NBA history from the year you were born
NBA history from the year you were born
With the 75th anniversary of the National Basketball Association (NBA) right around the corner in 2022, it's a perfect time to reflect upon what made the game great and how it got to where it is today. With each year since its inception in 1946, the NBA game has grown, changed, evolved, integrated, and internationalized with new rules, expansion teams, major controversies, and amazing milestones.
Stacker analyzed every year the NBA has been in business from 1946 through 2019 and found the most exciting instances, famous players, culture-changing clashes, and record-making moments that have shaped the league. Every year, the NBA brought fans something new—and Stacker found the most pertinent history from the year you were born (as long as it falls in the timeline, of course) by scouring ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Reference, and the NBA's official site.
Relive the progression of the league's big men from George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, see how the game transitioned from high-flying slammers to 3-point specialists and relearn the histories of the dynastic teams that have dominated the landscape.
What NBA moment or player symbolized the year you were born? Millennial children who grew up with LeBron James’ teams and Stephen Curry’s Warriors controlling the league would find it hard to believe that baby boomers actually watched the New York Knicks win two titles in the 1970s. And while the Lakers-Celtics rivalry is still alive and well, there was something perhaps more palpable about living through Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s heavyweight battles in the ‘80s.
For NBA junkies and casual fans alike, this exciting list will spark memories and elevate the discourse on how the NBA became one of the most exciting and progressive sports leagues in America.
Do you remember, wish to forget, or still retell the stories of living through these moments? Read on to drum up the NBA’s rich past while celebrating its long history and infinitely bright future.
You may also like: Iconic sports moments that defined the '90s
1946: The BAA
Before the NBA even existed, there were multiple professional leagues around the country like the Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL). The inaugural BAA season was in 1946–47, and featured 11 teams. Some of those teams can still be found in today's NBA, including the Boston Celtics, New York Knickerbockers (now the Knicks), Philadelphia Warriors (now the Golden State Warriors), and Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers). Today, the NBA traces its lineage directly to the BAA using the date of 1946 as the first NBA season.
1947: Philadelphia wins the first championship
The Philadelphia Warriors and the Chicago Stags played in the very first BAA championship at the end of the 1946–47 season. The Warriors beat the Stags 4-1 in the series behind the play of the BAA's first star Joe Fulks, who averaged 23.2 points per game for the season. The Warriors players each earned an extra $2,000 for their championship victory, which was a considerable number at the time.
1948: Growing pains
The 1947–48 BAA season got off to a rocky start as four of the original 11 teams folded, and the total amount of games was reduced from 60 to 48. As a result, the Baltimore Bullets (precursor to today's Washington Wizards) were brought into the league and ended up winning the second BAA championship. One of the major rules changes from this year still exists today: After a player fouls an opponent six times, he is automatically disqualified.
1949: NBA is born
At the start of the 1948–49 season, the BAA merged with four teams from the NBL and then an additional six teams in the summer of 1949. With the influx of teams and talent, the league officially changed its name to the National Basketball Association—although many still count the “original” NBL match as the 1946 BAA match between the Toronto Huskies and New York Knickerbockers at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. With the mergers, the NBA also inherited the best players in the country with its biggest star attraction being George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers. Mikan was 6-foot-10 and towered over the competition averaging 28.3 points per game and winning the first of five NBA championships for the Minneapolis squad.
1950: Color barrier is broken
Up until 1950, professional basketball rosters were filled entirely with white athletes. That barrier was shattered in 1950 as the Boston Celtics drafted the first black player (Chuck Cooper), the New York Knickerbockers signed the first black player (Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton), and the Washington Capitals featured the first black player in an NBA game (Earl Lloyd).
You may also like: 25 athletes who came out of retirement
1951: First NBA All-Star Game
With the NBA still in its infancy, the league needed to gin up crowds and the owner of the Boston Celtics, Walter Brown, thought an all-star game would help spread the word around the country. The first-ever All-Star Game was held on March 2, 1951, at the Boston Garden and the Eastern Conference All-Stars beat the Western Conference 111-94 with “Easy Ed” Macauley taking home the first All-Star Game MVP.
