Random trans-Atlantic claptrap

The 2nd most-popular sport in the world

Last night, a basketball player called Klay Thompson scored 37 points in a National Basketball Association game. He took 13 shots and made 13 shots, most of them from long range. He broke the record for most points in a quarter, and the most 3-pointers in a quarter.

This is an amazing feat, somewhat equivalent to a player netting 6 goals in the first half of a football/soccer match. A video compilation of his perfect quarter is being watched all over the world right now- everywhere basketball is played: China, Spain, Brazil, Greece, Russia, and a hundred other countries. Except in one place. The place where I live. Britain.

Now Brits are awfully quick to criticise Americans for their lack of understanding of “the beautiful sport” of football. The fact that football is only the fourth or fifth most popular sport in the USA is seen as proof of America’s myopic worldview and its inherent provincialism. But what of the UK’s ignorance of what has often been reckoned to be the world’s second most popular team sport- basketball?

Not only is basketball not really played in Britain, but it is not even watched on television…in fact, most British people have absolutely no idea what the sport even is. In order to educate my UK friends, I offer the following helpful guide, not a treatise on the rules of basketball- you can look those up yourself. But rather information on what basketball is, why it matters, and why Britain should get on board, and learn to dribble and shoot:

Let’s get the basics out of the way

Basketball is a game where the goal is to put the ball through a 10-foot high net. Two points for most shots, three points for long-range shots. Five players on each team, you can pass, but to move with the ball, you need to bounce/dribble. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. If you hit a person with the ball, particularly when they’re in the act of shooting, you’ve committed a foul- that gives the other team a chance to shoot an easy “free throw” for extra points. That’s pretty much it.

Basketball and football have a lot in common

When British people do find out a bit about basketball, one of their first comments/complaints is about the high-scoring games. “That’s the one where each team has more than a hundred points, innit?” Yes, the game has a lot of scoring, but no, it’s not like two maniacs spraying machine gun fire at each other. Basketball, like football, is a game of ebb and flow. One reason why Klay Thompson’s 37 points in a quarter is so impressive is that he took over the flow of the game. It was like he was alone on the court. You know those old clips of Diego Maradonna slipping through English players like they weren’t there- that’s what Thompson’s performance reminded me of. It’s a game where, when it’s at its best, it’s more ballet than battleground.

Basketball is probably more popular than cricket

I did a bit of research and often cricket is listed as the second most popular team sport in the world. Cricket’s popularity though, is limited to former British colonies. Yes, cricket is very popular in India, giving it a potential 1.3 billion person fanbase, but it’s actually not that widely played there. Basketball requires only a flat surface, a net and a ball. Two people can play basketball against each other in a space the size of car’s parking spot. Cricket will always require more– more people, more space, more gear. It’s a nice sport, but it will never catch on in say, China or Japan, places where basketball is already wildly popular. And basketball is the fastest growing sport in India.

It’s not just about being tall

Yes, if you want to be one of the best in the world at basketball, it’s almost an absolute necessity to be very tall. There have been some amazing players who weren’t really tall at all. John Stockton was 6 foot 1 inch, and perhaps the second greatest point guard of all time. Muggsy Bogues was all of five feet, three inches, and played 14 years at the highest level. It definitely is a tall person’s game, but you don’t have to be a giant to play or appreciate basketball.

Basketball players have amazing names and nicknames

Here’s a roll call of some famous basketball players with amazing names, or amazing nicknames

  • Mookie Blaylock
  • World Be Free
  • Metta World Peace
  • Magic Johnson
  • Karl “The Mailman” Malone
  • Doctor J
  • George Gervin- “The iceman”
  • Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon

There are so many more great nicknames that I could literally go on all day with this… Just imagine how much fun it is to watch a game where “White Chocolate” plays against “Clyde the Glide” or “Grandmama.” Doesn’t that sound like more of a good time than a match featuring “Peter Crouch” playing against “Wayne Rooney? ”

Basketball players are huge celebrities

I have a friend who once spend a memorable night out in New York City, having drinks with a nice new friend they had just met named Terry, not realising all evening that he was hanging out with famous footballer Thierry Henry. Now just imagine going out in London for a night on the town with a new friend named “Michael” and people not noticing it was Michael Jordan. Or your buddy Kobe, who is so famous in China, that walking the streets is actually quite dangerous for him.

No, it’s not a bit like netball

Netball is an abomination. It’s like basketball without the grace or fluidity or athleticism. It’s dull to watch and played in only a handful of countries. And it’s far more popular than basketball in Britain. Here’s my stock answer whenever someone in Britain suggests to me that basketball is similar to netball: “Yes, basketball and netball are exactly as similar to each other as playing cricket is to throwing rocks at the carcasses of dead animals.”

Maybe Britain could be good at basketball- if they tried

Basketball is already hugely popular in all of Europe except Britain. Spanish players have become a regular, nearly dominant feature of several NBA teams. Italians, French, Greeks, Germans, they are all producing world-class talent. But it’s not too late for Britain. You’re a relatively tall people – that is an advantage. Your country is really quite flat- lots of playing surfaces. And let’s be honest, you haven’t been doing that well at football in recent World Cups, maybe it’s time to give basketball a try?

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4 thoughts on “The 2nd most-popular sport in the world

  1. No Basketball in Britain? . . . sounds like an attractive place to live . . . but, they play cricket; I already find the little critters annoying without someone actually playing them.

    . . . although I imagine there’s some skill involved in rubbing them little legs together. Even more skill in finding different crickets for all the different notes.

  2. It’s National Basketball Association, not league. But, a nice post. The Brits will never adapt to any sport they didn’t invent. Perhaps their only “contribution” to the game is Renato William Jones, who screwed Team USA out of its rightful gold medal at the 1972 Olympics by charging down from the stands and ordering the ref to give the Soviets a second chance at an inbounds play. Jones was known as a communist and very tight with the Soviets. This was just another day at the office for a Brit, however. And for you Wikipedia users, I’m sure you will find it interesting that Jones’ nationality is kept rather vague. But he was a Brit and spied for mother England.

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