In mid-February, Cleveland literally became the center of the basketball world both on and off the court during NBA All-Star 2022. Fifteen international players from 12 countries, including six international All-Stars and a record-tying four international All-Star Game starters, participated in NBA All-Star 2022 in Cleveland. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece; ties to Nigeria) and Nikola Jokić (Serbia) started for Team LeBron, while Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Andrew Wiggins (Canada) started for Team Durant. Those four were joined by Team LeBron reserve Luka Dončić (Slovenia) and Team Durant reserve Rudy Gobert France) as well.
Not only that, but during the annual Rising Stars Game, six international players: Precious Achiuwa (Nigeria), Chris Duarte (Dominican Republic), Josh Giddey (Australia), Alperen Şengün (Turkey), Franz Wagner (Germany) and Dyson Daniels (Australia) were featured as well. There was also Chicago's Ayo Dosunmu (Nigeria) and Isaac Okoro (Nigeria) further showcasing and also putting into perspective how the NBA has become an international phenomenon.
"I think the level of international talent in the NBA's really at an all-time high," said Troy Justice, NBA Head of International Basketball Development to Right Down Euclid. "I mean, we had 121 players on our opening night rosters I think from like 40 countries. This is like the eighth year in a row where that's happened. When you look at the history of the NBA and how the international players are influencing the NBA, it's like no other time in history."
Mind you, that international influence wasn't something that just happened overnight. It took decades of work on the NBA's part to get to this point but now things are finally coming to fruition. The game's brand on a truly global scale thanks to the likes of Antetokounmpo, Jokic and even Doncic, but it can also serve as a catalyst for the future. The league is also heavily involved in numerous projects like Basketball Without Borders, the NBA and FIBA's global basketball development and community outreach program, as well as establishing the Basketball Africa League, the premier professional league of Africa.
Not only that, but NBA All-Star 2022 reached fans in 215 countries and territories in a record 60 languages on their televisions, computers, mobile phones and tablets. That accessibility is paramount in further growing the game and also reaching children who may not have known basketball could be in their future.
Cleveland Cavaliers big man Lauri Markkanen gives a lot of credit to the NBA expanding its international outreach to helping his professional career blossom.
"You could be a kid anywhere in the world and you can look and say, 'You know what, I can do it,'" said Justice. "Look at their story, the obstacles they overcame, how they grew up where they grew up, where they came from, the language they speak, you know? Whatever it is they can see that it's possible and that is what's creating this incredible momentum and it gives me goosebumps just to think about it, to think about.
"We're going into underserved communities, going into places where there's no access. We are creating the platform, the access and the opportunity for them to learn the game, have fun, learn life skills, teamwork, respect, community. So it's like a whole package."
There have been plenty of success stories that have been part of these programs – including Cleveland Cavaliers big man Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen, who hails from Finland, shared that through Basketball Without Borders, he was able to travel to the United States for the first time and see some of the world's best players in person during NBA All-Star in Brooklyn. That experience personally gave him a huge confidence boost for his career and credits it with where he's gotten to now.
"It's really important," said Markkanen to Right Down Euclid. "The NBA has done an incredible job promoting basketball all over the world. The things they do with kids like me with the camps, the academies, Basketball Without Borders every year, it grows the game. You can tell how successful it is because of how many international players playing in the league right now."
In order to reach an international audience during NBA All-Star 2022, it took a massive effort on the league's side of things as well. The games and programming are distributed from the NBA World Feed Truck, a 40-foot truck that was parked outside of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse that played an integral role in showcasing the weekend's festivities worldwide. The truck is packed with televisions, equipment and technicians who localize and distribute the weekend’s events to fans around the world and help spread the game's message as well.
Interestingly enough, during NBA All-Star 2022 the league saw broadcast partners from Mongolia and Poland come to Cleveland to conduct on-site live commentary that was then broadcasted to their home countries. Cosmote Sport, the league's broadcast partner in Greece, ran a 24/7 NBA pop-up channel that featured live All-Star events, original programming, classic games, highlights and more. Finally, NBA social media shows in Japan and the Philippines previewed and covered the weekend’s action for fans in those countries.
“We believe we’re just scratching the surface of how accessible basketball and the NBA can be to fans and players globally," said Matt Brabants, NBA Senior Vice President, Head of International Content Partnerships. "The future of sports will be defined by technology’s ability to bring the game directly to fans on their preferred device – which is especially true about reaching fans outside of North America. We look forward to continuing to engage fans around the world in new and innovative ways in the years to come.”
In the end, Cleveland truly was the world's biggest stage both on and off the court during NBA All-Star 2022. It's hard to fully quantify how many people tuned in to the weekend's events but, clearly, it will have massive ripple effects for years to come. The international game just keeps growing and growing and it's exciting to think where it will head next.
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