International influence key to present and future of NBA
By: Ben Pawlak
Nov. 22, 2022
Photo Credit: Associated Press
In October of 2022, the NBA did something unprecedented. The league scheduled two exhibition games which were played between NBA G League Ignite and Metropolitans 92 on Oct. 4th and Oct. 6th.
NBA G League Ignite is the crown jewel of the NBA's innovative basketball development program, a team that was created as a tantalizing alternative to college basketball for top prospects. Ignite offers salaries of up to $500,000 to these prospects to spend a short season playing in the NBA G League. In contrast, Ignite’s opponent, Metropolitans 92, is a French professional basketball team which plays in the nation's best professional basketball league, LNB Pro A.
Despite the obvious differences between these two teams, there’s also some noteworthy commonalities. Each of these teams have close connections to former NBA stars, with Shareef Abdur-Rahim serving as Ignite's President (on top of being President of the NBA G League) and Boris Diaw serving as President of Metropolitans 92. More importantly, these teams squared off with the same purpose: to show off their top prospects to the NBA community at large. It was apparent from the get-go that fans and scouts alike would be watching these games intently. Those aforementioned top prospects, crafty guard Scoot Henderson (Ignite) and impossibly tall center Victor Wembanyama (Metropolitans 92) lived up to the hype and stole the show. In particular, Wembanyama played well enough to cement his status as the most coveted NBA draft prospect since LeBron James.
Victor Wembanyama stands seven feet, four inches tall, weighs just 210 pounds, and possesses an eight foot wingspan. Despite being just 18 years old, the lanky Frenchman has shown generational talent while playing against professional competition with Metropolitans 92. He is an elite rim protector who is also more than capable of being an offensive juggernaut when called upon. He can score from anywhere on the floor, and has a remarkably smooth jumper which is virtually unguardable given his height. He is also a very intelligent player, especially as a passer out of the post and as a screener in the pick-and-roll offense.
Wembanyama is the perfect prospect for the modern NBA, and his well-rounded skillset is reminiscent of other international basketball stars who have dominated the NBA as of late, particularly Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Nikola Jokic (Serbia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), and Luka Doncic (Slovenia). Antetokounmpo has become the face of the league, Jokic has won the last two MVP awards, and Embiid and Doncic play at elite levels on a nightly basis. In fact, those four players were four of the top five vote-getters in the 2022 NBA MVP vote, and they have combined to win the last four MVP awards (Antetokounmpo in 2018/19 and 2019/20, Jokic in 2020/21 and 2021/22).
The NBA's international revolution can be quantified beyond the best and brightest foreign stars. When the 2022/23 NBA season tipped off, there were a total of 120 international players (21.8% of the league's player population) on NBA rosters, a league record. Those 120 players represent 40 different countries, including 22 Canadians and 10 Australians. Furthermore, all 30 NBA teams feature at least one international player.
This record-setting influx of international talent is great for the NBA's business. The league’s most profitable product, NBA League Pass, is a streaming platform which allows fans to watch any live NBA game on any device for $14.99 per month. Last season, the NBA League Pass global subscriber count increased by a whopping 30%. Further, live game viewership across all platforms increased by 19%, while social media viewership increased by 7%. These statistics (courtesy of NBA PR) prove that the incredible amount of international talent on show in the league has generated this noticeable rise in viewership around the world.
When Victor Wembanyama is inevitably drafted with the #1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, he will be the latest addition to a long list of international superstars gracing the NBA hardwood today. It’s clear that the immense impact foreign players have made on the league in recent years has transformed the NBA into a global product.