The US is still the global basketball powerhouse, but the rest of the world is catching up

| Contributing Reporter

US men’s basketball following their loss to Canada at the FIBA World Cup games. (Yong Teck Lim | Getty Images)

Over the past few weeks, Team USA competed in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, placing fourth after losing their final two matches. The disappointing finish marks the second tournament in a row where the United States has failed to reach the title game. With their recent struggles at the international level, it begs the question as to where American basketball stands on the world stage?

In the past 30 or so years, Team USA basketball has more or less dominated international competition. Before the 1992 Olympics, professional athletes were not allowed to compete in the Olympics or other internationally sanctioned events. Michael Jordan and company, the first non-amateur Team USA, tore through the competition, marking a truly iconic moment in sports history. Their domination largely continued, with some inconsistencies in the early aughts. In all, Team USA has won an incredible seven Olympic gold medals and three FIBA gold medals in this span, most recently at the last Olympics held in Beijing.  

With the failure to medal in the past two FIBA Basketball World Cups, attention has already turned to how to move forward. Countless media reports have widely reported that Lebron James seems to be assembling an Avengers-esque superteam, one consisting of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and other superstars to take on the world once again and reclaim the gold. But focusing on the idea that Team USA basketball is on the decline seems to be missing the point. It isn’t so much that the U.S. is getting worse at basketball or that we aren’t putting our best foot forward in terms of talent, it’s that the game of basketball is just getting much more international. Arguable point but that’s a conversation for another time 

As the game of basketball has gained in popularity outside of the U.S., so has interest and attention to it at the national level. Following the NBA, the European Euroleague is second to none in developing talent, as seen by the numerous recent draft picks coming from across the Atlantic. All the way from the No. 15 pick in 2013 to the No. 41 in 2014 to the No. 3 in 2018 to the No. 1 pick this past draft. These players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Joki, Luka Dončić, and Victor Wembanyama — are household names either at the top of the game or on their way to taking home a future MVP trophy. These players represent the very best talent in the ćgame of basketball. 

This distribution of international talent isn’t isolated to the top; the composition of the league itself is changing. The NBA today is a much more international league. From TV viewership to jerseys to the players themselves, the league is growing in popularity globally. Last season alone, over 1/4 of  opening-night rosters were filled with international players, with seven such players being recognized as All-Stars. 

Although we have come to enjoy our status at the top of the basketball world, this evolving hierarchy is nothing to fret about. The game benefits when more people and nations compete at the international level. Watching the awe-inspiring performance of a player like Jokić in the Finals last year is something we need more of and should hope can be repeated. At the end of the day, we can allow our superiority complex to be partially cast aside in order to cherish how the game of basketball has truly grown just in the past few decades into a shared international sensation. I can only hope that it will grow in popularity in the coming years.

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