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The Worldwide Popularity of Sports

"The Most Popular Sport in the World”

Barack Obama, as President of the United States,
still finds time to play competitive basketball.
(Street poster of Obama during 2008 election campaign.)

Basketball Background

In 1891, James Naismith invented the game of basketball in the USA with legendary Hall of Famer Coach John B. McLendon [Dc’d 1999 and listed herein as a Board member and a 2006 recipient of the A-E-O Meyer-Harte Award] having been his last surviving and most productive student.
There now are more than 207 countries formally involved in basketball with each having a federation for international and Olympic basketball competition.
Basketball is now " played by an estimated 70% of teens worldwide.” Imagine that – almost 3 out of 4 of every teenager in the world plays basketball.

Parade Magazine, October 2000

China & Basketball

A few years after its invention in 1891, YMCA missionaries from the United States introduced basketball to China, thus making China the second oldest basketball playing nation and now its biggest.

" One in six Chinese play or otherwise are involved in basketball. . . .
That’s 210 million people. It’s the fastest-growing sport in China

-- The Chinese Take to the Hoop, The Wall Street Journal, September 2000.

This article also quoted Mike Denzel, then the managing director and a vice-president of NBA-Asia (with six offices in Asia), about the " tremendous opportunity” for the NBA and basketball in China and Asia. A native Chicagoan and former player at Yale University and then in Europe, Denzel had lived in Europe for over 10 years and now has lived with his wife and children since 1997 in Asia, where he has his own business ("The Denzel Group”) and runs the very popular and productive Fast Break Basketball programs. ( )

During the 2008 Olympics in China and later during the telecast of the NBA finals (June 9, 2009), it was announced that there now are " more than 300 million Chinese playing basketball” and with China in the process of the next ten years " building over 800,000 basketball courts with at least one in every rural village in the country.” China soon will give new meaning to the term "playground basketball”. China obviously has decided to make basketball available-to-all in its vast and populous country to make China a major participant in the basketball world and eventually with players and teams able to challenge and compete with anyone on the court.

International-Pro Basketball Camps
Pictured below are photos of some members of the Coaching Staff of the Chicago-based International-Pro Basketball Camps (IPBC)
in addition to coaches and representatives of European professional basketball clubs,
in providing "opportunities” for ex-collegians to continue on in the NBA, CBA or overseas.
Created in 1975 by Ken Denzel (also the founder/chair of A-E-O and Y-E-O),
the IPBC was the precursor to the NBA Pre-Draft Camps started in 1980.

with Coaches JOHN KILLELEA (NBA Boston Celtics), KEN DENZEL (IPBC),
and others front the NBA, Europe, various universities and elsewhere.

Several coaches and representatives of European professional basketball clubs
participating in the International-Pro Basketball Camp with KEN DENZEL. (1970's)

Coaches JOHN KILLELEA (NBA Boston Celtics) and KEN DENZEL addressing players at the IPBC.
Two representatives of Asian basketball with KEN DENZEL at the IPBC.
Pilot-Captain & Coach LYNN CUNDIFF and Maintenance-Chief KEN DENZEL with one of the planes of the "official" IPBC fleet. (1970's)

More than 30 years ago, an article in a 1978 issue of Reader’s Digest, condensed from Kiwanis Magazine, provided this headline and stated the following:

The World Goes Wild for Basketball

"In Europe alone, 40 million play it. It draws support from organized federations in 145 countries, spanning all continents. It is played in the shadow of the Pyramids, on dirt clearings above the Kyber Pass leading from Pakistan to Afghanistan, in bullfight rings in Andean villages, in the jungles of Africa, in the kibbutzin of Israel. Indeed, there is hardly a corner of the earth where people have not yielded to the excitement of what is clearly the international sport of the decade – basketball.

"[I]n France, the number of men players has almost doubled in the last decade. West Germany adds as many as 6,000 new basketball participants a year. The Yugoslavian town of Zadar, a community of about 50,000, has a 6,500 seat auditorium for basketball. Brazil has 20 basketball arenas seating more than 20,000, and 52 additional ones are planned.

