Australia is a country that doesn’t do things by halves when it comes to sport. With a population of 25 million, there’s a far smaller talent pool than in most countries. The most popular sport is cricket, and Australia has established itself as the best team in the world, even over the likes of India, where the population is about 50 times more!
It doesn’t end there, either. Back in the mid 90s, Australia were so much better than everyone else, they fielded two teams in an international tournament – a move that ended in farce but nevertheless demonstrated at the time the depth of talent.
Cricket is just one example of how seriously Australians take sport. The infrastructure and grass roots level for identifying and nurturing talent is second to none, and makes one wonder just how good countries like India and China could be on the world stage if they took a similar approach.
Basketball – the fastest growing game in Australia
As well as cricket, Australia ranks Aussie Rules football, rugby and soccer, with golf and tennis not far behind. Again, Australia or Australians have competed on level terms with the very best in the world. Two Rugby World Cup wins, Rod Laver’s 200 tennis titles, Greg Norman, whose record stands for itself, the list goes on.
One sport, however, is growing in popularity so fast that it will probably overtake football and at least arrive in the top five over the next year or two. Both in terms of viewing figures for the professional game and participation for leisure, Australian interest in basketball is going through the roof.
Between 2020 and 2021, user numbers and views on the Basketball Australia website increased by more than 200 percent. Australia’s success at the Tokyo Olympics was certainly a contributor to that, but it only tells part of the story.
Even the casino gamblers and gamers want a slice
It’s not just about national and international basketball tournaments, either. Interest in the sport is seeping into other parts of Australian life. Pokies, the local term for slot games, have always been wildly popular, and Australians gamble more money on them per person per year than any other nationality. There are hundreds, covering a multitude of themes, but one of the most popular is Basketball Star from Microgaming. Take a look at these online casino reviews in Australia to find a suitable online casino site if you want to try the game out for yourself!
Likewise, in the gaming community, NBA 2K became the third most popular console game in Australia last year. Sales were doubtless helped by the addition of a new Australian league, NBL OZ, to the most recent update. This, in turn, is spurring more interest in basketball as an eSport, a whole new way of getting into the sport for those who can’t play physically.
Sport’s gradual globalization
It is not just the NBA video game that has attracted Australian viewers, of course. 21st century broadcasting processes mean that the real NBA is now watched throughout the world via a combination of satellite, cable and internet streams. Different sports still have their geographic hotspots, but they are becoming fuzzy around the edges and gradually spreading.
It is not a situation that is unique to Australia. We need only look at the growing popularity of cricket and rugby in the USA, American football in the UK and so on. ESPN Australia carries comprehensive coverage of the NBA and fans can also opt to sign up for NBA League Pass to see all the action from all the best angles for their favorite teams.
Having said all that, Australians are more doers than watchers when it comes to sport. And even those whose days of throwing themselves around a basketball court might be in the past tend to prefer to watch their local heroes in action than media stars from the other side of the planet.
Basketball in Australia – from the NBL to international success
Australia’s National Basketball League launched in 1979. Over the next 20 years, it was a huge success story, capturing the imagination of youngsters and winning ever larger viewer numbers, both in terms of live spectators and TV viewers. Around the turn of the millennium, however, something started to go wrong. Viewer numbers declined, clubs started to get into financial problems and TV coverage became inconsistent.
Phil Smyth was coach of the highly successful Adelaide 36ers in their 1990s heyday and says that looking back, basketball rested on its laurels and did not do enough to meet the challenges of changing times. A restructuring of the national league to make games more meaningful throughout the season worked wonders in helping Australians fall back in love with the sport.
It also led to an increase in homegrown talent. The very best NBL players make up Australia’s national team, and winning performances in the international arena proved to be the missing piece of the jigsaw. It all came together at the Tokyo Olympics, when the Boomers sailed through the group stage undefeated and ultimately won their first ever Olympic medals, defeating Slovenia 107-93.
Unlike contemporary performances by the Socceroos, this wasn’t a case of an outsider killing giants. Australia have shown that both their men’s and women’s teams are a match for anyone, and both are currently ranked third in the world.
World Cup preparation
This year, the Boomers face the biggest challenge of all. The Basketball World Cup will be taking place on their doorstep, and they will be looking to build upon the best-ever result of fourth place that they managed in 2019. There’s a growing sense that this could be their year. If so, basketball in Australia will emerge from 2023 bigger than ever.