Sunday 21st July 2024,
The Hoop Doctors

How Basketball Spread across the Globe and Landed in China

Basketball is as American as apple pie, the 4th of July, Coca Cola and Superbowl Sunday but when did it all begin and how has it influenced the rest of the world?

In 1891 in Springfield a young PE (physical education) teacher was tasked with coming up with a new game or activity to keep the students occupied and active. It was winter and the lacrosse and football seasons had ended. The students were restless and bored and all attempts to occupy their attention had failed.

James Naismith went to work on an idea he had. He asked a janitor to find him something that he could use as goals however fate would have it that the only things available were peach baskets. These were set at each end of the gym around 10 feet from the ground with one man at each end to remove the ball once it was in the basket and return it to play. Years later the bottoms of the baskets were removed and the game moved closer to today’s game although by and large it remains the same.

On June 6, 1946 the National Basketball Association was founded in New York. It was and still is the premier basketball league anywhere in the world, however other countries have embraced basketball eagerly.

How basketball spread across the world

One of Naismith’s students who was there for the first games in Springfield travelled to France. So in 1893 France was introduced to basketball. From there it quickly spread across Europe to Spain, Portugal, Belgium and to Russia.

By 1895 it had travelled to South America, Australia, China and the Philippines where US troops played the game.

FIBA (IBF) International Basketball Federation was founded in Geneva on June 18, 1932, 12 years before the NBA was founded. Later FIBA Asia followed in 1960. Basketball had truly become a global phenomenon.

Basketball takes off in Asia

After the introduction of basketball to Asia, China particularly embraced the game. It was originally brought there by some of the same missionaries that were involved in the YMCA and the original James Naismith games.

It was initially introduced through the Shanghai area and grew to be extremely popular by the 1920’s. In 1936 the Republic of China (as it was then) entered the Summer Olympics with their basketball team. The team did not fare well (though they beat France) but they are the inspiration for a 2008 movie titled Champions.

Chairman Mao

In 1949 Mao became the Chairman of the Communist Party of China. He began his Cultural Revolution condemning and eradicating western and capitalist society ideals. However basketball was allowed to stay and remained popular. It was played for exercise and in the spirit of friendship not competition.

Youth in basketball in China

Talent is scouted early in China. The sports system in place there means they actively search schools for children who might become tall, regardless of whether they have basketball skills. China is by average height of its citizens one of the shortest countries in the world. It does not routinely produce 6 foot 6 basketball players so they look at other ways to produce top players.

Like a lot of sports in China, basketball is funded extremely well. Scouts actively search the school system for tall parents hoping that their offspring will grow into promising players. These children will enter extra-curricular sports classes. If they do indeed possess talent they may be removed and sent to full time sports academies.

It is not unknown for players to fake ages. Making themselves younger so they can play in age restricted competitions. In 2008 the Chinese Basketball Association discovered 26 players who had falsified their age. This seems common across other sports in China with gymnasts younger than 16 entering the Olympics and then winning gold.

The Chinese National Team

Without doubt China do possess the best team in Asia and will beat their neighbours regularly but they still haven’t produced a team capable of taking on the USA or the better teams in Europe and rest of the world. At the time of writing China were ranked 28th in the FIBA World Rankings, below Montenegro, Iran and Mexico. For all the money and time poured in to the national team they are still not hitting the heights they desire.

China has competed at the Olympic Games a total of 9 times and their best position was 8th. Compare this to their record at the FIBA Asia Cup where they won the competition 14 times out of 16 during the years between 1975 and 2005.

Gambling on basketball in China

China was one of the originators of gambling. Having games that can be traced back hundreds of years BC. However they have extremely strict rules against gambling after the Communist Party took over in 1949. There are no casinos or online kaszinók in China. If you were looking to bet you would have to head to a casino in the gambling haven of Macau or Hong Kong.

However there is a government sanctioned game called Sports Lottery. This allows citizens to bet on European football (or soccer) and also American basketball, but not Chinese. Certainly there is no way to bet on College Basketball as you can in the US. Online casinos are also banned but are available to access sometimes through VPNs before being shut down so you may be able to place bets on Chinese basketball and play book of dead slots if you wish.

Famous players from China

Surprisingly considering their aggressive youth scouting program and large funding China hasn’t produced many NBA players. So far they have exported six players to the states. The most famous being Yao Ming. Playing for the Houston Rockets from 2002-2011 Yao is the most famous basketball player in China. In 2016 Yao was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame along with Shaquille O’Neal.

Although hugely popular in China, basketball there still has some way to come to meet the high standards of the US national team and the NBA. However it is likely sometime in the future we may see a far more competitive team at the Olympics. One thing is for sure, basketball in China is not going away anytime soon.

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