Much more so than the other two big American sports in baseball and football, basketball has had great success spreading internationally over the past couple of decades. In 2017, there were 73 international players on NBA opening day rosters that did not previously play for a U.S. college. That is nearly 15% percent of the entire league.
Beginning in 1978, many teams have opted to hop on a plane and play a preseason game in a different country. Some of the most popular destinations have been Mexico, Spain and China. This preseason, four teams made the trip to China to participate in the NBA China Games 2018. China is a popular landing spot for many teams, as it is by far the largest international market for the league. Over 18% of Chinese athletes play basketball and that number has been on the rise with the recent success of several Asian basketball players in the NBA.
On Oct. 7, Tim McMahon of ESPN reported that the NBA plans on expanding their international expedition to two new locations: Japan and Dubai/India. While there have been many NBA games played in various Asian countries including Japan, there has yet to be a regular season or preseason game played in India.
Sources: The NBA will expand its international reach next year to include preseason games in Japan (two cities) and a Dubai/India trip in addition to the China trip. Vivek Ranadive’s Kings will likely be one of the teams that go to Dubai and India.
— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) October 7, 2018
In the country of nearly 1.3 billion, cricket remains the biggest sport in India. However, basketball and the popularity of the NBA has made significant strides in past five years. In 2015, Indian-Canadian Sim Bhullar made history as the first player of Indian descent to appear in an NBA game. The Indian born-and-raised Satnam Singh became the first of his kind to be drafted. This coupled with the digital and social media popularity in the country has allowed the league to garner millions of new fans from the country. The Sacramento Kings, who are owned by Indian-American Vivek Ranadive, seem to be the obvious pick to make the long trek and play in India next season.
Both Japan and India are without a doubt population-dense sports-hungry countries. With these games, the NBA is trying to tap into two of the biggest markets in the world to significantly expand their global fanbase. Soon enough, with all the international marketing the NBA has done over the years, it is clear that their hope is to soon become the premier sports league on the planet.
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