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NBA History: Basketball’s Rich Legacy in Review

It’s one of the most often used critiques of not just American sports but of American culture in general that it is lacking in history, specifically in comparison to European nations and European sports leagues.

The argument that American sports have no history or cultural legacy is a false one; the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA are sports leagues with a rich history and sports leagues that have had a tremendous cultural impact on not only this country but plenty of other nations around the globe.

In this article, we shine the spotlight on basketball in particular. So step aboard and join us as we traverse time, from the game's humble beginnings in the 19th century to the modern day, replete with NBA betting odds, detailed player statistics, and expensive subscription packages.

Where it all began

If you were to make a potted history of the Premier League, you would rightly be criticized for starting in 1992 and failing to mention the inception of soccer itself. Likewise, no discussion of the history of the NBA is quite right without looking at the origins of the game of basketball.

In a freak coincidence, Canadian-American professor of physical education James Naismith invented basketball almost 100 years before 1992

Looking for a way to keep his students fit during the long New England winters at the International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School (try saying that in one breath…), Naismith invented basketball as it was ideally suited to be played in a gymnasium.

Early iterations of the game used a soccer ball and a peach basket. Within just a couple of games, Naismith modified the basket, removing the bottom to avoid the tedious process of removing the ball by hand after every point had been scored.

It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that a purpose-designed ball was produced for basketball, which helps segue us nicely to…

Everything you need to know about the invention of basketball.

The National Basketball Association

The early decades of basketball followed a similar trajectory to other mainstream sports. Participation was high, and there was indeed an appetite for the public to watch live basketball, but organized national leagues were hard to come by.

Throughout the 1920s basketball resembled soccer from the 1860s and 1870s in that there were a number of talented teams put together – The New York Renaissance Five and the Harlem Globetrotters to name but a few – but they mainly travelled the country playing exhibition games.

The NBA as we know it today can trace its origins back to June 6, 1946, when the Basketball Association of America (BAA) was formed. The first game played in this league was between the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers.

In the league's early years, the quality was of no excellent standard, with independent clubs like the Harlem Globetrotters having arguably much more talented squads. The reasons for this were understandable. Not only was the league new and finding its feet, but some rival leagues were in operation, diluting the quality.

Three years later, the six remaining teams from the NBL joined the BAA, at which point the league's name was changed from the BAA to the NBA. 

80 Years of History in 60 Seconds

From 1949 onwards the league underwent a number of constrictions and expansions but as the league continued to evolve one team emerged as the standout – the Boston Celtics. From 1959 to 1966 the Celtics won 8 straight Championships to write their name into basketball legend. The Celtics are the favorites to win their 17th championship in this year’s NBA betting, they’ll be hoping to create a similar dynasty.

At the end of this winning spree, the league faced an existential crisis when the newly formed American Basketball Association (AMA) threatened to splinter the sport and overtake the NBA as the dominant basketball league in the country.

Fortunately for the NBA, those efforts were in vain. The public stayed loyal to the NBA, largely due to the pulling power of stars such as Kareem Abdul Jabbar. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the NBA’s popularity surged to astronomical levels.

The icing on the cake was Michael Jordan's and the Chicago Bulls' box office performances in the last decade of the millennium, which captivated Americans and absorbed sports fans and non-sports fans from all over the globe.

MJ took the game to the next level.

That period took basketball from one of the most popular sports in America to a global behemoth, and since then, the NBA has gone from strength to strength. It has consolidated its market share in America while continuing to grow overseas.

At the time of writing, the NBA can be watched live in 100 countries around the globe, which isn’t bad for a sport devised by a professor in 1891 to keep his students fit over the winter months.


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