With its many marketable superstars, riveting gameplay, year-round storylines, and truly global fan base, the NBA has established itself as one of the world’s most successful sports leagues. However, it didn’t happen overnight. Here are 19 important moments that have defined the NBA and helped elevate the league to the extraordinary heights it has achieved today.
1891: Basketball is invented by James Naismith, a 30-year-old YMCA educator who was mostly just trying to keep busy after his friends all started moving in with their girlfriends and weren’t really around to hang anymore.
1946: The National Basketball Association is formed, and for the first time basketball games begin to be played in stadiums packed with thousands of spectators instead of on those stages in the mall that they put up for special events that no one ever cares about.
1951: After years of steadily growing its audience, the NBA sells its first radio commercial slot to David Sunflower Seeds, which launches its now famous campaign, “There Are Only Three Kinds Of Candy In 1951 And Unfortunately Sunflower Seeds Is One Of Them.”
1976: The NBA solidifies its place as the world’s premier basketball league by merging with the American Basketball Association, welcoming storied franchises like the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers into the fold, and sending less valuable ABA teams like the Miami Cousins, the Pittsburgh Unneutered, the Anaheim Cold & Flu Aisle, the Dallas Pink Attic Insulation, and the Oakland CoinStars directly to the U.S. Army.
1985: Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss begins filling the arena’s courtside seats with A-list celebrities on a nightly basis, instantly making NBA courtside seats the ultimate status symbol instead of a place where players’ parents argue with their sons mid-game about whether or not they’re trying.
1992: Inspired by the popularity of Michigan’s Fab Five, the NBA proves its dedication to cultural relevancy by incorporating baggier shorts and jerseys into its uniforms while getting rid of older uniform touchstones like those circular mirrors doctors used to wear on headbands for no reason, black Frankenstein-looking shoes that you’re forced to wear if you work in a grocery store, and the cargo shorts that come with a weird hemp belt that’s confusing as shit to use because it’s already in the belt loops when you buy the shorts.
1992: With a roster stacked top to bottom with future Hall of Famers, the Dream Team dominates the ’92 Olympics, winning gold in men’s basketball, silver in dressage, and gold in women’s boxing.
1995: Michael Jordan, the league’s biggest star, makes his long-awaited return from baseball and brings a batboy back with him. No one—not the commissioner, the fans, the coaches, or the batboy’s parents—has the ’nads to tell him he can’t do that, proving unquestionably that the NBA has the most powerful, untouchable icon in sports.
1998: The Chicago Bulls pull off two three-peats to win six championships in eight years and ignite full-blown Bullsmania worldwide. The team’s pop culture dominance is made evident by its unearned induction into the Carpet and Tile Hall of Fame, getting to act as extras in Rodney Dangerfield’s 1997 blockbuster I’m The School Principal And I’m Naked Under My Robe, and being allowed to sub in as crash-test dummies for the highly anticipated GM Hummer even though the car wouldn’t be put on the market for another several years.
2000: With his cornrows, tattoos, and undeniable swagger, Allen Iverson brings hip-hop culture to the NBA, inspiring millions of white kids worldwide to wear durags and shooting sleeves to CYO practice, which would be kind of fucked up if not for the fact that John Stockton was at the same time inspiring millions of black kids to wear short-shorts and middle-aged Caucasian dad haircuts, so everything sort of balances out as far as cultural appropriation goes.
2001: Michael Jordan makes yet another return to basketball by joining the Washington Wizards, once again proving his otherworldly celebrity by somehow getting people to tune in even though watching it gave you that same vague, sad vibe you get while watching your dad play live music.
2001: Two commercial airplanes are hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, marking the single deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history and triggering major American military initiatives to combat Islamic extremist terrorism that continue to this day.
2002: Carlos Boozer breaks the color barrier by becoming the first African American to play in the NBA, opening the racial floodgates and making the future careers of players like Wilson Chandler and Evan Turner possible.
2005: Michael Jordan returns to the NBA once again, this time a whopping 325 pounds heavier than when the world last saw him, looking like one of those fat kinds of boxers whose fights only air on ESPN2 real late at night. Now playing for the Denver Nuggets, the heavy-breathing GOAT goes on to sit in a folding chair underneath the opposing team’s basket for the first two minutes of the opening quarter, reaming out players on both teams for not passing him the ball and periodically taking long sips of the cold Mug Root Beer that’s forming a little condensation puddle on the ground next to him, all until he gets bored and waddles out to the concourse to play bubble hockey.
2007: Dirk Nowitzki becomes the first European player to win MVP, showing the world that foreign-born players can be more than nameless bench guys who go bald super fast without trying to hide it or anything, almost like they’re proud they’re going bald and want to show it off.
2009: Michael Jordan returns for another stint in the NBA, this time joining the Milwaukee Bucks and weighing in at a much leaner 95 pounds. In the first possession of his first game back, Jordan dribbles down the sideline and somehow gets his legs tangled up with his coach’s, immediately breaking both of his femurs. A screaming Jordan is carted off to the locker room to a smattering of confused applause.
2010: LeBron James kicks off the era of player empowerment with “The Decision,” a live ESPN broadcast where he announces that he’s leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to take his talents to the Viet Cong. Once he’s informed that the Viet Cong isn’t really a thing anymore, an unfazed LeBron goes on to list some other jobs he’d also be interested in, including a gig as a high school security guard who’s super friendly 90 percent of the time but every now and then body-slams a student to break up a fight; a Ford Model T assembly line worker from the ’20s; a helicopter; and a basketball player for the Miami Heat. He ultimately settles on the latter.
2013: Michael Jordan dies at the age of 46 by a gunshot wound to the chest. A note is found near his body urging scientists to analyze his brain for CTE, which doctors would go on to do before easily concluding that he 100 percent did not have it, basically marking Jordan’s demise a pretty big misread on his part.
2018: The Golden State Warriors rule the league in such a uniquely dominant way that for the first time ever, front offices around the NBA decide to literally stop trying to win until their dynasty ends, and in the meantime make the money back they’re losing on plummeting ticket sales by renting their players out as Men’s Warehouse mannequins.