In 1891, James Naismith nailed a pair of peach baskets to the opposite walls of a gymnasium at Springfield College in Massachusetts and invented the forerunner to what we know today as basketball. Despite these 19th-century roots, the National Basketball Association didn’t come into existence until 1948, and the NBA did not merge with its rival American Basketball Association until 1976. Still, there’s no shortage of collectible vintage basketball memorabilia.
Unlike other popular American sports such as baseball, football, and hockey, which require a great deal of space and equipment, basketball can be played by just about any school child, which is what’s made it so popular in the United States and throughout the world. The game’s global and mass-appeal makes memorabilia associated with many of the game’s biggest stars among the most sought-after items in all of sports collecting. Indeed, the player who’s widely considered the greatest athlete in all of American sports—Michael Jordan—was a basketball player.
Beyond the obvious appeal of Jordan, basketball has thrived thanks to its fierce rivalries. In college it’s North Carolina versus Duke, while in the NBA it’s the Boston Celtics versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Combined, those two teams have won more than half of all NBA championships (33) and account for quite a laundry list of memorable, and collectible, players. Bill Russell, John Havlicek, and Larry Bird, to name but a few, have all called Boston home, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and, more recently, Kobe Bryant have shot jumpers and played defense for L.A.