Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:16 pm
When Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and company traveled to Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics, the National Basketball Association featured 21 international players. Two decades later, when the 2013-14 season began just weeks ago, 92 players from 39 countries and territories are on NBA rosters, the strongest international representation the league has seen.
The globalization of the NBA has exploded since the Dream Team stepped out onto the world stage in 1992. This season, regular season games will be played in Mexico City (Dec. 4, Minnesota vs. San Antonio) and London (Jan. 16, Atlanta vs. Brooklyn).
The Milwaukee Bucks are no stranger to the international impact of the NBA. The hometown team is currently in the top five in the NBA for most international players on its roster with five – Ersan Ilyasova (Turkey), Carlos Delfino (Argentina), Zaza Pachulia (Georgia), Miroslav Raduljica (Serbia), and rookie first round draft pick Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece).
In the past decade, 20 different international players from 17 different countries and six different continents have suited up for the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center.
The national and international popularity of the NBA puts the league’s cities, including Milwaukee, on a global stage that enhances the worldwide image and brands of those communities.
“There are 28 markets in the world that have an NBA franchise, we are one of them,” said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “The NBA games are watched in (more than 200) different countries. This projects an image I think appropriately of Milwaukee as a global player, as a world class market. And there’s inherent value in that. It doesn’t benefit every citizen in Milwaukee and I’m not saying it’s the most important thing, but I do think that that brand value is worth something to Milwaukee.”
“I think it’s important to be one of the NBA’s cities,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “I think that it has benefitted the city. To be an NBA city is something that carries some cache with it and I’m proud that we are and I want us to continue to be one.”
NBA Commissioner David Stern, who will be handing the reigns to deputy commissioner Adam Silver on Feb. 1 after 36 years at the helm, recently told USA Today that the globalization of basketball is on his short list of accomplishments for which he is most proud.
Programs like the NBA’s Global Games and Basketball Without Borders are big parts of this. During the offseason, 127 players, coaches and legends from the NBA and WNBA visited 40 different countries and territories on six continents to “spread the game of basketball,” which, according to Yahoo! Sports, is the third most popular sport in the world, behind soccer and cricket.
The NBA is also the world’s most popular professional sport on social media, where more than 400 million people across the globe follow the Association’s various social media networks.
Since center Yao Ming was drafted first overall in 2002 by the Houston Rockets, the NBA has grown considerably in China. According to The New Yorker, which examined the connection between basketball and globalization in a recent article, China is now the NBA’s second largest market. The Chinese Basketball Association estimates that 300 million people now play basketball in China, and the NBA has installed an estimated 800,000 baskets in Chinese villages. Businessweek recently reported that the NBA’s revenue in China is growing by “double-digits” annually.
The NBA has also begun efforts to expand the game in India, opening its first Indian office in Mumbai in 2011, and, earlier this year, the CEO of Palo Alto-based TIBCO Software Inc., Vivek Ranadive, became the NBA’s first Indian-born majority owner when he led the investment group that purchased the Sacramento Kings.
The international connections don’t stop there. The 2013 NBA Finals was broadcast in 215 countries and territories, was translated into 47 languages, and featured a record 10 international players between the two teams. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov owns the recently-relocated Brooklyn Nets and the team’s arena, the $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and is looking to expand the team’s footprint in Asia. Nigerian-born Masai Ujiri was the 2012-13 NBA Executive of the Year with the Denver Nuggets. The 2013 draft’s number one pick, Anthony Bennett, is Canadian. Eight NBA preseason games this year were played in England, Spain, China, Taiwan, Turkey and two first time countries – Brazil and the Philippines, where basketball is the most popular sport in the country of more than 98 million people.