The National Basketball Association, (NBA), has a long history we can trace back to its incarnation in 1950, when the league awarded the first NBA championship to the Minneapolis Lakers. In the three years preceding this inaugural championship, the league existed as the Basketball Association of America with the Philadelphia Warriors, Baltimore Bullets, and Minneapolis Lakers winning the first three BAA finals.
As the league developed, it lacked the elite athletes present in today’s NBA. During the 1950s, the first real star in the NBA was George Mikan, Center for the Minneapolis Lakers. Mikan stood 6 foot 10 inches tall, and his skills in scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking helped him lead the Lakers to three straight NBA titles from 1952 to 1954.
Throughout the 1950s, other relevant teams besides the Lakers included the Syracuse Nationals, Rochester Royals, Fort Wayne Pistons, New York Knicks, and St. Louis Hawks. Of these teams, only the Knicks still play in their original city. In 1957, the Boston Celtics emerged as the first real dynasty after they won their first NBA title behind the defensive prowess of rookie Center Bill Russell.
The Celtics would go on to appear in the next ten straight NBA Finals, winning all of them except in 1958 when Bob Petit led the St. Louis Hawks over the Celtics after a Bill Russell ankle injury in Game 3. From 1959 to 1966, the Celtics won eight championships over the Lakers (who would later move to Los Angeles in 1960), Hawks, and Warriors (who had formerly relocated to San Francisco).
In 1967, the Celtics would miss the NBA Finals for the first time in over a decade after Bill Russell’s biggest rival, 7 foot 1 inch Center Wilt Chamberlain, led the Philadelphia 76ers over Boston in the Divisional Playoffs. After beating the Celtics, Chamberlain led the 76ers to their first NBA Championship where they beat the San Francisco Warriors (the team Wilt had played for previously before their relocation).
The Celtics returned to their championship form in 1968 and 1969, defeating the Lakers in the finals both times. The 1960s served to establish the Celtics-Lakers rivalry which continues on to this day. Upon defeating the Lakers in 1969, the Celtics prevented the team from winning their first championship since moving to Los Angeles—a true upset as the Lakers were led by three future hall of famers in Wilt Chamberlain (for whom they had recently traded), future NBA logo Jerry West, and legendary athletic Forward Elgin Baylor. The 1969 Finals also featured the innovation of the Finals Most Valuable Player award, given to Jerry West of the Lakers (the only time that a player for the losing team has won the award)
Bill Russell retired after the 1969 season, effectively ending the Celtics’ dynasty. No team emerged to establish another dynasty in the 1970s, although the decade did have some notable features. Lew Alcindor emerged for the Milwaukee Bucks as the next great Center. The Lakers won their first championship in Los Angeles in 1972—a team that set the NBA record for longest win streak at 33 games. The New York Knicks won their first two championships in 1970 and 1973. The Bullets won their first championship in 1978 since moving to Washington. Although the Celtics won two more championships, three other teams emerged to win their first titles: the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trailblazers, and Seattle Supersonics.
Since the 1970s, each decade has featured at least one dynasty. The Lakers and Celtics dominated the 1980s—led by the rivalry between the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Celtics’ Larry Bird (as well as hall of famers James Worthy, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—formerly known as Lew Alcindor). The 1990s belonged to the Chicago Bulls, who won six titles behind Shooting Guard Michael Jordan—often regarded as the greatest player of all time.
At the turn of the century, the Lakers returned as a dynasty behind Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The San Antonio Spurs emerged to win four titles behind Power Forward Tim Duncan, and the Miami Heat won three titles from 2006 to 2013 behind Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.