Larry Bird and Magic Johnson revitalized the NBA in the early 1980s when the league had fewer fans than Balloon Boy's Dad.
That was the Golden Era of hoops. The holy trinity of Bird and Magic?s basketball skills, leadership and will to win captivated the world, and the legendary Lakers-Celtics rivalry got a whole new audience interested in the pro game.
Michael Jordan then took the NBA to new heights.
And David Stern made sure to leave no marketing stone unturned every step of the way.
Now the NBA is tightening its belt, preparing for a lower salary cap in 2010-2011.
But if it weren?t for Bird and Magic, there might not be any money to count.
Nothing will ever compare to those halcyon days, but there are still 82 reasons to watch the NBA this season.
1. Love ?em or hate ?em, the Lakers are the team to beat.
2. The Celtics might have the deepest team in the league, but Glen Davis breaking his thumb in an off-court altercation and then likely being suspended by the team for the incident could be a bad omen.
3. Don?t mess with LeBron James — or his friends. Cleveland plans to pull out all the stops to make sure this isn?t the King?s last stand in Ohio. The city?s first show of good faith was getting Braylon Edwards charged with misdemeanor assault.
4. The Lakers have two new wild cards that could derail their repeat bid — Ron Artest and the Kardashians. If one doesn?t destroy team chemistry, the other might.
5. Not giving Rajon Rondo an extension before the season might be the perfect way to motivate Boston?s 23-year-old point guard. It also could come back to haunt Danny Ainge.
6. Shaquille O?Neal could bring glory to the Cavaliers. He?s already brought two new nicknames — the Big Shaquisition and the Big Witness Protection Program. That makes more nicknames (5,751) than made free throws (5,750) in his career.
7. The Spurs still have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich — so they?ll still be good ? and as exciting as a garden full of turnips.
8. The Magic have 8-1 odds to win the NBA championship. Vince Carter has 500-1 odds to play defense.
8. Kobe Bryant has the rings and the restored image. Now he wants to take Jerry West?s place as the logo.
9. Rasheed Wallace could be the best sixth man in the business.
10. New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, a self-made Russian billionaire, could give Lakers owner Jerry Buss a run for the title of biggest playboy.
11. No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin is starting is his career with a broken kneecap. It?s more evidence that the Clippers have the worst karma in sports history. Special thanks goes to Donald Sterling for that distinction.
12. Celtics fans used to love Leon Powe, but they might not even like him anymore when he?s mad.
13. Eddie Jordan has brought the Princeton offense to Philadelphia. Either the team will surprise some people or be a total flop.
14. Dr. J is not walking through the door for the Sixers. Neither is Moses Malone or Andrew Toney, but Philly could use all of them.
15. The Knicks? motto remains ?One Year Away? — same as it?s been since Isiah Thomas was running the team into the ground.
16. If Greg Oden can stay healthy for a full season, the Most Improved Player award is his to lose.
17. Oklahoma City hasn?t stopped pinching itself since the Thunder became their team, but Seattle is still sad every time Kevin Durant scores a basket.
18. Jerry Sloan is the best coach in the NBA who?s never won an NBA championship. Unfortunately for Utah, this won?t be the year of the Jazz.
19. Erik Spoelstra looks to build on his first season as Heat coach when they went 43-39 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
20. Mark Cuban will not be challenging Kenyon Martin to a game of one-on-one.
21. Devin Harris has recovered from the embarrassment of being schooled by a British baller and is ready to captain New Jersey to the playoffs.
22. Carmelo Anthony might be ready to make a run for MVP.
23. Gilbert Arenas plans to let his play do the talking.
24. The Mavericks are hoping Dirk Nowitzki?s numbers go down, and the rest of his teammates? stats go up.
25. Toronto better enjoy Chris Bosh. He probably won?t be wearing a Raptors uniform next season.
26. Tracy McGrady is slated to make $22.8 million this season. Unless his knee gets better quick, much of that salary could be earned wearing a suit.
27. The Warriors are looking to disprove the theory that giving up more points than you score only leads to failure.
28. The Bulls opened some eyes by taking the Celtics to seven games last spring, and it wasn?t a fluke.
29. No one was happier to see Terry Porter shown the exit door in Phoenix than Steve Nash. While Nash is no spring chicken, he?s ready to have a bounce-back year.
30. How much Delonte West can contribute to the Cavaliers remains a mystery.
31. Al Jefferson is banged up, but the Timberwolves need their leading scorer and rebounder to be healthy. How much? They went 7-25 after he went down with a knee injury last season. Of course, they only went 17-33 with him, but that?s better than 7-25.
32. The Hornets will go as far as Chris Paul can carry them.
33. Dwight Howard?s game continues to evolve. If he ever hits the midrange jumper with any kind of consistency, stopping global warming will be easier than stopping the Magic center.
34. The Pacers have to improve their defense (106.2 ppg allowed last season), or it?s going to a long campaign in Indy.
35. Staying disciplined is the key to success for the Nuggets.
36. A 50-win season isn?t out of the question for the Hawks — especially if they improve their free-throw percentage (73.7), the third-lowest in the league last season.
