When it comes to global sports, there’s no touching soccer. Thanks to the cultural dominance of the NBA, however, basketball is making strides. No matter where you live, it’s simply impossible to ignore guys like Steph Curry and LeBron James.
The NBA Global Games have also played a role, bringing some of the most famous athletes and teams to a variety of nations around the world. The Sacramento Kings, for example, are currently on a two-game trip to India. In light of that trip, you might be wondering how many other countries have hosted NBA games. The tradition actually is quite a few decades old.
The first NBA game abroad
While playing NBA games outside of the United States and Canada might seem like a relatively new phenomenon, the first global game actually took place in 1978. The NBA champion Washington Bullets, led by Wes Unseld, traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel to take on Maccabi Tel Aviv during the preseason. The American squad lost 98-97, but Maccabi would become a regular feature in NBA preseasons.
The next summer, the Bullets would once again take their show on the road. This time, however, they would travel even farther from home.
Bringing the NBA to China
In the summer of 1979, the Washington Bullets traveled to China. The team was personally invited by Deng Xiaoping, the nation’s paramount leader at the time, and played two games against Chinese opposition.
The Bullets started their trip with a 96-85 win over the August 1 Army Team in Beijing, before traveling south to Shanghai. They comfortably defeated the city’s local team 113-80, but there was one notable player on the Chinese squad. Shanghai boasted a 6 foot, 10-inch center by the name of Yao Zhiyuan; one year later, he would have a son named Yao Ming.
The Bullets would play one final game in the Philippines before returning to Washington. Global games would stop for the next few summers, before exploding in a big way.
The NBA goes international
In 1984, the New Jersey Nets and Phoenix Suns played two exhibition series abroad. The teams played four games in Tel Aviv, before traveling to Italy for a tour across the country, facing local squads along the way. During that same summer, the Seattle Supersonics embarked on their own European tour, playing games in West Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.
The Atlanta Hawks would also play a series of games in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1988; given the political tensions at the time, it was a historic event that foreshadowed the unstoppable spread of the NBA.
After that, the NBA exploded globally. The McDonalds Championship pitted American teams against European clubs during the summer; the league even held regular season games in Japan during November 1990. The NBA would spread to the Carribean in 1991 and Mexico in 1992; games have since been held all over Asia and Europe.
Where has the NBA visited?
Including the most recent visit to India, the NBA has played games in 17 nations beyond the United States and Canada.
In Europe, the league has visited England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and, what was at the time, the Soviet Union. Asian games have also taken place in Israel, India, China, Taipei, Japan, and the Philippines. Brazil, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas round out the list.
With numbers like that, there’s no wonder the NBA is growing globally; basketball might not ever catch soccer in terms of popularity, but it will give the beautiful game a run for its money.