For slam-dunks, sweet jumpers and non-stop end-to-end action, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is the league to watch. Going all the way back to 1946, the NBA has been the top men’s professional basketball league in North America with support and fans growing every year.
The NBA has grown from a league low of just eight teams in 1954 to the present day league consisting of 30 teams. The league was originally founded by several owners of ice hockey arenas who were looking to have events happening in their venues year round. The 1950’s saw the league go through a series of shifts with expansion, contraction and relocation happening fairly frequently, with small market teams consolidating and moving to larger cities where support was stronger. The 1960’s saw the league expand from nine teams to 14 between 1966 and 1968 and was the era of the Boston Celtics dynasty, seeing that team win the NBA Championship an astounding ten times out of 11 years. In the early 1970’s a rival league sprung up in the form of the American Basketball Association (ABA) and posed a serious threat to the NBA, as they were able to sign some major stars to their league. The NBA expanded from nine teams to 18 during the early 1970’s in an effort to monopolize the most viable markets before the ABA could gain a foothold in them. The competition ended in 1976 when the ABA agreed to fold four of its teams into the NBA, expanding the league to 22 teams.
In an effort to open up the scoring in the game, the league adopted the ABA’s three-point field goal beginning in 1979, which greatly increased fan interest in the sport. 1979 was also a significant year as two future stars were drafted that year; Larry Bird by the Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson by the Los Angeles Lakers. These two superstars would dominate the league with one of their teams taking part in every championship in the 1980’s with the Celtics winning three times and the Lakers winning five. These two increased the sports appeal on a global level as well as within North America. In 1984, Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player in the history of the league was drafted, adding even more star power to the league which continued to enjoy an increasing fan base. By the 1990’s, Jordan would dominate the league with his Chicago Bulls winning the NBA Championships six out of eight years during this time. In 1992, the Olympics allowed NBA players to participate, resulting in the formation of the so-called “Dream Team” of the United States. The Dream Team completely dominated the Olympics without ever being challenged and beating their opponents by double-digit margins.
At the end of the ‘90’s the NBA owners began a lockout, which lasted over six months and resulted in the season being reduced to 50 games in 1999. In the new millennium, the NBA has been dominated by Western Conference teams with those teams winning seven out of the ten championships played since 1998. Prior to this time, the Eastern Conference teams had dominated the championships, with the only real success from the west by the Los Angeles Kings in the Magic Johnson era.
Today, the NBA is made of the Eastern and Western Conference with 15 teams in each division playing 82 games over the course of a season. With the 2008 – 2009 season finished, the so-called “second season” begins with the playoffs where anything can happen and any team that makes it in can win it all. This year, the Eastern conference competition will be close with last year’s champion Boston Celtics looking for a repeat. They will have to get by tough challengers in the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic. Although eight teams make it into the playoffs, it is a safe assumption that one of these three teams makes it through to the final.
In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers have been dominant the entire season and no team is looking forward to playing them in the early rounds. The teams most likely to be vying for the Western Conference Championships are the San Antonio Spurs led by Tim Duncan, the Houston Rockets and the Denver Nuggets. The remaining four teams in the west are not likely to pull any major upsets as the top of the conference is just too strong this year.
With the first round underway, fans can look forward to several more weeks of fast-paced, hard-charging, intense and exciting basketball as the battle for the Championship unfolds. From long-term NBA fans to those who might be checking out games for the first time, the 2008 – 2009 playoffs promise to be exciting and entertaining for everyone.
Story by James Souilliere
From J SELECT Magazine, May 2009