Who invented the game of basketball?
For you sports nerds out there, this standard trivia question is a quick one to answer. However, for those that may not know, the correct answer is none other than Canadian born Dr. James Naismith, or the “Father of Basketball.”
If you did a double take on that “Canadian born” part, you aren’t the only one. Many people don’t even know that the founder of one of America’s most popular sports was born in Canada. Yes, Canada! It’s just one of those facts that never comes up in conversation.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) has become a billion-dollar industry and the rise in popularity and growth throughout the world is just getting started. This past year, there were 108 international players from 42 different countries on the opening day roster. It was the fifth consecutive season with 100+ international players in the NBA, and ties an all-time NBA record for the most active foreign players.
These foreign players aren’t just barely making roster spots either! A number of international players continue to make a big splash on the one of the world’s biggest stages with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokić and Kristaps Porzingis just to name a few.
Let’s consider the most recent winners of the major NBA awards for players, and where they are from.
(Greece) Giannis Antetokounmpo: League MVP
(France) Rudy Gobert: Defensive Player of the Year
(United States) Lou Williams: Sixth Man of the Year
(Slovenia) Luka Doncic: Rookie of the Year
(Cameroon) Pascal Siakam: Most Improved Player
Taking a look at the NBA’s most important awards, four of the five winners are international players, including the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. This shows that basketball, and the NBA, continue to grow worldwide and have reached some of the most remote parts of the world (i.e Slovenia, Serbia, Cameroon, etc.). Slovenia, which has a population of 2.1 million — about the same as the state of New Mexico — has a Rookie of the Year representative, of which, numerous states cannot make the same claim.
Now if we look at the same awards from the 2008-09 season — just 10 years ago — we find that there was not a single winner from a country other than the United States.
(United States) LeBron James: League MVP
(United States) Dwight Howard: Defensive Player of the Year
(United States) Jason Terry: Sixth Man of the Year
(United States) Derrick Rose: Rookie of the Year
(United States) Danny Granger: Most Improved Player
In the span of ten years, we have seen an incredible amount of international growth in the NBA. Guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Yao Ming, Pau and Marc Gasol have brought incredible amounts of basketball growth to their respective countries.
However, it seems this is just the beginning with international players having taken that next step by not just playing in the league, but dominating it and making headlines night in and night out.
Maybe we’ll see more players with aggressive slashing styles like Giannis has, or young players molded from professional play like Doncic. And with the FIBA Tournament steadily approaching, this presents fans an opportunity to potentially see future NBA stars in action on the international level and who could define the course of the NBA in the years to come.
And to think it all started in Canada.