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InsideHoops NBA [HOME] Sept 9, 2003

European Basketball on the rise




The European Basketball Championships is an event that, in the United States at least, in recent years would have passed almost without trace, but the 2003 event is rightfully gaining interest on both sides of the Atlantic and is a timely reminder of the talent that Europe has provided in the past and will continue to provide in the future.

The 2001 event saw a total of seven players who played in the NBA. This year the total has risen to 17, which although not a vast number, is still a dramatic increase of 143%. This is undoubtedly a positive trend for a sport which is predominantly viewed as purely American and these European Championships provide a further extension of the increasing global popularity of the sport of basketball. Although basketball has been played in Europe for many years, it is a sport that is really in its infancy in terms of high quality professional play.

The NBA has already been graced with the supreme skills of Europe's top players, including Sacramento's Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, San Antonio's Tony Parker and Memphis' Pau Gasol, amongst others. Darko Milicic is just the latest in a line of European recruits to the NBA and he has also been present at the 2003 championships. Clearly the effects of the growing popularity of basketball in Europe have already been felt in the NBA and it will be no surprise if, in five or ten years time, European players are accounting for an extremely large percentage of NBA rosters.

If the NBA is to reap the rewards of such an explosion of talent in Europe then it will be fully deserved, for it is mainly through the availability of NBA coverage that youngsters in Europe take up the game. In recent years more and more NBA games and programming have been televised in Europe and this leads to the domestic media covering basketball to a greater degree and it also generates a much greater interest in domestic leagues. Certainly in the United Kingdom the growing NBA coverage has led to improved exposure for the domestic British Basketball League and thus greater financing for it and the same is true in other European countries. If such development continues than eventually there may be basketball leagues in Europe that can rival the NBA, although this is a scenario that will take significant time. It is not only the professional game that is benefiting, but also at the grass roots level with more and more basketball courts appearing, even in areas that are dominated by other sports - I myself know of at least six or seven within near distance and I live in the South of England! The European NBA stars are also doing their bit to promote basketball in their home countries, with John Amaechi being a fine example with the state-of-the-art basketball center he has built in Manchester, England. Such efforts by the NBA and its stars are making the game a global phenomenon.

There is no doubt that the NBA is superior to every other basketball league in the world by a huge margin, but it is still a margin that is decreasing. Who could have thought that a German team containing one of the top NBA players in Dirk Nowitzki could be beaten comfortably by a Lithuanian team, whose names are about as well known as they are easy to pronounce. The talent is constantly developing and if the NBA can keep itself easily available in Europe, and all around the world, then it should not be long before an enormous talent pool exists that stretches to every corner of the globe.

The 2003 European Basketball Championships are also a route to Olympic qualification for those teams that do not have a berth already assured and it is in Athens next year where the advances in European basketball can truly be tested, as the USA basketball team is nothing short of frightening. There is little doubt that the USA team will take the gold medal, but if the top European teams can truly test the USA then that will be greater than any compliment that can ever be paid to European basketball.

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