Speaking of boning up on their history, most don't understand that Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) was a member of the NWA and not THE NWA. Because they were the largest threat to the WWF, JCP regularly featured the NWA champion.
The Big Gold Belt (BGB), now known as the World Heavyweight Championship in WWE, was introduced in 1985 to replace the Ten Pounds of Gold design, the older style NWA belt worn by Harley Race, the Funks, etc. It was purchased and introduced in JCP by then champion Ric Flair.
When JCP was sold to Ted Turner, the company was renamed World Championship Wrestling, the name of JCP's TV show. At this time the BGB is recognized as both the NWA and WCW World Titles.
The first split in the timeline occurs when Flair loses in Japan to Tatsumi Fujinami. The NWA recognizes the title change, but WCW does not. Flair would reunite the titles a couple months later.
The next and most significant split happens when Flair jumps to the WWF. He takes the BGB with him, as he was owed the deposit that was mandated for champions to pay to carry the BGB. He appears on WWF TV as the "Real" World's Champion. During this time, WCW creates a new, different belt, to recognize their champion. When the deposit terms are settled, the BGB returns to WCW TV as the NWA title; there are 2 individual world belts in WCW at this time (NWA and WCW.)
After a handful of disputes between WCW and the NWA, WCW withdrew from the NWA and had to discontinue use of the NWA initials. The BGB became the WCW International Title, the championship of fictitious WCW International, which replaced the NWA until the title was merged with the WCW World Title. The BGB came to represent the WCW belt once again, through the end of the company and its purchase by the WWF.
The title was eventually merged with the WWF title. Depending on where you research, WWE will include or not include the above history as associated with the BGB. On their website, the BGB as the "World Heavyweight Title" is introduced in 2002 when it was award to HHH, however, on their World Heavyweight Title DVD, they link both histories as one.
The NWA title floundered after WCW's withdrawal from the NWA. The NWA, now represented by a handful of indy promoters, held a tournament with then Eastern Championship Wrestling in 1994. As everyone knows, Shane Douglas won, denounced the NWA, and ECW was born.
The title would be re-established and showed up in places such as Smoky Mountain, WWF TV, and the new NWA-TNA, before vanishing as an indy only belt after TNA withdrew from the NWA, much like WCW.
No one can argue the significance of the NWA title. It was used to establish the WWWF championship, WCW, ECW and TNA titles as "world" championships. However, with the lack of a national presence as it once had, it's hard to argue if the NWA carried on the indies today should be held in the same regard as the BGB/World Heavyweight Championship in WWE.
I personally feel that the NWA title lost is significance and history when Flair unified the WCW and International belts. It's like comparing the post 1999 Cleveland Browns to the team that left for Baltimore. The current NWA title may lay claim to it's heritage, but it's definitely not the same as it used to be.