Professional basketball began (1896) in New York City and was at one time played on courts enclosed by wire mesh (basketball players are still occasionally referred to as "cagers"). Until the 1950s it languished in popularity behind college basketball and such touring black teams as the Harlem Globetrotters and the New York Rens.
The merger (1949) of the National Basketball League and the rival Basketball Association of America into the National Basketball Association (NBA) led to greater popularity. The appearance of stars like George Mikan, the signing of black players beginning in 1950, the temporary disrepute of the college game owing to gambling scandals in the early 1950s, and the adoption of the 24-sec shot clock in 1954, further boosted the NBA.
Its success inspired the formation of several competing leagues, among them the American Basketball Association (ABA), founded in 1967 and merged into the NBA in 1975. In the 1980s the emergence of charismatic players like "Magic" Johnson (see Johnson, Earvin), Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan, combined with aggressive marketing, made the NBA hugely successful, so that basketball often seemed the premier U.S. professional sport. A labor dispute in late 1998 delayed and shortened the 1998–99 season, but the sport weathered that bout of labor strife. Another dispute in late 2011 similarly delayed and shortened the 2011–12 season..