1952: The Mikan Rule
Because of George Mikan's utter dominance in the league, the NBA decided to widen the foul lane from 6 to 12 feet at the start of the 1951–52 season. Later on, this change was referred to as “The Mikan Rule,” though it didn't stop Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers from winning another championship in the same year.
1953: First NBA dynasty
The Minneapolis Lakers are considered the first NBA dynasty, who won their second back-to-back championship in 1953 and went on to win five championships between 1948 and 1954. The team was led by big-man George Mikan, who dominated the league in scoring and rebounding. The Lakers won back-to-back championships in 1949 and 1950 and similarly dominated with three straight championships between 1952 and '54.
1954: Introduction of the 24-second shot clock
At the start of the 1954–55 season, the NBA was looking to bring more excitement into the game—especially since its most exciting player, George Mikan, had just retired. Enter the 24-second clock. Danny Biasone, owner of the Syracuse Nationals, came up with the idea for a shot clock that forced players to shoot a basket within 24 seconds or lose the ball. The rule change immediately sped up the game and injected that much-needed dose of excitement the league was looking for.
1955: Scoring surge
With the shot-clock era officially in place, scoring around the league began to surge. NBA averages went from 79.5 points per game to 93.1 as a more fast-paced style of play began to take shape. Some of the league's young stars, like Bob Cousy and Paul Arizin, saw their points and assist averages rise as well—giving the league its first dose of real highlights.
You may also like: 30 famous athletes who received lifetime bans
1956: Bob Pettit wins first NBA MVP
In the 1954–55 season, Bob Pettit entered the league and won the Rookie of the Year award while averaging 20.4 points per game for the Milwaukee Hawks. At the start of the 1955–56 season, the Hawks moved to St. Louis and Pettit became the first-ever NBA MVP while scoring 25.7 points and gobbling up 16.2 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, the individual play didn't translate to team success: The Hawks lost to the Ft. Wayne Pistons in the Western Division Finals.
1957: The Celtics are coming
While the Minneapolis Lakers dominated the first decade of the NBA, the Boston Celtics destroyed the league for the next 10 years and beyond. Under coach Red Auerbach, the Celtics won their first title in 1957 while also scooping up a variety of individual accolades and accomplishments. Bob Cousy was the league MVP and All-Star Game MVP, Tom Heinsohn was the Rookie of the Year, Bill Sharman led the league in free-throw percentage, and a young rookie by the name of Bill Russell led the league in rebounding with 19.65 per game—in spite of popular conception that Maurice Stokes led (Stokes, in fact, did so the year prior).
1958: Pettit goes for 50
The Boston Celtics' run of league supremacy had to take a small detour in the 1957–58 season. The team went 49-23 during the regular season, Bill Russell was the league MVP, and they were well on their way to a second straight championship. There was only one problem: Bob Pettit. The Celtics ran up against the St. Louis Hawks in the NBA Finals and caught some bad luck when Bill Russell sprained his ankle in Game 3 and was out for Game 4. The Hawks took a 3-2 lead going into Game 6 when Pettit dominated the game by scoring 50 points and giving the Hawks their only championship title.
1959: Celtics dynasty begins
It's arguable that the Boston Celtics dynasty began two years earlier with their first championship title, but in 1959 the team won the first of eight straight titles, ultimately winning 11 titles in 13 years and setting major professional sports records along the way. The 1959 title was a tour de force as the team swept the Minneapolis Lakers in the NBA Finals 4-0.
1960: Wilt's debut
There's never been another player like Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain actually began his professional career as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters in 1958 and made his NBA debut in the 1959–60 season. In his rookie year, Chamberlain led the league in scoring (37.6) and rebounding (27), was awarded the Rookie of the Year, the NBA All-Star Game MVP, and the league's Most Valuable Player. On Nov. 24, 1960, Chamberlain set the single-game rebounds record by snagging 55 boards. His record that still stands today.
You may also like: Can you answer these real 'Jeopardy!' questions about sports?
1961: Oscar's triple-double
A triple-double is when a player averages double digits in three offensive categories for a game. A triple-double typically consists of 10 or more points, rebounds, and assists, though blocks and steals also count. Triple-doubles are rare for a single game, which is why it was so incredible when Oscar Robertson became the first play in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season. In the 1961–62 season, Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 11.4 assists, and 12.5 rebounds.