37. Yao Ming?s season is in jeopardy because of two foot surgeries. The Rockets and China are bummed.
38. Trevor Ariza was the X factor in the Lakers? championship run. Houston is counting on him to make a similar impact in the Lone Star State.
39. Who will be the Kobe stopper now that Bruce Bowen has retired? Ruben Patterson respectfully declines.
40. Carlos Boozer is an anomaly — a Duke player who makes it big in the NBA. Somewhere, Dick Vitale is yelling.
41. Rodney Stuckey, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva, Kwame Brown. Meet the Pistons? starting five.
42. It?s going to be a long year in Detroit. But hey, at least the Lions won a game.
43. Bobcats point guard Raymond Felton averaged 14.2 points last season. That number could be even higher if he regains his outside shooting touch.
44. Bank on Raptors center Andrea Bargnani building on his impressive rookie season (15.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 40 percent from 3-point range). The 7-foot Italian has tremendous upside.
45. Kevin Garnett?s knee is fine. Just don?t ask him about it.
46. Some people underestimate how good a coach Phil Jackson is. He does much more than just roll the balls out on the court.
47. Caron Butler is hungry. How hungry? He lost 11 pounds this summer by giving up Mountain Dew.
48. New Raptor Hedo Turkoglu is getting better with age. His last five seasons have been much better than his first five.
49. Injuries have prevented Amar'e Stoudemire from reaching the superstar stratosphere, but at just 26, the seven-year veteran has time to get there.
50. History. Bad blood. Competitors. All the pieces are in place for the Celtics and Cavaliers to have a cold war.
51. Nate Robinson is the 21st century version of Spud Webb.
52. Chris Andersen joins Tom Chambers and Rex Chapman in the White Men Can Jump Hall of Fame.
53. What sophomore slump? Derrick Rose might end up being the best point guard in the Association before the year's over.
54. Allen Iverson could be the biggest hit in Memphis since Elvis, blues music and barbecue.
55. Baron Davis got a lot of money to come home to L.A. and play for the Clippers. He hasn?t lost faith that he can work a miracle.
56. Joe Johnson can roll out of bed and score 20 points. He might boost that total to 25 in his contract year.
57. Richard Jefferson canceled his wedding in July instead of going through with something that didn?t feel right. The Spurs could be the beneficiary.
58. Brandon Roy got game.
59. Charles Barkley wants to be in charge of an NBA team. Somebody should give him a shot.
60. Jason Thompson might be the best player you?ve never heard of. He plays in relative anonymity in Sacramento.
61. Watch out for Andrew Bynum. He could be playing with a chip on his shoulder.
62. Tyreke Evans will give Kings fans reason to cheer. The 6-foot-6 combo guard could lead all rookies in triple-doubles.
63. Omri Casspi will make history as the first Israeli to play in the NBA, and the Kings have high hopes for him.
64. Knicks president Donnie Walsh will do to everything he can to channel his inner Red Holzman.
65. Josh Smith is a dunking machine.
66. When the game?s on the line, Dwyane Wade knows what to do with the rock.
67. The Trail Blazers have shed their Jail Blazer image, but they still can?t shake adversity. Starting small forward Nicolas Batum needs shoulder surgery. His injury will give someone more playing time.
68. Warriors coach Don Nelson doesn?t have Run-TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullins) anymore, but he still likes his offense to run.
69. Michael Jordan hinted during his Hall of Fame speech that we might see him playing when he?s 50. If the Bobcats struggle, his Airness could don a uniform sooner than expected.
70. Kurt Rambis was nicknamed Clark Kent when he played on the Lakers, but it?s going to take Superman to turn around the Timberwolves.
71. The Nuggets are happy they drafted Ty Lawson with the 18th pick in the draft, but some teams might be kicking themselves that they didn?t.
72. New kicks always get introduced. Thankfully, basketball shoes are sticking with simple designs after years of going with the space boot look.
73. Dance teams and smack talk. It?s as American as hot dogs and apple pie.
74. TNT?s basketball coverage is as good as any sports coverage on TV.
75. Rookie Terrence Williams could make a name for himself off the bench in New Jersey.
76. The Grizzlies are interested in adding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to their coaching staff. The Hall of Famer could help Marc Gasol, Hamed Haddadi and rookie Hasheem Thabeet.
77. The Bucks still have a basketball team. Seriously.
78. There?s nowhere to go but up for the Wizards, who won 19 games last season. With Flip Saunders roaming the sidelines, they could easily double that win total.
79. After jumping the shark, Stephon Marbury has decided to eat Jaws and broadcast the event with a live Webcast and running 24/7 Twitter play-by-play.
80. The NBA has gone global. Look at any roster, and you?re bound to find a few players from countries other than the United States. The season opened with a record-tying 83 international ballers.
81. There were no complaints with replacement referees during the preseason, but we won?t have to see them miss calls when it counts. The real ones get the honor of doing that.
82. The NBA is where amazing happens.
Let the season begin.