The Globalization of Basketball: Latin America (Part 3)
By Joshua Motenko
While in the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, a city 12,000 ft above sea level where 80% of the population is indigenous, I met a 70-year-old woman, who happened to be an Allen Iverson fan. Speaking with her about her love for the way Iverson plays basketball was an astounding experience. She was mesmerized by his freelancing style of play, saying she just "wanted to see what he would do next." The significance of Iverson's creativity was not only revolutionizing how the game was being played through his interpretation of the crossover dribble, but was developing the game by grasping the attention of people around the world.
Yet this woman's recognition was exemplary of basketball's primary tension: the constant conflict between individualism and collectivism, the push and pull of the balanced team versus the will of the dominant superstar, the philosophical dispute of any decade. While winning is usually the product of team chemistry, the game has always made room for individual excellence, and has multiplied its fan base at home and abroad because of this dichotomy. From Mikan to Wilt, West, and Kareem, to Dr. J, Bird and Magic, to Jordan, Shaq, and followed by Wade and Lebron, the game has been steered into new states of on-court evolution by its legendary individual performers. But its these legendary players that seem to be basketball's vehicle for globalization.
Whether it's an elderly Iverson fan in Bolivia, an obscure Brian Scalabrine reference in Belize, or the existence of full size courts in tiny Zapatista villages in Mexico, the one constant throughout my trip has been my repeated surprise at the reach of the game. Yet this emotion "surprise" is exactly what is attracting the masses around the world to our NBA superstars and the game they play. To measure the global impact of basketball one has to look no further than Michael Jordan's individual artistic expressionism with the ball, and greatness as a member of a cohesive team unit, to see why the sport has inspired millions of men and women around the world, not just in Latin America.
Basketball has unlimited potential for future growth on courts and in the cultures of Latin America, where it is already spreading at an alarming rate. The game is now being played in urban cities and towns, and increasingly in rural areas throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and South America without heed to racial orientation, economic and political strife, or gender. Chances are if you give someone a basketball in the most remote areas of Latin America, they will know what to do with it. While that may seem like a trivial point as a measurement of the globalization of the sport, it is a fact one would be foolish to overlook.
Each country, in varying influences, is making its mark on the trajectory of
the global game. Each has its own interpretation of how basketball should be
played, and each translation changes the way the game is played at home. Even
if the country, like Belize for instance, is only trying to mimic the style
and feel of the NBA game, their identity on the court is just that, their own.
Each variation is modification. Each Latino in the NBA is an idol to his people,
because each NBA game leaves children practicing what they just saw, oceans
away. Each ball bouncing is development, progress, the basketball metastasis.
Thus continues the globalization of the game.
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