1962: Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game
The 1961–62 season had its share of amazing feats. Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double, Bill Russell snagged nearly 24 rebounds a game, and Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game. But nothing compared to what Chamberlain did on March 2, 1962. In a game against the New York Knicks, Chamberlain scored 100 points, leading his team to a 169-147 win. The 100-point game is the most points ever scored in a single contest, a record that remains to this day.
1963: Bill Russell wins third straight MVP
While Wilt Chamberlain was dominating the NBA on an individual level, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics was dominating the league from a team standpoint. From 1960–63, Russell became the first player in NBA history to win three straight MVP awards while at the same time carrying the Celtics to their fifth straight championship.
1964: Celtics set professional sports record
The Boston Celtics tied Major League Baseball's (MLB) New York Yankees and National Hockey League's (NHL) Montreal Canadiens in 1963 as the only teams to win five straight championships. The Celtics won again in 1964, beating Wilt Chamberlain's San Francisco Warriors in the Finals and setting the U.S. professional sports record for most championships in a row. The team ultimately won eight in a row, a record that stands to this day.
1965: Havlicek stole the ball!
With only five seconds left in Game 7 of the Eastern Finals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics were up one point and the 76ers had the ball. In a miraculous moment that was immortalized by Celtics announcer Johnny Most, Celtics forward John Havlicek stole Hal Greer's inbound pass, sending Boston back to the NBA Finals where they won their seventh straight championship.
You may also like: Biggest blowout wins in golf major history
1966: Celtics win eighth straight title
The Boston Celtics dynasty didn't end here, but their consecutive streak of championship wins finished at eight straight when they won the title in 1966. After the victory, legendary Celtics head coach Red Auerbach retired, naming Bill Russell his successor and subsequently became the team's general manager. The Celtics run of eight straight championships is still the longest championship streak among all major professional sports in the U.S.
1967: Wilt wins first championship
It took a herculean effort to dethrone the Boston Celtics, but Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers took down the champs in the 1967 Eastern Division Finals. Chamberlain averaged a triple-double with 21.6 points, 32 rebounds, and 10 assists to beat the Celtics in five games. In the NBA Finals, the 76ers beat Wilt's former team, the San Francisco Warriors, in six games, giving Chamberlain his first NBA title.
1968: Bill Russell wins title as player and coach
When Red Auerbach retired from coaching the Boston Celtics in 1966, he named Bill Russell his replacement, making Russell the first-ever African American coach in the NBA. But Russell wasn't just the coach: He also played and led the Celtics to another NBA championship when Boston beat the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in 1968.
1969: The logo
In 1969 the upstart American Basketball Association (ABA) was in its third season and featured a bevy of all-star players like Connie Hawkins, Rick Barry, Spencer Haywood, and others. The NBA wanted to differentiate itself from the ABA, so they decided to create an iconic logo. The league hired the consulting firm Siegel+Gale, which found a photo of NBA superstar Jerry West and turned the picture into the silhouette that the game still uses as its logo to this day.
1970: The Willis Reed game
The 1970 NBA Finals featured the Los Angeles Lakers with Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West against the New York Knicks with Willis Reed and Walt Frazier. The evenly matched teams split the first six games, leading to an epic Game 7 for the championship. Willis Reed tore a muscle in his thigh during Game 5 and no one knew whether he would play in the deciding match. In dramatic fashion, Reed fought off the pain and appeared on the court before the tip-off. Reed only played 27 minutes and scored just four points, but he inspired his team, whipped the home New York crowd into a frenzy, and helped the Knicks to their first-ever NBA title.
You may also like: 25 athletes who came out of retirement
1971: Lew becomes Kareem
Before the 1971 NBA season, Lew Alcindor was already considered to be one of the best basketball players in the world. He won Rookie of the Year in 1970, after winning three straight national championships at UCLA. Alcindor surprised the basketball world when he converted to Islam in 1971 and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The decision was met with a fair amount of controversy at the time, but it didn't stop Abdul-Jabbar from excelling on the court. In his first year as Abdul-Jabbar, he won the league MVP and brought his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, their only NBA championship.