"Fanned by fierce competition among a clutch of Far East nations, basketball has blossomed into one of Asia’s favorite pastimes. In the Australian city of Adelaide, the "city of churches,” there are 2,000 basketball teams, half of them church-sponsored. * *

"And in the United States, where it all began, a million-plus boys and girls compete in official high-school games, while millions more play basketball in junior highs and on playgrounds. College basketball draws nearly 30 million spectators a year. * *

"How did basketball find such a welcome throughout the world? ‘The game sells itself, once people realize how fast and exciting it is,’ says Leandro de la Cruz, basketball coach for the Dominican Republic’s Astros de Montecarlo Sports Club. It is a team sport, requiring an intricate blend of timing, intuition and cooperation; yet it is flexible enough to accommodate the fireworks of one player going head-to-head in a duel with an opponent. It is a highly visible sport: with only five players per team, the action is never obscured. The size of the ball – it is the largest used in any team sport – also helps. Says former UCLA coaching great John Wooden: ‘The moment of climax, when the ball enters the basket, high up in the air, is easily seen and understood by everyone.’

"Basketball also is an inexpensive game, requiring only a ball and some kind of hoop attached to a tree or pole. No costly uniforms or equipment are necessary; some youngsters play it barefoot. * *

"During the Cold War years, the U.S.S.R. grimly set out to overtake the United States in basketball. . . . [A]nd finally, in 1972, beat the Americans for the gold medal (in the Olympics) at Munich. . . .

"Never slow to exploit sport for political gain, the U.S.S.R. has used basketball to establish diplomatic beachheads throughout the Third World. . . . In 1975, the Russians assigned 7,000 coaches and technicians to teach basketball and other sports in the developing countries. * *

"Some 2,000 to 3,000 Americans now play on Western European clubs which vie for national championships. * * * The result is that they have electrified basketball in Europe, infusing it with the exhilaration of a rousing crowd-pleasing spectacle.

"Just as spectacular as the worldwide growth of basketball has been the spread of its popularity among women. * * *

"Basketball is now the fastest-growing collegiate sport for women – in the United States and abroad.”

RUDOLF KRIPP, a Law Judge and President of a European Basketball Club, and KEN DENZEL
with two German female basketball teams.(1989)

Today and outside of the United States, the popularity of basketball is reflected in these numbers of players (which is not all inclusive since it might not include the numbers of youth players) and registered (with FIBA) basketball clubs in just a few different parts of the world:

-- Asia:

China with over 300 million players and an unknown number of registered basketball clubs;
Japan with over 3,570,000 players and over 31,062 registered basketball clubs.

-- Europe:

Spain with over 5 million players and over 21,591 registered basketball clubs;
Italy with an estimated 700,000+ players and over 3,660 registered basketball clubs;
France with over 650,000 players and over 4,810 registered basketball clubs;
Germany with an estimated 500,000+ players and over 2,000 registered basketball clubs; and
with an estimated 475,000+ players and over 1,350 registered basketball clubs.

-- South America:

Brazil with an estimated 160,000+ players and 670 registered basketball clubs; and
with an estimated 325,000+ players and 1,200 registered basketball clubs.

-- Middle East:

Israel with an estimated 100,000+ players and 1,200 registered basketball clubs; and
with an estimated 45,000+ players and 178 registered basketball clubs.

Basketball courts in countries outside the USA.

