Selling the NBA

Riding the shirttails of the world's tallest pitchmen, a once staid league became a marketing force andgrew the pro game worldwide
October 22, 2006

1950

A brewery signs up the league's first star, George Mikan.

1953

In the NBA's national TV debut on Dec. 12, the Celtics beat the Baltimore Bullets 106--75. Twelve more games air this season.

1960

The game's dominant force, Wilt Chamberlain, pitches his own line of Spalding basketballs.

1976

The Indiana Pacemates, who got their start in 1967 as the Marathon Scoreboard Girls, in the ABA, make history as the NBA's first cheerleaders.

1978

The extraordinary Dr. J takes dunking to another level (but it wasn't the shoes).

1980

The Gorilla debuts in Phoenix, paving the way for other mascots.

1981

The league launches its first major marketing blitz--NBA Action: It's Fan-tastic!

1982

Authentic NBA jerseys are made available to the public; Larry Bird's is the first to go on sale.

1984

The forever-linked Bird and Magic Johnson hawk Converse in a commercial that has Magic traveling to Indiana to challenge Bird to a game of one-on-one.

1985

With Nike's unveiling of the Air Jordan, shoe endorsements--and sales--enter a new dimension.

1986

In the NBA's third slam dunk contest (Larry Nance won the first in 1984), 5'7" Spud Webb (left) scores an improbable win.

1988

Sneaker advertising becomes an art form when Spike Lee directs and costars in a series of Air Jordan commercials which air over several years. Lee plays Mars Blackmon, a Michael Jordan fan who utters the famous line, "It's gotta be the shoes."

1990

The league's iconic entertainment during timeouts, the Laker Girls, really hit the big time as the subject of a TV movie called--what else?--Laker Girls.

1990

Hand-held hoops: The first NBA-licensed video game is released.

1990

The first regular-season game outside North America is played on Nov. 2 in Tokyo with the Suns (Kevin Johnson, left) beating the Jazz 119--96.

1992

The original Dream Team runs roughshod over the competition at the Olympics, and the league's global influence begins to expand exponentially.

1992

No, Dennis Rodman wasn't the first NBA player to wear a dress. Converse puts Larry Johnson in a flower print as Grandmama, a slammin' septuagenarian who takes it to the hoop against younger players.

1992

The new marketing slogan: I Love This Game!

1993

In a Nike ad Charles Barkley makes a statement that sparks debate to this day: "I am not a role model."

1995

Sporting the number 1/2, the rambunctious Li'l Penny (voiced by Chris Rock) is the alter ego of the more reserved Penny Hardaway in this popular Nike campaign.

1996

Players had made cameos or played supporting roles in Hollywood films--remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane! and Dr. J in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh?--but Jordan becomes the first to top the marquee when he stars in Space Jam.

1996

Rodman appears at a signing for his book Bad As I Wanna Be in a wedding gown.

1998

In Game 6 of the Finals, with the largest TV audience ever to watch an NBA game glued to their sets, Jordan hits a jumper with 5.2 seconds left to give the Bulls an 87--86 victory over the Jazz and their sixth title in eight years.

2002

On April 11 the Lakers (Shaquille O'Neal, left) honor their Minneapolis roots by wearing retro jerseys, in a game against the T-Wolves. Every season the league holds a Hardwood Classics Night during which teams wear retro uniforms.

2006

Discount clothing chain Steve and Barry's teams with Stephon Marbury on a $15 sneaker that he promises to wear in games. The shoes are flying off shelves.

2006

The first change to the official game ball in 35 years: a switch from leather to a microfiber composite this season, for less break-in time and a more consistent feel.

2006

In a campaign called Meet the LeBrons, Nike trots out a series of TV spots in which James portrays four versions of himself: kid, athlete, retiree and businessman. Stay tuned ...

TWENTY-SEVEN PHOTOSFIRST ROW: PHOTOFEST (DUMONT); HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES (CHAMBERLAIN); AL HALL (PACEMATE); BARRY GOSSAGE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (GORILLA); COURTESY OF THE NBA (FAN-TASTIC); ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (BIRD AND MAGIC); COURTESY OF NIKE, INC. (AIR JORDAN); STEPHEN DUNN/GETTY IMAGES (WEBB). SECOND ROW: ROBERT BECK (LAKER GIRL); ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (KEVIN JOHNSON); THEO WESTENBERGER/SYGMA (DREAM TEAM); COURTESY OF THE NBA (I LOVE THIS GAME); WARNER BROS./EVERETT COLLECTION (SPACE JAM)THIRD ROW: MICHAEL GERBER/CORBIS (RODMAN); FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (JORDAN); NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (SHAQ); NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (SHOE); MEL LEVINE (BALL)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)