1972: Lakers win 33 straight
It started on Nov. 5, 1971, and ended on Jan. 9, 1972, and it's still one of the most enduring records in sports history. The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 1971–72 season as a team on a mission. Led by Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, the Lakers feasted on the competition and won 33 straight games over 65 days during the regular season. That success translated to the playoffs, where the team steamrolled through Chicago and Milwaukee en route to winning the championship over the New York Knicks (thereby avenging their loss from two years before).
1973: Tiny Archibald's record season
Though he was one of the shortest players in the league, Nate “Tiny” Archibald didn't use his small size as an excuse. Standing at a diminutive 6-foot-1, Archibald was a force to be reckoned with on the court. In the 1972–73 season, Archibald became the first—and only—player to lead the league in points (34) and assists (11.4) in the same season.
1974: The quadruple-double
The triple-double is one of the most impressive feats a player can earn in a game. A triple-double is when a player achieves double-figure numbers in one of five offensive categories: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. On Oct. 18, 1974, Nate Thurmond did the unthinkable when he recorded the first ever quadruple-double with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 12 blocks. To date, there have only ever been five quadruple-doubles in NBA history.
1975: Al Attles vs. K.C. Jones
The 1975 NBA Finals was special for a couple of reasons. First, the contest was between two teams, the Golden State Warriors and the Washington Bullets, who had never won a championship before. Second, and more importantly, the series was coached by two African American coaches (Al Attles for the Warriors and K.C. Jones for the Bullets) for the first time in American professional sports history. The Warriors ultimately won, sweeping the Bullets in just four games.
You may also like: Oldest teams in the NFL
1976: NBA-ABA merger
With the league nearing bankruptcy, the American Basketball Association (ABA) was on its last legs entering the 1976–77 season. As a result, the NBA merged with the ABA and brought the four most successful teams—the Denver Nuggets, New York Nets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs—into the fold. The influx of talent re-energized the league as players like Julius “Dr. J” Erving and George “Iceman” Gervin brought a special flair to the game.
1977: Bill Walton upsets Dr. J
Coming over from the ABA, Julius “Dr. J” Erving was the most exciting player to join the NBA ranks in the 1976–77 season. Erving was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers and his impact was immediate, leading the team to 50 wins atop the Atlantic Division. There was only one problem: The 76ers had to face the Bill Walton-led Portland Trailblazers in the Finals. After winning the first two games in the series, it looked like the 76ers would breeze to the championship. Walton took over the next four games, however, bringing the Blazers their first, and only, championship while averaging 18.5 points and 19 rebounds per game.
1978: Battle for the scoring title
Although basketball is a team game, there are countless individual accolades that players can amass. One such accolade is the scoring title, which goes to the player who averages the most points over the course of a year. In 1978, the scoring title came down to the last game of the year as David Thompson of the Denver Nuggets and George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs were only separated by 14 total points. Thompson's game played first, and he scored 73 points, bringing his average to 27.15 points per game. Gervin played later in the day and scored 63 points, barely edging out Thompson with a 27.22 points-per-game average at the end of the season.
1979: Introduction of the 3-point shot
The 3-point-shot was one of the highlights of the ABA, which ran from 1967 until 1976 before merging with the NBA. The NBA was a little slow to adopt its partner's signature highlight, but it finally did, creating a 3-point line for the start of the 1970–80 season. Players were slow to adapt to the new reality; but the 3-pointer is the most lethal part of the game today, with teams shooting the distance shot at a higher rate than ever.
1980: Magic Johnson Finals MVP
As a rookie, Magic Johnson not only helped his team win an NBA championship; he won the MVP of the Finals by playing one of the greatest games in NBA history. In Game 5 of the Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, the Lakers star center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar twisted his ankle and was held out of Game 6. In his place, Johnson started Game 6 at center and played all five positions. By the end of the game, Johnson had 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, the game and title, and the distinction of being the youngest Finals MVP in NBA history.
