How the NBA Has Changed Since the 90s

On August 3, 1949, the Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League merged, forming the National Basketball Association (NBA). The league has undergone substantial changes in the intervening years. For many, the 1990s were the golden age of NBA basketball. If you were lucky enough to watch the NBA during this decade, you witnessed a style of basketball that doesn’t exist today. The Chicago Bulls dominated the NBA throughout the 90s and it’s impossible to talk about the decade without mentioning Michael Jordan and his teammates.

Jordan’s acrobatics inspired a generation of NBA hopefuls and, to this day, Air Jordans are among the most popular sneakers on the market. Although the game has changed significantly since the 1990s, professional basketball remains one of the world’s most-watched sports, with the most popular event being the NBA Finals. Every year fans around the world wager money on their favorite team winning it all. Checking the latest NBA Championship winner odds is how many fans judge how their favorite players compare to the competition. In this article, we take a look at how the NBA has evolved since the golden era of the 90s.


The rivalry between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls defined basketball for a generation of NBA fans. The Pistons were famous for their tough defense that kept Jordan out of the paint as much as humanly possible. Before winning his first NBA title, the Pistons’ defense repeatedly eliminated Jordan and the Bulls out of the playoffs. The Pistons, led by Dennis Rodman and Bill Laimbeer, were so good at containing Jordan during the late 80s and early 90s, their tactics became known as the “Jordan Rules.”

What would be called fouls in today’s NBA were overlooked in the 1990s. Flopping has become increasingly common in the league, with some arguing it has ruined the game. All a player has to do is flop to get a foul called. The prevalence of flopping has diminished the hard-nosed defense and hard blocks that fans of 90s basketball loved.

Point Guards and Shooting Guards Rule

For anyone who watched basketball in the 90s, this has been a dramatic change. The NBA has shifted to playing more small ball. Centers dominated basketball courts in the 1990s, while today, point guards and shooting guards are the sport’s dominant players. This is also reflected in the salaries. During the 1997-1998 season, eight out of ten of the NBA’s highest-paid players were centers. In contrast, there are no centers among the league’s current top ten highest-paid players.

Less Mid-Range Shooting

If you went to an NBA game 20 years ago, you would have seen a lot of midrange shooting, and if you miss Michael Jordan’s mid-range fade away, you’re not alone. You barely see them in today’s NBA. Changes in zone defense are one reason this beautiful shot has faded away, resulting in players taking fewer mid-range shots. Although some players, such as Chris Paul, have a strong mid-range game.  If you love three-points, those have increased in today’s game. However, we’d love to see more young players up their mid-range game.

It’s Not a Team Game Anymore

You know what we’re talking about if you watched the 2021 NBA finals between the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks. There was a lot of one-on-one instead of team basketball throughout the series. Although Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points in game 6 of the series when the Bucks clinched the title, much of the play was one-on-one. Watching a superstar dominate the game is thrilling, but the best basketball is when a team works together seamlessly. NBA advertising also promotes superstars instead of teams, which is very different to cheering for a team in the 90s.

Different Rules

Offensive players have an advantage over defensive players because today’s defensive rules are more relaxed than in the 1990s. The 2021 NBA finals illustrate this point well. While Giannis Antetokounmpo is a brilliant player, in the 90s, he would’ve had to work much harder to get to the hoop inside the paint. In the 1990s, players paid the price for getting to the hoop. Today’s referees call a foul for the slightest touch.