times and breaking the record of most three-point shots made in a single season three times. The Warriors are currently the most dominant team in the NBA, led by Curry and defending MVP Kevin Durant. Also players are beginning to use their platforms to make political stances. Lebron James, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony recently stood on stage at the ESPY’s award show and shed light on injustice in America.
The future holds great things for the league as it, as well as the players, are building their brand.