You may also like: Iconic sports moments that defined the '90s
1981: Larry Bird wins first championship
The Boston Celtics are the most dominant franchise in NBA history, but the team was in a slump until it drafted and debuted Larry Bird in the 1979–80 season. Bird helped the Celtics to their first title in 1981 by beating the Houston Rockets in six games. Bird finished the series averaging 15.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, and seven assists per game.
1982: "Fo', fo', fo'"
When Moses Malone signed with the Philadelphia 76ers and helped the team to 65 wins in the 1982–83 season, he was asked to make a prediction for how they would fare in the playoffs. Malone famously answered, "fo', fo', fo'," predicting that the team would sweep each round in four games on the way to the title. The 76ers ended up losing one game to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, so the phrase had to be changed to "fo', fi', fo'" after sweeping the Lakers in the Finals.
1983: Highest-scoring game in NBA history
In what was otherwise an average regular season game, on Dec. 13, 1983, the Denver Nuggets and Detroit Pistons played in the highest-scoring game in NBA history. In a three-overtime contest, the Pistons eventually won 186-184 for a combined 370 points. For the Nuggets, Kiki Vandeweghe scored 51 points and Alex English netted 47, while on the Pistons Isaiah Thomas had 47 and John Long scored 41.
1984: Slam Dunk Contest returns
The Slam Dunk Contest has its origins in the ABA when the fledgling league featured a dunk competition at their All-Star Game in Denver in 1976. With the NBA All-Star Game returned to Denver in 1984, the league decided to bring back the lauded competition. The '84 contest featured some of the NBA's best players including Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, and Clyde Drexler. The contest was ultimately won by high-flyer Larry Nance, who earned the nickname the High-Ayatollah of Slamola.
1985: Birth of Air Jordan
Michael Jordan wanted to wear Adidas, but Nike founder Phil Knight had other plans. Nike had no foothold in the NBA at the time; but after a presentation to Jordan in 1984, the entire world of shoes and the marketing of athletes changed forever. The first Air Jordan shoes were released in 1985 and the NBA banned the shoe because of its color patterns. The ruling was the best thing that could have happened to Jordan and Nike, as the brands used the ban as a marketing tool.
You may also like: Biggest comeback wins in golf major history
1986: Jordan goes for 63
“It's just God disguised as Michael Jordan,” said Larry Bird after his Boston Celtics barely beat the Chicago Bulls in Game 2 of the first round of the 1986 playoffs. Most people forget the Bulls lost that game and the series, which is entirely due to Michael Jordan. In the game, Jordan scored an NBA playoff record of 63 points, giving the Celtics players their toughest test on their way to the 1986 NBA championship.
1987: Magic hits baby "sky" hook shot
The Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry goes all the way back to the beginning of the NBA and by the 1987 NBA Finals, it was the 10th time the two teams had met for the championship. In 1987, it was Magic Johnson squaring off against Larry Bird and the Lakers were up 2-1 with Game 4 in the Boston Garden. The Lakers were trailing by one point when Magic Johnson took off for the free-throw line and shot a baby “sky” hook over Kevin McHale to seal the win. The Lakers went on to win the series 4-2.
1988: Jordan vs. Dominique in the dunk contest
NBA fans will forever remember the fateful announcement, “He needs a 48 to tie, a 49 to win...” The 1988 NBA All-Star Game was filled with memorable highlights, but nothing compared to the Slam Dunk Contest that is widely considered the greatest of all time. Michael Jordan faced off against Dominique Wilkins and it all came down to one final dunk. Jordan walked all the way to the opposite side of the court, ran down, jumped from the free-throw line and slammed it in, scoring a 50 and beating Wilkins in front of Jordan's home crowd in Chicago.
1989: ‘The Shot’
Michael Jordan's legendary career is filled with highlights of dunks and game-winning buckets from the time he was in college to his final days on the Washington Wizards. One of his biggest and most memorable shots was in 1989 when the Chicago Bulls played the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. The series was tied at two games apiece and came down to the wire. The Bulls ran a play for Jordan who grabbed the ball, seemed to hang in the air forever, and hit “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer, eliminating the Cavs from the playoffs.
