The tide is changing for the NBA and its reach. This has become increasingly evident after seeing the NBA award show last night and watching this past season.
For starters the season ended in a way that very few would have anticipated. For the first time in about four years the title race was not a forgone conclusion. The Eastern Conference playoffs finally matched the Western Conference’s level of competition and parity.
To start off the Toronto Raptors won the Larry O’Brien trophy beating the defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games. The Raptors made history, making it to the finals and ultimately winning the championship for the first time in their franchise’s 25 year history. The Raptors became the first non-American team to win the Larry O’Brien. With the NBA’s steady growth in popularity in Canada, the Raptors becoming champions has put that over the top. This season has shown that the NBA doesn’t only belong to teams in American cities, it no longer only belongs to the U.S.
The Raptors took the title to Canada with a melting pot of talented players. The Raptors boasted some of the world’s best international talent, showcasing players with many diverse backgrounds. The likes of Marc Gasol, who is from Spain and Pascal Siakam of Cameroon in Africa. Add in Serge Ibaka who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo and plays his international basketball for Spain. The three of them all integral parts to the Raptors title run. The Raptors even helped Jeremy Lin make history, making him the first Asian American to win an NBA championship. All of these foreign and diverse players winning the title helps add to the growing global reach the NBA has been able to cultivate. Each part of the world had its hand in the 2019 NBA season.
Fast forward to the NBA Award show last night and you would see it was an international affair. The winners of the Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Most Valuable Player were being celebrated last night. Of those five award, all but the Sixth Man of the Year went to players from overseas.
Slovenian born Luka Doncic took home the Rookie of the Year award, while the Cameroonian Pascal Siakam grabbed Most Improved Player. Defensive Player of the Year went to Frenchman Rudy Gobert and the MVP went to the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, who also has roots in Nigeria. Sixth Man of the Year went to Lou Williams, was the only American who had the pleasure of leaving the night with something to add to his trophy cabinet.
Players such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutumbo, Luol Deng and Luc Mbah a Moute acted as pioneers for expanding the NBA and basketball to Africa. The late Drazen Petrovic and Dirk Nowitzki helped birth many European hoopers who have made it to the NBA. Manu Ginóbili helped inspire a generation of South American NBA players and Yao Ming did the same for Asia. The early seeds of global impact in the league were planted by those players and now the NBA is in its most global era.
Much of the leagues stars are foreign born players and have become the faces of the league similarly to American born players LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Stephen Curry. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embid, Rudy Gobert, Karl Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons, and Kristaps Porzingis are all names of foreign born players that come to mind.
The NBA now has 108 international players coming from 42 countries. A league that was once always third fiddle to the NFL and MLB has now become able to reach people all over the globe. The NBA becoming a melting pot for talent and players has in result boosted its international impact. The 2018–2019 season showcased the diversity of the league and it’s only going up from here. Globalization is in full affect in the NBA and it’s for the betterment of the evolution of the game of basketball.