Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the
world. Much of this popularity can be
credited to the impact of the 1992 Dream Team which stole the show at the 1992
Summer Olympics in Barcelona. To this
day basketball is still one of the marquee events at the Summer Olympics
attracting fans from every nation and receiving numerous corporate sponsorships
along the way. As a matter of fact the
Dream Team paved the way for many other Olympic sports to receive corporate
sponsorships to the level that they receive them today. Many of you hear today whether you follow
basketball or not probably believe that no other countries are even close to
the level of the USA talent. While that
is certainly the case now, in as little as 15-20 years this may no longer be
the case. I have been an avid basketball
fan since the first time I touched a basketball. As I have grown I have broadened my horizons
with basketball and have developed an interest in international
basketball. Basketball is one of the
fastest growing sports on the planet.
First we need to understand the characteristics that give basketball the appeal that it has. Basketball has been able to transcend many different cultures in its rise in popularity over the years due to many appealing characteristics. For one all that you need to play the game is a ball and a hoop. Also the NBA does a phenomenal job at marketing its players. The names LeBron James and Michael Jordan are known pretty much worldwide. Not many other sporting leagues have players who are known worldwide on the level of MJ and LeBron. Also basketball is fast paced and high scoring which is great for people like me who have short attention spans. Basketball is a much better alternative to the extremely slow paced baseball, and is provides more instant gratification that a sport such as soccer which is extremely low scoring. Another edge that basketball has over other sports is how it is intertwined into the culture of school. Nearly every school in the US, and a growing number of schools across the globe, has a gym with a basketball court. Whether it was for pep rally, an assembly, or just a mandatory gym class, you have definitely come across a basketball court during your preliminary education. Also March Madness, the annual college basketball tournament, is the second biggest sporting event in the US trailing only the Superbowl. Basketball also benefits from being “made for TV” with its great replay potential. While sports like hockey, due to the lack of the crowd atmosphere, or baseball, due to the length of the game, may not translate as well onto the TV.
Next, let’s talk about the impact that the 1992 Dream Team had on the spread of basketball. The 1992 Olympics were probably the single biggest event responsible for the growth of basketball internationally. The Dream Team was the first time that the US sent over professional players to play in the Olympic basketball tournament. This was due to the US basketball team only bringing home the bronze medal from the 1988 Olympics in Seoul with college players. The average margin of victory for the US team during the 1992 Olympics was about 44 points. For those who don’t follow basketball to closely, that is blowout of extreme proportions. The team was such a spectacle that the US coach Chuck Daly remarked that with the crowds that they drew, “It was like the Beatles and Elvis put together”. Sports Illustrated proclaimed that the Dream Team was “arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled in any sport”. Many current international NBA stars such as Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tony Parker have cited the Dream Team as their inspiration to play basketball.
Now where does basketball stand currently in the global landscape of sports? Currently basketball is one of the fastest growing sports on the planet. Between soccer (est. 1863), baseball (est.1846), and American Football (est. 1869), basketball is the “newest” not being established until 1891. A global study, conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide in April '97 based on 35,000 interviews, showed that 11% of the world plays basketball. Also basketball has overwhelmingly become the most popular sport in the biggest country on the planet, China. The NBA estimates that about 450 million Chinese people watch NBA games regularly. Not only that, but the Chinese Basketball Association estimates that more than 300 million people are currently playing basketball in China, which is close to the total population of the United States to put that number in perspective. Television allows the NBA to reach over 750 million households in over 42 different languages in 212 countries around the world. Also the opening-night rosters for the 2012-13 NBA season featured 84 international players from 37 countries and territories. Not only this, but Foreign leagues are now beginning to be able compete financially with the NBA. Josh Childress left the NBA for more money by signing with a Greek team for $20 million over 3 seasons. Also top it all off FIBA, basketball’s governing body, is working on introducing 3x3 basketball as a new event for the upcoming Olympics games. Needless to say this would increase basketball’s popularity by legitimizing an alternative style of play on a stage as big as the Olympics.