1990: Scott Skiles sets assist record
Scott Skiles was a journeyman during his 10 seasons in the NBA while playing for five separate teams. Skiles doesn't have a lot of accolades or record-breaking statistics, but what he does have is the highest assist game in NBA history. On Dec. 30, 1990, the Orlando Magic (with Skiles) beat the Denver Nuggets 155-116. In the win, Skiles passed for an NBA record of 30 assists.
You may also like: 30 famous people you didn't know were college athletes
1991: Magic Johnson announces he is HIV positive
On Nov. 7, 1991, Magic Johnson made a surprise announcement that he was HIV positive and was retiring from basketball. At the time, Johnson was the highest profile celebrity/athlete to be infected with the virus and he became a cause célèbre in promoting awareness for the disease. Johnson briefly returned to the NBA, playing 32 games in the 1995–96 season, but retired again shortly thereafter. Once considered universally fatal, Johnson is still alive thanks to his access to major advances in HIV medication.
1992: The Dream Team
1988 was a watershed moment for basketball around the world. The U.S. Olympic team was fielded by amateurs and only won a bronze medal in the '88 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. After the loss, the NBA decided to get involved with USA Basketball and the Dream Team was formed to take back American basketball supremacy for the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain. The original Dream Team included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and many other hall of fame players. The team was so dominant that their average margin of victory was nearly 44 points per game on their way to the gold medal.
1993: Michael Jordan retires to play baseball
At only the age of 30, and just coming off a third straight NBA Finals win, Michael Jordan surprised the world by announcing his retirement from basketball to pursue a career in Major League Baseball. Jordan's baseball career never really took off as he played for the Double-A Birmingham Barons in 1994 and only managed to hit .202 in 127 games. By March of 2005, Jordan had left baseball and decided to return to the NBA.
1994: First eight-seed to win
It had never happened in the history of the NBA and there was no reason to believe that the 1994 Denver Nuggets were going to change things. Coming into the 1994 playoffs, the Nuggets were the youngest team in the league and had only won 42 games. The Seattle SuperSonics, on the other hand, had won 63 games and were poised to make a title run. All that changed when the Nuggets shocked the NBA world by beating the Sonics in five games in what was then the only time an eight-seed surpassed a one-seed in the playoffs.
1995: Reggie scores eight in nine
On May 7, 1995, the Indiana Pacers were losing to the New York Knicks by six points with only 18.7 seconds left in the game. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle: Reggie Miller hit a 3-pointer, then got a steal and hit another 3-pointer, and then hit two free throws during a wild nine-second span that capped a win in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Pacers went on to win the series 4-3.
You may also like: 25 athletes who retired in their prime
1996: Bulls win 72 games
When Michael Jordan came out of retirement in March of 1995, his team suffered a rare and humiliating loss to the Shaquille O'Neal-led Orlando Magic in the NBA playoffs. Fueled by that loss, Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to one of the most dominant seasons in NBA history, winning a then-record 72 games in the 1995–96 season, and destroying opponents in the playoffs to claim their fourth NBA championship in six years.
1997: The flu game
Michael Jordan was already a legend before the 1997 NBA Finals. He had won four championships, retired and unretired, and was considered one of the best players ever. But it was Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals that made Jordan mythic. Suffering from flu-like symptoms, Jordan fought through violent illness to score 38 points against the Utah Jazz and tie the series 2-2 before going on to win the title in six games.
1998: Jordan's game-winner in the Finals
In what seemed like a storybook ending at the time, Michael Jordan won his sixth NBA title, sixth NBA Finals MVP, and second three-peat when he hit the game-winning shot in game six of the Finals over the Utah Jazz. Jordan retired for the second time after the season before returning one last time to play for the Washington Wizards from 2001–2003.
1999: NBA lockout
After Michael Jordan brought the Chicago Bulls their sixth title in eight years, the NBA owners decided to lock out the players entering the 1998–99 season over major disputes around the NBA salary cap. The lockout lasted 191 days and threatened to cancel the entire season when players and owners reached a deal in January of 1999. The season lasted only 50 games, with the San Antonio Spurs beating the New York Knicks in the Finals. Michael Jordan retired for the second time just two weeks after the new deal was reached.
