Basketball was invented by a Canadian but is known for being an American sport. While baseball is considered the most all-American sport and football the most popular, basketball is the most frequently played throughout the states. However, its popularity is not limited to the United States.
Basketball is played in many other countries and is an event in the Summer Olympics. Over 250 million people all over the world play basketball, and millions more watch the sport. Still, the sport’s popularity is mostly centered in the United States.
Basketball has an intriguing history worldwide. Although basketball is traditionally considered a more American sport, it is interesting to look at how basketball has spread throughout the world and how America has had one of the most significant roles in making it happen.
Why Basketball Is Mostly Played in America
Basketball is the most common sport in America, with over 25 million American participants. Basketball is an affordable game with easy rules that can be played in all types of weather. This makes it easy for communities of all economic backgrounds to participate. It has also traditionally been a sport where all ethnicities are welcome.
Americans have historically been dominant players throughout the history of Olympic basketball, going all the way back to 1948. Since Olympic basketball went professional in the early 90s, the United States team has lost only once. This winning streak has made the world look upon the sport as uniquely American.
Typically, the better a nation is at competing in a particular sport, the more popular that sport will become amongst the citizens of that country. Also, the United States recruits basketball players from around the world in search of the best talent and does so more than any other country.
The financial ability to send out scouts usually means that American teams end up with the best players around, further solidifying their first-place ranking. In addition, the way that basketball is played in America gets distributed throughout the world, meaning that other countries begin to view the sport through a uniquely American lens.
Where Is Basketball the Most Popular Outside of the United States
At the beginning of Olympic basketball, countries would often borrow tricks and styles from one another. Even though Americans usually take home the gold, there are many teams that have competed against the US and given them a run for their money, including France and Argentina.
Today, basketball seems to be most popular in the following countries:
The man who came up with the concept of basketball was actually a Canadian named James Naismith, and the country’s proximity to the US and colder temperatures contribute to basketball’s appeal. Argentina was the one team capable of defeating the United States in the 2004 Olympics which in turn boosted its popularity there.
As for Spain and Australia, the two countries have had players drafted into the NBA, further boosting their respective population’s interest. This is a trend that can be followed throughout most sports in the world: the more players from their home country that play basketball, the more citizens will become interested in watching and playing.
China has also a massive following, with a total of 625 million people that consider themselves basketball fans. This has not yet resulted in a big number of Chinese basketball players playing in the NBA, but the number will certainly rise in the future.
As for the other countries, in most of them (such as Lithuania) basketball is the national sport as it is in the US. This also ensures they have excellent national teams despite their relatively small population.
Foreign Basketball Players in the NBA
As stated above, the reason for basketball’s popularity in many other countries is due to their country’s players being drafted by the NBA. Like all professional sports in the United States, the NBA searches far and wide for the most talented players to have on their teams. Here are some of the best international NBA drafts ever:
- Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)
- Steve Nash (South Africa)
- Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
- Manu Ginobili (Argentina)
- Pau Gasol (Spain)
At a quick glance, it becomes obvious that there is no telling where the next best talent will show up in the world. Basketball talent is distributed throughout the planet which is why NBA scouts wander far and wide, spreading a love for the sport across the globe as many vie for the coveted positions that are sure to bring fame and wealth.
Of course, those who are most talented will be far taller than the average human with impressive wingspans. They will also need speed and the athletic ability to jump high. There is a balance that must be struck between natural propensity and training, the latter of which the NBA can provide.
Where Do the Best Basketball Players Come From?
While there is a lot of incredible foreign talent in the NBA, the top basketball players of all time are nearly all from the United States. This is largely due to the popularity of the sport in American culture. Here are some of the all-time best of the best in basketball, according to ESPN:
- Michael Jordan (Brooklyn, NY)
- LeBron James (Akron, OH)
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (New York, NY)
- Bill Russell (West Monroe, LA)
- Magic Johnson (Lansing, MI)
All of these players are 6’6’’ or taller, giving them a natural edge when it comes to excelling at basketball, and many grew up in poverty. Basketball has historically been an incredibly vital source of community for young black men and a way for them to make it out of the inner-cities where they were born and into college.
The ability for basketball to help youth get scholarships in America, especially African American youth, has been a huge source of the sport’s popularity. Today, nearly 75% of NBA players are African American, as are many of the best players of all-time.
Women’s Basketball Throughout the World
Since 1953, women’s basketball has held a world cup known as FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. This is the women’s counterpart to the men’s FIBA Basketball World Cup, otherwise known as the Olympic event for basketball. Any country with an organized team can enter.
In total, the women’s basketball world cup typically has around 12 to 16 international teams competing against one another. The teams come together to compete every four years in the Olympics.
Just like the men’s FIBA basketball team, the United States most commonly takes home the gold medal, and Russia is the American team’s greatest rivalry. At the national level, Russia’s Women’s Basketball Premier League functions similarly to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in the United States.
Although men’s basketball has more international participation and viewership, women’s basketball still holds its own throughout the world. And even while many women’s basketball teams fall far behind the United States and Russia, they still return to compete in the Olympics and fund their own nationally organized sports tournaments.
Basketball is played on every continent, even occasionally by the research crews that make the long trip down to Antarctica. A flexible and simple sport that can be set up and played by almost anyone anywhere, it makes sense why basketball continues to become one of the most widely popular sports across the planet.
Both men and women play the sport professionally or come together with friends and family to watch their teams compete for gold at the Olympics. The NBA is at no loss of foreign players to recruit for its best teams. Basketball will always be tied to American culture, but its ability to bring people together across the world only grows with time.