The first major professional basketball league in history was the Basketball Association of America. The league began operations in 1946 as a way for hockey arenas to have business during the off-season. The BAA lasted for three seasons until it merged with the smaller National Basketball League in 1949. The combination of the BAA and NBL gave birth to the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1949. Six of the franchises that played in the BAA are still in existence today (Celtics, Knickerbockers, Lakers, Pistons, Royals and Warriors.)
The Boston Celtics dynasty
In the early 1950s, the Minneapolis Lakers won several NBA championships. But when the Boston Celtics hired Red Auerbach as coach and acquired players such as Bob Cousy, Tommy Heinsohn and Bill Russell, the Celtics began the greatest basketball dynasty in NBA history. Starting in 1957, the Celtics won 11 NBA championships in 13 years. Their main rivals in this era were the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers. Despite having a lineup equally as impressive as the Celtics, the Lakers did not win any NBA titles during this time in history.
The ABA threat and other problems
In the early 1960s, the NFL faced its most serious threat in history in the form of an upstart, exciting new league known as the AFL. In the latter part of the decade, the NBA faced similar problems from its new competitor, the American Basketball Association (ABA). The new league attracted many star basketball players and featured a more fast-paced style of play. The ABA is probably most famous for its red, white and blue basketball. Finally, the ABA merged with the NBA in 1976, when the elder league welcomed the Nets, Nuggets, Pacers and Spurs into their organization.
The merger did not end the NBA's problems. This was also a dark time in basketball history because many NBA players faced serious drug problems in the 1970s. Rumors were rampant that many NBA basketball players were abusing marijuana and cocaine during this time in history. Certainly, the NBA was not unique to drug problems in the 1970s. But the negative image led to declining morale, low attendance and poor television ratings.
Glory days: the 1980s
Just when the NBA reached its lowest point in history, two young superstars entered the league and reenergized the NBA. Larry Bird joined the Boston Celtics and Earvin "Magic" Johnson joined the Los Angeles Lakers. During the 1980s, the Celtics won three NBA titles and the Lakers won five. In fact, the two rivals faced each other in the finals three times in the decade. Older, traditional basketball fans sided with the Celtics, while younger NBA fans favored the "showtime" fast-paced style of the Lakers. Most importantly, interest in basketball in general brought old and young fans alike to NBA arenas and ratings soared.
While the Celtics and Lakers were renewing old pleasantries during the 1980s, a skinny young kid from North Carolina exploded onto the NBA scene. As soon as he entered the NBA, Michael Jordan was routinely scoring 30-40 points per game. Jordan's talent was limitless, both as a shooter and jumper and his tenacious competitive spirit was legendary both as a defender and especially in practice. It took his team, the Chicago Bulls, several years to assemble an adequate supporting cast with the right coach. But once they found the right formula, Jordan and the Bulls won six NBA titles and most experts agree that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player in history.
The NBA in the 21st Century
When Michael Jordan retired and the Bulls ownership dismantled the team, their coach, Phil Jackson, joined the Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson continued his winning ways by capturing five more NBA crowns, giving him 11 NBA titles as head coach, the most in history. Among players, the debate throughout most of the early 21st century has been whether Kobe Bryant(notes) or LeBron James(notes) is the best player in the NBA. While most agree that James is the most talented player in the NBA, Bryant is considered the best player because of the championships he has won.
Although the NBA is currently suffering many of the problems facing corporations in a poor economy, basketball is still very popular and the league is very strong. Its fast-paced style and appeal with young people ensure that basketball will be popular for the foreseeable future and probably for many generations to come.