While soccer, or as the rest of the world calls it “football,” no doubt remains the ‘world’s sport’ with regards to global popularity, the rapid spread of TV and the internet has provided other sports with the opportunity to finally catch up. For example, basketball, once confined between Atlantic and Pacific, has spread to nearly every inch of the globe, with over 400 leagues worldwide. Throughout the last few decades basketball has exhibited a unique ability to achieve cross-cultural success by combining the power and brute force of American football with the flair and ingenuity of the rest of the world’s version. In fact, Basketball shares with soccer many of the very traits which Goldblatt argues have contributed to its sustained popularity: “it’s simple, cheap, and flexible in terms of numbers… favors no single set of skills, attributes or virtues but requires a command of many.”
That said, there’s good reason to believe that the sport will continue to grow. The NBA, the most popular and highly regarded basketball league in the world, now includes over 75 international players, compared to just 17 in 1990. Last year’s NBA champions, the Dallas Mavericks, included the most international players of any team in the NBA (five), with France, Germany, Peurto Rico, and Serbia all represented. Dirk Nowitzki, the Maverick’s star player, became just the third international player ever to win the NBA finals MVP award.
Moreover, the recent NBA lockout spurred a new type of player migration, as American players fled the birthplace of basketball to compete in other leagues worldwide. At one point or another over 90 NBA players signed with teams outside the United States, bringing the world’s best basketball talent to previously obscure leagues in China, Israel, and even Great Britain where soccer reigns supreme. Many have predicted a continuation of this new form of migration even after the lockout, as foreign teams can often offer more playing time, money, and notoriety to second-tier NBA players. The international flow of basketball talent provides the sport with exciting new opportunities as it continues to grow. Could a rival league to the NBA develop in Europe or elsewhere? Could we soon see an interleague international championship analogous to Soccer’s Champion’s Cup? Basketball fans worldwide can only salivate at the possibilities. For more on NBA players going overseas, check out this article from the New York Times.