Soccer is the world’s sport. There is no disputing that. I attribute much of the reason for this to the fact that only a round ball is needed to practice. No ice, no pads, no helmets, no bats, just a ball.
This same theory could be applied to the huge growth in basketball being played worldwide. All you need is a ball that will bounce and some sort of hoop or basket.
With each passing year we are witnessing the National Basketball Association’s Global Games becoming a staple in the schedule. However, this year marks the first season in league history that two regular-season games will be played outside the United States and Canada in addition to the gambit of preseason games that will occur overseas.
This is not new; the preseason is used as an excuse for international travel and exposure for the NBA. The thought process being, if the people aren’t watching the games locally, let’s take these boring exhibitions places where they will draw some looks.
This year, eight preseason games, featuring 10 different NBA teams, have been scheduled throughout the month of October in Istanbul, Bilbao, Manchester, Manila, Taipei, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing and Shanghai.
The more interesting international bouts are the regular season games scheduled in Mexico City and London. The Spurs and Timberwolves, who both finished the 2012-13 season with the most international players on their roster, will take the court on December 4th at Mexico City Arena. Brooklyn and Atlanta will be flying overseas on January 16th to play in the O2, marking the league’s 12th appearance in the United Kingdom since 1993.
Commissioner David Stern has mentioned that in addition to the games, the teams will be partaking in community outreach activities as part of the NBA Cares campaign, as well as interactive fan zones in these areas.
It is quite apparent that the NBA is attempting to expand its brand to a global level. After the launch of NBA China (a fly-by-night operation as it currently stands due to the rumor of international league creation that disappeared into nothingness) in 2008, there has been at least one game played in China every year.
And for good reason. According to Forbes, 83 percent of males between the ages of 15 and 61 in China either play or regularly watch basketball. NBA China also reported that the NBA is by far the most popular sports league in that country. Essentially the NBA is the favorite league of the largest country and the world, not a bad acclamation.
Basketball is booming in other Asian countries, most notably the Philippines, where it has become a popular intercollegiate sport, played in comfortable arenas. You don’t see Filipinos playing in the NBA because they rarely exceed 6-feet-1 in height. Even so, the country pays attention to the NBA. In recognition of that trend, the Houston Rockets recently toured the Philippines.
The NBA is being broadcast in 215 countries worldwide, which is just 12 countries short of the Super Bowl coverage. More NBA basketball jerseys have sold internationally than any other American league, including the NFL. In case you were wondering, Derrick Rose leads jersey sales in China, Latin America, and Europe as of the beginning of June.
Aside from soccer in general — and one could make the argument for the National Hockey League, the NBA is one of the most internationally diverse leagues in the world, which would cause reason for this international expansion.
Stern has pushed for his league to break out of the shadow of the NFL, which has seemingly cemented itself as America’s league, and I think he has found a way to do that.
While the NFL squanders time with talks of relocation to London, the NBA has already been on the scene, building a rapport and spreading knowledge of the game of basketball. The NBA has set up international offices and organized international TV deals.
The NBA already has broken out of the shadow of the NFL, maybe not on its own turf, but on someone else’s. And with the age of globalization upon us, the whimsical talks of setting up developmental leagues with NBA affiliates overseas could become a reality.