For all intents and purposes, the National Basketball Association is still a relitively youthful organization. A series of mergers created the NBA we know today, but before the consolidation, professional basketball and its niggardly organization prevented fans and even some players from gaining full exposure to the sport. The modern NBA was the corollary of the 1976 merger between the freewheeling American Basketball Association (ABA) and the stalwart National Basketball Association (NBA). Seeking to expand, the NBA all but absorbed the entire ABA in 1976. The New York Nets, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, and Indiana Pacers all became NBA teams following the merger. In addition, the NBA adopted the ABA’s three-point field goal and expanded on the Slam-Dunk contest pioneered by the ABA.Most importantly, the merger created a single outlet for professional basketball in the United States. The merger brought Julius Erving and Moses Malone to the NBA; the duo would combine to win an NBA title in 1983, defeating the L.A Lakers in four games. By consolidating the two competing leagues, basketball became an anthology of superstars.
The merger stirred a medley of greats like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone, Sidney Moncrief, Julius Erving, James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins, and Mike Dunleavy in the same pot. The NBA was legitimately the best place for basketball anywhere in the world. Proponents of small-market glory may wail against these claims, but the 1976 merger gave birth to some of the greatest rivalries in sport.
The merger also expanded the influence of the NBA. A traditional hotbed for basketball recruiting, the southeastern United States was devoid of an NBA presence. The ABA ruled tobacco row; the merger finally shed light on great players from this area of the country and opened up a world of hope for talented players expecting a future in the small-market ABA.
Once consolidation was complete the NBA, which began in 1946 with 11 teams, was free to expand to the 30 teams which we have become familiar with today. The latest member of the exclusive cabal is the Charoltte Bobcats, conceived in 2004 under the aegis of a six-time champion, Michael Jordan. As of 2008, only 350 active roster spots exist in the NBA; over 5200 athlets play division 1 men’s college basketball. Consider the exclusivity of a place within the coveted association, collegiate standouts are also competing with an influx of foreign-born players for the same 350 roster spots. In the first two rounds of the 2008 NBA Draft 11 out of 60 players drafted were of foreign birth. In 2006 the Toronto Raptors made Italy’s Andrea Bargnani the #1 overall pick. The hapless New York Knicks have a nasty habit of drafting foreign born players who notoriously fail to produce.
As evidinced by the increased competition for a stagnant number of roster spots, the exclusivity of the NBA is rising. The talent pool is larger than ever, rosters are not expanding. This is great news for the NBA because the level of talent is increasing; there are no real bench warmers in professional basketball (unless you count Eric Snow of the Cleveland Cavaliers).
The mystique of the assocaition is growing. New rivalries are procured between Olympians such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmello Anthony, and Chris Paul. For the die-hard basketball fan, the next decade looks promising from a matchup standpoint. With such a profusion of talent, professional basketball may be headed back to the glory days of Magic and Bird, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Julius Earving and Dominique Wilkins, Issiah Thomas and John Stockton, Mark Price and Brad Dauerghty, and of course, the immortal Michael Jordan.