2000: Vince Carter Dunk Contest
Vince Carter has multiple nicknames: Vinsanity, Air Canada (when he played for the Toronto Raptors), and Half Man Half Amazing. During the 2000 NBA All-Star Game, Carter more than lived up to his monikers in one of the most memorable dunk contests of all time. Carter surprised the celebrity-packed crowd with one-of-a-kind dunks that no one had ever seen before like his 360-degree windmill and dunking his entire arm through the basket. Of course, he won the dunk contest without much competition.
You may also like: Biggest blowout wins in golf major history
2001: Best playoff team ever?
In the 2000–01 season, the Los Angeles Lakers won their second straight NBA title. In the process, the team went 15-1 in the playoffs, amassing the best playoff winning percentage in NBA history at the time (the Warriors in 2017 went 16-1). Their lone playoff loss came at the hands of their NBA Finals opponent, the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers beat their opponents by an average of 12.7 points per game.
2002: Lakers win third straight title
It has only happened five times in NBA history, and the 2001–02 Los Angeles Lakers were the fifth team to achieve the indelible mark. Joining the 1954 Minneapolis Lakers, the 1993 and 1998 Chicago Bulls, and the 1966 Boston Celtics, the 2002 Lakers squad (starring Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant) won their third straight NBA championship, solidifying themselves as one of the greatest teams ever.
2003: LeBron, Carmelo, and Wade all drafted in top 5
The NBA may never see a more stacked, and important, draft class than the one in June 2003. Four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion LeBron James went #1 overall to Cleveland straight from high school; 10-time All-Star and 2013 scoring champion Carmelo Anthony went #3 to Denver after winning the NCAA title with Syracuse; and 13-time All-Star and 2009 scoring champion Dwyane Wade went #5 to Miami after two seasons at Marquette.
2004: Malice at the Palace
Nov. 19, 2004, is a day in the NBA that will live forever in infamy. Colloquially referred to as the “Malice at the Palace,” Nov. 19 is the day when the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons engaged in the worst brawl in NBA history. Players fought players. Players fought fans. Players jumped in the stands. Both fans and players were slapped with criminal charges. All in all, nine players were suspended for a total of 146 games and millions of dollars.
2005: NBA raises draft age limit
Though the NBA formally proposed changing the rule in 2019, in 2005, then NBA commissioner David Stern enforced a rule change that limited players' eligibility to declare for the NBA draft. The rule stated that a player needed to be 19 years old and a year removed from high school to apply for the NBA Draft. The change came to be known as the one-and-done rule, referring to top-rated college basketball prospects who would leave school after one year.
You may also like: Stories behind every NFL team name
2006: Kobe goes for 81
Kobe Bryant's 2005–06 season was legendary for a number of reasons. He averaged 35.4 points per game, he had 27 games where he scored more than 40 points, and he had six games where he scored more than 50. But it was on Jan. 22, 2006 where Bryant made history. Playing against the Toronto Raptors, Bryant scored 81 points in a winning effort putting him second only to Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game for highest total ever.
2007: NBA ref pleads guilty to betting on games
According to reports, Tim Donaghy started betting on NBA games in 2003. The issue wasn't that he was betting, it was that he was betting on games he was refereeing. The scandal rocked the league and Donaghy ended up pleading guilty to wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce. ESPN recently wrote a retrospective on the issue that dives deep into all the sordid details.
2008: The Big Three
Throughout NBA history, there have been hall-of-fame winning trios who took their teams all the way to the title: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish; Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy; Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Grant Hill; and Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. In 2008, the Boston Celtics combined the talents of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen in a trifecta that dominated the league. The team won 66 games in the regular season and beat Kobe Bryant's Lakers in the NBA Finals, bringing Boston their first championship since 1986.
2009: Phil passes Red
There are many basketball records that seem untouchable, such as Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, the Boston Celtics winning eight straight NBA Finals, or the Los Angeles Lakers winning 33 straight games. One record that was considered untouchable was Celtics coach Red Auerbach's nine championships. That record lasted from 1959–2009 when coach Phil Jackson won his 10th title as a coach. He ultimately won 11 titles while earning six with the Chicago Bulls and five with the Los Angeles Lakers.
