The NBA’s global roots are growing deeper and more complex by the day.
Joe Tsai, the Taiwan-born co-founder of global e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba, recently paid $3.4bn (€3bn) for the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center to acquire the assets from Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian oligarch Prokhorov was the NBA’s first non-North American majority owner in 2010, and a key architect of moving the team from New Jersey to Brooklyn in 2012.
The Nets’ general manager Sean Marks is from Auckland, New Zealand, not Oakland. He was the first Kiwi to play in the NBA. On the Nets’ roster is Deng Adel from South Sudan and Rodians Kurucs from Latvia.
Multi-platform media deals, player popularity, futuristic arenas, and basketball’s international popularity continue to push the value of NBA franchises higher.
Back in August in the run up to the 2019 World Basketball Championships in China, Australia beat the US men’s national team in front of 53,000 Roos in Marvel Stadium, Melbourne. This marked the USA’s first loss in 78 games of international play. Team USA was bounced from the podium by France in the quarter-finals. Their showing this year at the Fiba World Cup in China was the worst ever in major global competition. The Championship instead went to Spain, led by Phoenix Suns guard Ricky Rubio and Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol over Argentina 95-75.
This past season’s NBA Awards also made a crystal clear statement of global greatness with Greek born Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks as the Most Valuable Player; Slovenia’s Luka Doncic, playing for the Dallas Mavericks, garnering Rookie of the Year; Defensive Player of the Year going to Frenchman Rudy Gobert of Utah; and Most Improved Player going to Pascal Siakam, playing for Toronto and hailing from Cameroon.
Rui Hachimura, meanwhile, became the first Japanese player to be selected as a first round pick when Washington selected him this past June.
Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian, is credited with inventing basketball in 1891. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern, his successor Adam Silver, and their visionary posse of business brains saw the future of global growth. It’s been said that the best time to plant a tree is 40 years ago, the next best time is today. The seeds of global expansion have grown deep roots, strong trunks, and expanding branches of top talent all over the world for the NBA.
When the Raptors won the NBA title this past June, it marked the first time an NBA champion wasn’t from the United States. During the upcoming 2019-20 season 108 NBA roster spots will be filled by international players, representing 38 countries and territories, more than four times the level of 25 years ago and very nearly a league record.
Tens of millions of basketball fans, meanwhile, watched NBA programming in China last season, with the league continuing to strike new media deals in other parts of the globe.
The 2020 Olympics in Japan begin next July where the world will be somewhat surprised to see men and women earning gold medals in the first 3×3 basketball competition. This will net even more young players from every corner of the basketball world to get dribbling. Winning gold for the USA in the 2020 Olympics will be a challenge. The days of “Dream Team” domination that began with the 1992 Barcelona games are over.
And seven years after “Linsanity” dominated the Big Apple and beyond, Jeremy Lin, the first Asian-American Player to win an NBA championship, signed with the Beijing Ducks of the Chinese Basketball Association. Lin, like Tsai in Brooklyn, figures to help extend basketball’s growth in Asia in his own way.
Why is the NBA experiencing this global growth?
Men, women, boys, and girls: Simple math, everyone can play.
Just give me a ball: The two true global growth sports are soccer and basketball. All you need is a ball and you can become a player and a fan.
Footwear & fashion: “Gotta be the shoes” is an anthem covering the little feet of hundreds of millions around the globe even if they never dribbled the rock. In September, the Toronto Raptors introduced a line of team branded hijabs.
The team partnered with Nike to design the items worn by some Muslim women. The Raptors give credit to the Hijabi Ballers, a local group that promotes Muslim women in sports.
Global language: Sports has joined science, music, religion, and the arts as an international language. Everyone can speak basketball, and terms such as swish, dunk, and three don’t need an interpreter.
Geopolitics: Earlier this month, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sent out a simple tweet: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Little did he or anyone else at the NBA know that it would create a massive rift between the NBA and China. Billions of dollars in revenue coming from China to the league are now at risk. The NBA, its players, executives, corporate, and broadcast partners are now dribbling all over each other trying to find a solution to this massively complex situation. The days of politics and sports being clearly separated are over, and we shall now see how whether the love of the game can overcome the tense divide that now exists between the NBA and the Chinese government.
A new town square: But in today’s sharply divided world, basketball courts from Atlanta to Zimbabwe still represent true examples of teamwork no matter what your background, and new international initiatives from the NBA continue to take root.
The NBA, in partnership with the International Basketball Federation (Fiba), will debut the Basketball Africa League featuring 12 teams from across the continent early next year.
The league also created a series of basketball development events for young people, teachers, coaches and families across Mumbai ahead of the NBA India Games 2019 earlier this month. The Sacramento Kings, owned by India-born Vivek Ranadive, and the Indiana Pacers took the court October 4 at the Mumbai Dome for the first ever game in India.
As a result, the NBA is bouncing higher everyday all over the world.
Andy Dolich is currently the president of California-based Dolich Consulting.