The globalization of the NBA

11 Dec

The 2002 NBA draft proved to be historical in the context of the global game for 2 reasons.  First when the Houston Rockets drafted China native Yao Ming as the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft it confirmed many peoples’ belief that globalization was the future of the NBA and with the selection of Ming it had finally arrived.

Second as a result of Yao Ming’s prominent selection in the 2002 NBA draft, China became a focal point in the globalization of basketball.  For the first time a Chinese star was in the spotlight of the NBA and as a result Yao Ming simultaneously became a world-renowned celebrity and the new face of the NBA and globalization. As a result Chinese interest in basketball reached an all time high and so a new market was born for the NBA. While Yao Ming wasn’t the first international player to step foot on a NBA court, he definitely was the biggest international player ever, quite literally and figuratively because he opened up a new market like no players had ever before. Yet many players preceded and followed him in his journey to the point where the NBA has now official become a global game.

Yao Ming

During the mid 2000s the San Antonio Spurs won 3 NBA finals in a 5 year span. In the process they established themselves as a formidable Dynasty and one of the best franchises in the history of the league. The dynamic aspect of their dynasty run during the early 2000s was their international core of players that led them to success. In Tony Parker of France, Manu Ginobili of Argentina and Tim Duncan of The Virgin Islands the San Antonio Spurs had perhaps the most formidable and recognizable trio of international players ever assembled on one roster. It signified that the spurs were a team already knee deep in the new era of globalization.  According to the San Antonio Spurs rank 2nd only behind the Golden State Warriors in percentage of international players on their rosters looking at numbers over a five year period an NBA team has on average 89 roster spots available.

tony parker

In the case of the Spurs those 89 spots included 26 reserved for  international born players, or just a little over 29% of their roster. Slowly other teams have recognized the success of international stars in the NBA and have followed suit in acquiring international talent.

As a result of the ever expanding globalization of basketball, the NBA has solidified its spot as the second most popular sport in the world only second to soccer. World  viewership is at an all-time high with over 1 billion viewers. This is a staggering number considering that basketball is a relatively young sport in comparison to other long established sports. With demand for basketball at an all time high, NBA commissioner David Stern has begun working to potentially expand his league overseas. His hope is to establish a European Division within the NBA, that would make international competition a formality of the league. The hope would be to build NBA arenas in London, Paris, Athens, Rome, Berlin, Madrid or Barcelona and from there establish a new division, while reshaping the structure of current divisions in the United States. Should the NBA succeed in this ambitious endeavour, they will set a new precedent in sports as the first truly intercontinental sports league. Of course this is still a concept that is far from realization and it will take a lot negotiating between European coordinators and players to make this work.  However do not be surprised if in 10-20 years the NBA established themselves overseas.

If Europe works out then China could soon follow as the demand for NBA has been growing exponentially every year since Yao Ming’s arrival in 2002. reported that 53% of all traffic on comes from international fans and a staggering 20% of that came from China alone so clearly the NBA has a future in China and many other places around the world.


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