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Fifty years ago professional basketball was largely a diversion for cultists, a game played in dimly lit, smoke-filled arenas that barely made a dent on America's consciousness. Today it is entertainment for the universe, an ever-expanding empire built with marketing genius and the telegenic appeal of the most athletic superstars in sports. As the NBA gets ready to tip off its golden anniversary season, we take a snapshot look at the stunning growth of this American success story—from set shots to slam dunks, from Mikan to Michael...and just about everything in between.