GLOBALIZATION OF BASKETBALL BRANDON VOGT Over the last decade, the sport of basketball has grown to immense proportions throughout the world. The sport, invented in a 1946 YMCA, was almost an instant hit in the United States, but has recently taken off in the last ten years all over the world. Many reasons for its recent globalization include the appeal for domestic welfare, the past success of foreigners in the National Basketball Association, the sheer physical dominance and acquired talent of the overseas players, the elevated work ethic as well as immense dedication of the foreigners, and the political market that the overseas market offers. Though some far-off NBA hopefuls are greedy and self-centered, there is a group of players that want what is best for their families. In the war-torn Middle East, for example, many believe that basketball is the solution to all of their struggles. With the new seven-figure-salary, the entire family could move out of harm’s way and into a more safe and humble abode. Orlando Magic Forward Gordan Giricek was practicing in his native Croatia when two bombs landed within one mile of his practice facility. Shockingly, he didn’t even think twice of it. “It happen(ed) all (the) time....it was a way of life,” Giricek explained in broken English. In the poverty stricken, third-world countries of the Middle East, bombs had to become an afterthought. One second worrying about being bombed is one wasted second that could have been used to practice basketball. Practicing basketball, they know, leads to their ticket out to safety. Because of this, they play all day, and even into the night. They try to get ahead, try to engulf every possible technique and swallow every piece of information that will lead them and their family out of the danger. Though basketball is at the forefront of the foreign invasion, each individual’s hope for domestic safety is only a hair behind. Although the allure of family well-being is extremely appealing, the money and fame are the things most universally aspired for. Now that most foreigners have seen their own countrymen succeed on mass levels, they find themselves asking “Why not me? Why not now?”. With the brutal livings conditions of third-world countries throughout Europe and Africa, playing in the NBA and indulging in the lavish lifestyles of professional American players seems like an obvious goal. Contributing to this new revolution is the current success of international players, which grows every day at an astounding rate. As of today, the NBA features 68 international players from 33 different countries throughout the world. This list of players includes the reigning two-time Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan, Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol, reigning two-time Three Point Shootout champion Peja Stojakovic, and the number one overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, 7’6” Chinese sensation Yao Ming. The latter of this group has produced an entire basketball revolution in his native country of China. Ming single-handedly turned a once traditional and solemn basketball nation into a fist-pumping powerhouse which is beginning to pop out NBA prospects by the handfuls. As General Managers all around the NBA are learning, the greatest potential is of the unknown. Once scouts pick apart every single college player, the unknown foreigners become very glamorous to the untrained eye. This new outlook on prospects was summed up in the choice of Serbian Darko Milicic as the second selection in the 2003 NBA Draft. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons, the selection made Milicic the highest and youngest European player ever drafted. A virtual unknown to basketball scouts, Milicic was drafted second overall despite his lack of play in Europe or the fact that he turned eighteen six days before he was drafted. His measurements of 7’1” tall and 250 pounds are surely enticing, but the Pistons are momentarily looking foolish as Milicic is averaging 3.2 minutes per game, while the third overall pick, and College Player of the Year Carmelo Anthony powers on as the Rookie of the Year favorite. Despite all of this, the international influx doesn’t look to slow as nine international prospects are projected in the first round, which contains one selection for each of the thirty teams. Amazingly, there are even teams such as the San Antonio Spurs that have an entire starting lineup composed of foreign talents. With more scouts being sent to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the U.S. Territories every day, the international invasion looks to not only sustain, but grow to enormous heights. Despite the modest exposure of some international prospects, their sheer size and fundamentals provide them with immediate acclaim. For instance, Yao Ming is an unheard-of 7’6”. Three more players taller than 7’5” are expected to be assimilated into the League within the next year. On a recent trip to a small gym in Yugoslavia, scout Chad Ford best described the physical phenomenon by explaining the game he saw: “The play is unbelievable. The kids, all 15, 16, 17 years old, are huge. There are 6’4” point guards dishing to 6’11” small forwards. Seven-footers are jockeying for position in the post. The kids are too big to play there. They look like NBA greats playing on an elementary school gym. None of them is old enough to grow facial hair. All of them have games far beyond what we see from U.S. teenagers.” Combined with their rare physical blessings are their specific attention to basketball fundamentals. While American children are practicing fancy dribbling moves or dunks, the foreigners are working on the solid essentials that project them to the next level. In short, Americans have the finesse, while the foreigners have the fundamentals. While American children usually practice their basketball after school, the foreign children present a different flavor. Even competitive amateur basketball in the U.S. usually only takes up a handful of hours a week to go along with the weekend. However, in China, many young players are being sent to basketball school as young as eight and nine. These schools, in opposition to our modern beliefs, preach basketball, with studies as an afterthought. Children only get to see their parents once a week. So, do the children feel burdened or distraught? On the contrary. “I feel special. I am going to be a basketball star,” one ten-year-old basketball student claims. Though America has always been a basketball powerhouse, the dedication of foreign countries has them closing in fast on our native NBA hopefuls. NBA Commissioner David Stern has not ignored this international flood. On the contrary, he is actively embracing it. With the arrival of a new Charlotte expansion team next season, questions immediately arose as to the next expansion destination. Surprisingly and optimistically, Stern claimed that an NBA franchise in Europe may not be to far-fetched to stake within the next decade. The global market for basketball has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade. Nike’s Swoosh emblem is more prevalent in China than the red star. European children cite off the names of NBA players faster than movie stars or world leaders. People all over the world are embracing the new hip-hop culture and are merging the gap into one worldwide society. The influx of foreigners into the NBA is directly correlated to the globalization of the sport across five other continents. In all, the globalization of basketball over the last ten years has provided a renaissance in the sporting world. Basketball is neck and neck with soccer in the competition for the title of “most popular sport” around the world, but basketball has nailed down the demographic of twelve-to-nineteen year olds. With a strong grasp on young people all over the world, the NBA will only grow and spread through the years of the world’s newest generation. Also, the rest of the world is catching up in actual terms of basketball, skill and performance, and demoralized Team USA in the Pan-American Olympic Qualifiers by sending them to a sixth-place finish. Competition is beginning to increase not only nationally, but internationally as well. Providing a greater impact than Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, or Larry Bird ever did on the game, the foreign basketball revolution has started, and shows no signs of slowing down any time in the near future. WORKS CITED PAGE "Bling Dynasty." ESPN The Magazine 08 Dec. 2003: 56-62. Chin, Oliver C. The Tao of Yao. N.p.: Frog Ltd., 2003. 128-129. Coming Out of the Darko. 30 Dec. 2002. ESPN. 02 Feb. 2004 <http://insider.espn.go.com/insider/story?id=1484356&contentType=insider>. International Player Directory. NBA. 02 Feb. 2004 <http://http://www.nba.com/players/international_player_directory.html>. Ireland Basketball. ESB. 02 Feb. 2004 <http://www.iba.ie/national_cup_factfile.asp>. Kernan, Kevin. Tim Duncan: Slam Duncan. New York: Sports Inc., 2000. 56-57.
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