There also are a great number of countries where basketball is very popular but we do not have figures as to the numbers of players and registered basketball clubs in those countries. They include these countries with professional players and/or leagues and many amateur players:

Australia; Austria; Belgium (700+ clubs); Bosnia & Herzegovina; Canada; Democratic Republic of Congo; Cuba; Denmark (197 clubs); Dominica (573+ clubs); Egypt; England (787+ clubs); Finland (250+ clubs); Hungary; Iceland (50+ clubs); Ireland (224+ clubs); Lithuania (130+ clubs); Malaysia; Mexico; Morocco; Union of Myanmar; Netherlands; New Zealand (1,975 clubs); Nigeria; Norway (195+ clubs); Pakistan (400+ clubs); Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland (369+ clubs); Portugal (258 clubs); Puerto Rico; Romania (150+ clubs); Russia (with one of the top leagues in the world); Serbia & Montenegro; Singapore; Slovak Republic (113+ clubs); Slovenia (127+ clubs); South Africa (72 +clubs); Sweden (559+ clubs); Switzerland (223+ clubs); Syria (75+ clubs); Tanzania (300+ clubs); Thailand; Tunisia (50+ clubs); Turkey (800+ clubs); Ukraine; Venezuela; and many others.

A 1984 special report of U.S. News & World Report magazine provided these headlines and comments:

Sports-Crazy Americans

"The U.S. athletes competing in the 1984 Olympics are in the limelight now, but they represent no more than a minuscule part of a society that spends countless hours and billions of dollars each year on sports.

"Richer and with more leisure time than ever, the U.S. has truly become a sports-crazy nation. In every age group, in every region, in every walk of life, a passion for athletics is blossoming. Nearly 70,000 packed the Indianapolis Hoosier Dome to watch a basketball game – in July. * *

"All told, sports contests this year will draw an estimated half-billion fans to everything from peewee football to big-league baseball. * *

"Among the most avid of the nearly 100 million Americans engaging in regular exercise programs are those who hold high-paying jobs – the ‘Yuppies,’ or young urban professionals....

"Women also take part in athletics far more than in the past. They not only are motivated by the same desire for self-improvement that drives men but their opportunities are far wider because of federal rules that encourage athletic programs for females. ‘For young people, sports is an important self-esteem builder,’ says Richard Weinberg, professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota.

"Sports are equally important for older citizens. * * *

"On balance . . . most observers say that the good outweighs the bad in America’s sports craze, which shows no sign of ebbing.”

Business Gets Healthy From Athletics, Too

"The Price Tag for Sports and Leisure Already Runs to Tens of Billions – and is Heading Even Higher.

"In America today, sports is more than fun and games. It’s big business. . . .[S]ales are soaring for everything .... Last year, sporting goods sales reached 13.6 billion dollars, a 13 percent increase over the 1982 level. Sales are expected to climb to almost 15 billion in 1984. * *

"Encouraged by what they see as long-term growth opportunities, some major firms have been moving into sports and fitness. * *

‘Sports themes also turn up with increasing frequency in ads for everything from American Express credit cards to Xerox copiers. * *

"Companies have taken to sponsoring sporting events, too. * * * Incentives for such sponsorship is rising as attendance at sporting events of all kinds climbs. * *

"[T]he public appetite for athletics remains strong. For those in the sports business, that can only be good news.”

A 1998 issue of the Chicago Sun-Times made this report on the influence of Michael Jordon:

In France, basketball is known as Michel

"The impact of No. 23 on basketball’s global growth is so great it almost is incalculable.* * *

"Local color in the area near the Holmenkollen, Norway’s legendary ski jump, now includes kids shooting hoops at red-and-black backboards outside their houses on the same wintry days people are soaring from the hill.

"In a German poll taken before the 1994 World Cup, young people were asked whether they would rather spend one day as Jordan or Lothar Matthaeus, then captain of Germany’s defending soccer world champions. A stunning 35 percent in soccer-mad Germany preferred Jordan. * *

"[B]asketball has made tremendous gains in the last decade, especially in Asia and Africa.
* *

"Generations of French cultural haughtiness and condescension toward the United States as a lowbrow civilization have not prevented the populace from going mad over Michael. * *

"(Basketball) has become the most popular sport for many adolescents, especially in poor suburbs of Paris that are home to many Arab and black African immigrants.”

[ Note: See the A-E-O Meyer-Harte Awards herein as Jordan was a recipient in 2006.]


Rvd 1011