Why does basketball have such a small following in the UK?

By Robert Dean

As a basketball fanatic I often feel surprised that it only has a relatively small and specialist following in the UK. If you ask the average Brit to talk about basketball the stock response is usually “erm Michael Jordan, erm Kobe Bryant” with the particularly enlightened maybe being able to recall “erm Shaq”. However I’ve always felt that with some education and more exposure, Basketball could become a very popular sport in the UK for participants and spectators alike.

There’s no escaping the fact that the UK’s sporting landscape is dominated by Football. The large majority of our mainstream media coverage is littered with news and analysis of the, so-called, beautiful game. When you factor in other well followed sports like Cricket, Rugby Union, Rugby League, Golf and Tennis it’s hard to imagine where and how it’s going to fit it in.

This is also not helped by our league offering the British Basketball League, or as it more commonly known the BBL. The BBL is a highly competitive and entertaining league, with a loyal and enthusiastic following and I in no way mean to demean its relevance. However compared with its higher profile sporting competitors, it is essentially a semi professional outfit played in small leisure centers up and down the country. This makes it hard for TV companies to spend big money marketing the brand.

Here a 3 ways in which I think that Basketball could be made more accessible to the UK market;

  1. We need to learn from the best. Basketball does of course come out of the good ol’ U S of A. Its flagship product, the National Basketball Association (NBA), is and always will be basketballs biggest draw. Currently the only TV coverage of NBA games and analysis is on ESPN, a subscription channel which essentially only caters for the hardcore US sports fan, with games being shown in the early hours of the morning. If repeats were shown at prime time this might help to boost the profile and draw in new interest. From the January 17th Sky Sports, Britain’s biggest provider of sports on television, will now also be showing weekly NBA basketball coverage. They have been very successful in increasing American Football’s reputation and this could be the shot in the arm that the British market needs.
  2. The BBC missed a trick by not giving more limelight to Basketball in the Olympics. With the Americans bringing a squad to rival their legendary ’92 Dream-Team, it was a great chance for a UK audience to learn the nuances of the game and gain an affinity for its star players.
  3. Lastly I feel that we have a genuine vested interest on which to tag our allegiance to. Luol Deng is not only a legitimate NBA star – this year earning his belated first all-star call up – but one of the best stories in the whole of sport. Deng, who was born in the Sudan, was granted political asylum as a child and grew up in Brixton, South London. He honed his skills in the UK and managed to earn a college scholarship to Duke university, one of America’s most prestigious basketball programs. He was then drafted by the world-famous Chicago Bulls, for which he still plays now alongside former MVP Derrick Rose. But it is in a Team GB jersey where we should be most proud of him. He played through injury and adversity to lead his adopted home nation out in his own back yard this summer, almost pulling of a shock upset against power houses Spain in a 79-78 loss.

Players to watch out for

  • Chris Paul -The tricky point guard is the perfect playmaker and leader.
  • Blake Griffin – The big man famous for his thunderous dunks.
  • Kevin Durant – All around scoring genius. Heir to the throne of Kobe Bryant and Lebron James as the game’s best.

Slang Dunk – a brief description of the slang terms used in basketball

  • Dime – Skillful assist or pass
  • Jam – Another term for dunk
  • Crossover ­- Dribbling move where a player moves the ball from hand to the other
  •  Setting a pick – Where a player creates a physical barrier to block a defender from the opposite team
  • Double team – Where the defending team assigns two players to one player from the team on offense





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