Basketball Is Fair Dunkem Becoming Australia's Next Big Sport

While our football codes continue to battle it out in their fight to be the top dog of Australian sport, another round ball game might just overtake them all.

Basketball in Australia is on the bounce. It’s the next big thing in Australian sport. In fact, according to NBL owner Larry Kestelman “it’s on a stampede”.

The announcement yesterday that five NBL teams will play a combined total of seven matches against NBA clubs later this year is yet another sign of the game’s rising momentum and the NBL’s growing reputation around the world.

According to Roy Morgan research, basketball ranks as the seventh most popular activity ‘participated in regularly or occasionally’ by Australians. It ranks higher than cricket, netball, Australian football and both rugby codes.

More sport-loving Aussies are getting on the basketball court than on the cricket field, according to new research. (Image: Getty Images)

These strong participation rates are transferring into a growing fascination with the NBA – the world’s best basketball competition, littered with multi-million dollar superstars that dazzle on court and mesmerise young basketball fans right around the world.

Competitions such as the NBA were once largely unsighted in Australia, but they’re now at our fingertips.  And Australians are buying in.  Outside of America, Australians lead the way when it comes to NBA consumption with more NBA League Pass subscriptions per capita than any other country in the world.

Of course all of this means is that athletes such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and James Harden punctuate the conversations of millennials right across the country, often just as much as the names of our AFL, NRL and cricket stars.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors brings the ball up the floor against the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov 18, 2017 (Image: Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The fact many young fans gravitate towards the most elite levels of sport overseas rather than the domestic competitions here in Australia has often been seen as an obstacle for competitions such as the NBL.

But this attitude and been rebuked by the Kestelman and his team. They view their NBA counterparts as one of their biggest assets. Put simply, by aligning themselves with the most popular basketball league in the world, the NBL is gaining a lot of legitimacy and validation.

However, it’s not just the NBA that makes basketball a hot topic of Australian sport.  For one, the NBL is genuinely one of the better competitions in the world and its popularity is on the rise. Secondly, Australia’s good at it. Both our women’s and men’s teams are legitimately seen as medal contenders at each World Cup and Olympics they attend.

And our very best players are truly elite. This season’s NBA Play-Offs featured a record seven Australians, with one of them, Ben Simmons, this week announced as the NBA Rookie of the Year. Don’t underestimate the influence he’ll have on the popularity of the sport for as long as he plays.

Aussie NBA player Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers plays basketball with children on June 13, 2018 in Guangzhou, China. (Image:  VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Currently, the Australian Test cricket side is seen as our ‘national team’ and the current football World Cup is an exciting reminder of just how mighty it can be to have a national team compete in a truly global tournament with the whole world watching.

But basketball can also offer this.  In 2019 the US Dream Team is coming to Melbourne to play the Boomers ahead of the World Cup in China. You can bet (responsibly) that when the time comes, fans from right across the country will be clamouring to get a peek of the world’s best players up against our own.

Gold medalists Australia after the Men's Gold Medal Basketball Game between Australia and Canada at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. (Image: Matt King/Getty Images)

It might seem a long way off to suggest that the Boomers will one day be seen as our number one national team and that clashes against the US Dream Team will capture the attention of the Australian public quite like an Ashes series does today.

But then again, according to Kestelman, the game is on a stampede. To where exactly is still yet to be seen, but it’s safe to assume the game in Australia will only get bigger.

As Kestelmen often says, they’ve only ‘just begun’.