The NBA’s All-Star weekend brought to attention the increasing globalization of the game of basketball. This year, 19 international players took part in the weekend’s competitions: the Skills Challenge, the Three-Point Shooting Contest, the Dunk Contest, the Rising Stars game and the All-Star game. This set a record for international player participation. The global nature of basketball is not necessarily a new trend, but this past weekend showed that players from around the world are finding success at the very pinnacle of the sport.
In 2015, the Rising Stars game, featuring auspicious first- and second-year players, changed its format to a contest of U.S. versus World. This demonstrates that for the past five years the most promising young players have been from all over the world. The NBA is no longer a league dominated by American stars For the All-Star game, the fans and media vote two captains to pick their respective teams. This year, like last, featured a contest pitting Lebron James versus Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Greek player who won last year’s MVP title. He is once again a contender for the league’s most prestigious award, averaging 30 points and 13.5 rebounds per game. Antetokounmpo has managed to step it up from last year, improving his play on the defensive end and leading his team to an NBA best 46-8 record. Antetokounmpo has reached a level of superstardom that competes with Lebron James, which is symbolic for the international success spreading through the league. In other words, Giannis is on the brink of being the figurehead of the NBA, if he isn’t already.
Fittingly, three of the five starters on Antetokounmpo’s team were international players. Joel Embiid and Pascal Siakam, who are from Cameroon, joined Antetokounmpo. Luca Doncic, who is from Slovenia, started for team Lebron. All these players are 25 years or younger, which illustrates once again the wave of young international players finding success in the league.
This past weekend demonstrated a reformatting of the All-Star game to increase competitiveness. For the last few years, this competition featuring the best players in the world was boring to watch. There was little investment in the outcome and marginal defense was played. However, this year, the first three quarters of the game were played as a mini contest with the score resetting each quarter. The last quarter was slightly different with each team playing to 157, which was twenty four more points than the leading team. This resulted in a close, down to the wire victory for team Lebron 157-154.
I think this increased level of competition is symbolic of the NBA’s globalization. The talent level in the NBA is rising at a steady pace. The diversity we see among the best players in the world invites greater accessibility and fan participation throughout the world. Basketball is not an exclusive national pastime like baseball; it does not own a day of the week like football. All-Star weekend showed us that basketball is exciting, diverse and young.