2010: The decision
In 2010, LeBron James did the unthinkable when he announced to the world he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” What was dubbed “The Decision” in a primetime broadcast on ESPN, James shocked his hometown of Cleveland by telling Jim Gray on live television that he was leaving for the Miami Heat. Though “The Decision” was derided, the telecast did raise millions of dollars for a variety of charities.
You may also like: Highest-paid players in the NBA
2011: Dirk defeats LeBron
Though today Dirk Nowitzki is considered to be one of the best NBA players of all time, before 2011, he was widely considered to be “soft.” For a big man, Nowitzki's game was more lethal away from the basket with a dead-eye shooting stroke. The “soft” label came from not being able to bang around other big men down low. In 2011, Nowitzki shut up all his critics as he averaged 26 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game in leading the Dallas Mavericks over the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in six games to win the NBA championship.
2012: LeBron wins first title
Up until 2012, LeBron James was considered the greatest player in NBA history to never win an NBA title. After losing the previous year to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron took over the Finals with per-game averages of 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists to defeat the Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden-led Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
2013: Miami Heat win 27 straight
The 2012–13 Miami Heat was one of the most dominant teams in NBA history. Not only did they beat the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA championship, the also went on the second-longest winning streak of all time. From Feb. 3 to March 27 in 2013, they won 27 straight games, falling just six games short of the all-time record of 33 set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972.
2014: Spurs revenge
After enduring one of the most heartbreaking losses in NBA Finals history, the San Antonio Spurs became a team possessed with avenging their loss to the Miami Heat in 2013. The Spurs rolled through the Western Conference to meet the Heat for the second straight year in 2014. Not only did they win the series in five games, but they set the record with the highest margin of victory in NBA history by outscoring the Heat by 70 points over the five games.
2015: The return—LeBron back to Cleveland
After crushing the hearts of his hometown fans and playing in Miami for four years, LeBron James decided to bring his talents back to Cleveland. LeBron's impact was immediately felt as he guided the Cavaliers to the Finals in his first year. He failed to secure the title, losing to the Golden State Warriors 4-2, but better outcomes were on the horizon.
You may also like: Best golf course in every state
2016: LeBron slays the Cleveland Curse
LeBron James was already considered to be one of the greatest players of all time, but it wasn't until he brought a title to his hometown team that he cemented his legacy. The Cleveland Curse was named for the city's championship futility from 1964–2016 with the Cleveland Browns as the last team to win any title for the city. LeBron not only broke the curse, but he beat the Golden State Warriors who won a record 73 games during the regular season.
2017: Westbrook averages triple double
With per-game averages of 31.6 points, 10.4 assists, and 10.7 rebounds, Russell Westbrook became the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double over the course of an entire season. The first player to achieve this tremendous feat was Oscar Robertson in the 1961–62 season. For his accomplishment, Westbrook was also awarded the Most Valuable Player of the Year award.
2018: Golden State wins back-to-back
The Golden State Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-0 in the NBA Finals to secure their second straight championship. The win officially cemented the Warriors as the team of the decade and placed them in rare company as only the fourth franchise in history to win three titles within a four-year span. The other dynastic teams to achieve that feat include the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles/Minneapolis Lakers, and Chicago Bulls.
2019: Toronto Raptors win first title in franchise history
Led by Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and first-year head coach Nick Nurse against an injury-riddled Warriors team in search of a three-peat, the Toronto Raptors delivered their fans—and country—their first Larry O’Brien Trophy in a 4-2 series win. Kevin Durant, having averaged 34.5 points heading into Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, left the game with a calf strain. He returned in Game 5 of the Finals only to rupture his Achilles. In the third quarter of the deciding Game 6, Klay Thompson then tore his ACL after scoring 30 points. Curry missed a game-tying three, and Toronto celebrated.
2020: COVID-19 interrupts end of regular season, postseason
With the NBA just mere weeks from the 2019–20 postseason, the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly stopped play on March 11. Following early European soccer shutdowns, the NBA became the catalyst and example for how to handle sports in light of public and player safety. On June 4, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the league’s Board of Governors voted to approve a 22-team resumption format—mini eight-game schedules followed by postseason—in Orlando from July 31–Oct. 12.
You may also like: Oldest teams in Major League Baseball