For almost four decades, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has worked to expand the popularity of professional basketball beyond North America.
Unlike other sports leagues, the NBA has sought a more cultural global expansion to much success, developing strong and engaged fanbases around the globe, and making stars like LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant household names thousands of miles away from where they have played.
In 1978 the league played its first international exhibition game when the then world champion Washington Bullets played against the Maccabi Tel Aviv of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). In a huge upset, Maccabi beat the Bullets 98-87 turning heads and increasing interest in the process. The Bullets would play three more exhibition games, two in China and one in the Philippines to large crowds.
During the mid-1980s, the NBA’s presence on an international stage grew. The NBA played games in Germany, Israel, China, Russia, and Italy. Foreign players like Hakeem Olajuwon and Detlef Schrempf started making an impact. This all led to the single most important moment in the NBA’s global appeal, the original Olympic Dream Team.
Headlines by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson, the USA Men’s Olympic Basketball team would win 8-straight games and the Gold Medal in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona Spain. And with that, the NBA had ascended to a level of global interest unmatched by any North American sports league.
The Modern NBA
Today the NBA has doubled down on its global strategy. The league has moved beyond exhibition games and has scheduled regular-season games abroad in Europe and Mexico. Like much of the world, the league has also embraced sports wagering and online betting as legalized sports gambling becomes more popular and is legalized in many states.
Currently, the NBA season features the second-most number of international players in a professional American sports league with 115, trailing only Major League Baseball. Foreign ownership investment has also risen. Israeli-American billionaire Micky Arison, has owned the Miami Heat since 1995, Russian industrialist Mikhail Prokhorov owned the Brooklyn Nets 2011-2019, and in 2013 Vivek Ranadivé became the first Indian majority owner of an NBA team, The Sacramento Kings, and invested $1 billion into their downtown arena.
Social Media and Basketball Culture
Basketball culture has become a global phenomenon, with fans around the world watching, consuming, and engaging with the sport. The NBA’s social media strategy has opened up access to fans in new and interesting ways. Teams, players, coaches, and analysists power this growth leveraging Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
This cultural expansion has cemented the NBA’s reputation as a model example of globalization in sports.