The sport of basketball is rapidly taking over the world. Today I have covered the characteristics that give basketball the appeal that it has, the impact of the 1992 “Dream Team”, and where basketball currently stands when it comes to reaching a global audience. After what you have heard today you should no longer think of basketball as just an American sport. Don’t be surprised if in 20 years or so basketball is realistically competing with soccer for the title of most popular sport in the world.
Basketball is growing faster and faster each and every day and for the last part of this paper I will be focusing more on different countries and how basketball is slowly becoming their favorite sport. Let me start with China, China is a very big country and has a very large population of people living there but needless to say I have always wondered how China became interested in basketball. Then I instantly remember that Yao Ming use to play in the NBA and this must be where they got their inspiration to play basketball from. Almost more people are playing basketball in china than here in America. In China, basketball cultural effect is even larger. Yao Ming, who played with the NBA’s Houston Rockets, represents the China Global. This means China feels they are viewed more as a new China that is a player in the global marketplace and a worldwide force and not defined by politics or old ideologies. In addition, Yao’s success in the NBA is largely believed by Chinese to have reduced negative racial stereotypes of Asian men in Hollywood. No longer are Chinese solely portrayed as short, smart, and bookish. We could further predict that other nations will put a similar burden on their own future NBA stars. Not only are they playing for themselves, but also the betterment and advancement of an entire nation. To further demonstrate what Ming has done and how he is poised to change the nature of the game of basketball in China, we can look to the policies of the Chinese Government. As of August 2008, a plan has been put in place to put a basketball court and ping-pong set in every village. Many of the Olympic facilities are being torn down, but the basketball arena will stay put out of popularity of the sport. There is not telling how this government policy may someday alter the global landscape of the sport.
Now, more than ever, internationalism matters. This year, the NBA will play ten games in six countries, making it the most international season ever. This week, the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers will play in Manila, and the Chicago Bulls will play the Washington Wizards in Rio de Janeiro the first NBA preseason games ever in the Philippines or Brazil. The league will also host games in Manchester, England, and Bilbao, Spain, for the first time. The NBA broadcasts games around the world and organizes youth camps in eleven countries through its Basketball without Borders program, in which NBA players work with kids. More than four hundred million people globally follow the NBA on social-media networks. Last year, the league’s Executive of the Year award was given to Nigerian-born Masai Ujiri, then the general manager of the Denver Nuggets. American basketball, in other words, has never been more international.
Sports are a vehicle for nationalism, and, despite basketball’s Canadian roots, few are more American. Yet the sport, more than American counterparts like baseball and football, can also be sold as a global game. Cricket remains the definitive bat-and-ball sport of Europe and India, which makes it hard for baseball to gain traction there. American football must compete with sports like rugby and soccer. Basketball falls into its own category; there is no game quite like it.
Some may argue that the globalization of basketball, and of the NBA brand could erode its status as a symbol of American culture. But there’s another way to see it. American culture is already becoming less dominant in the global arena: the Chinese microblogging site Weibo is one of the most popular globally; Bangkok was the world’s most visited city in 2012, and Oprah called the Indian actors Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan “the most famous couple in the world.” Perhaps the NBA is simply adapting to this new reality better than others. Domestically, the NBA’s ratings dropped in the years after Michael Jordan’s retirement; stateside, the game seemed less exciting and less important. That situation has improved in recent years thanks, in part, to a new generation of talented and marketable stars, including Jeremy Lin, the league’s first American-born player of Taiwanese descent, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to its growing international appeal. The NBA has had to look elsewhere for growth and for that to work, it has had to remake basketball at least partly in the image of the people it’s trying to reach.
Basketball is largely growing around the world without a doubt and pretty soon the NBA won’t be really important as it is today. Because once other countries starts to pay big money, most likely players would want to be a part of that. But there always might be a case of legacy, what will people remember you by in the NBA. So when it comes to players leaving to play in different countries, it should be very interesting when the time comes, maybe 20 years from now. All we can do now is just to wait for the time to come.