Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says Raptors embody success of NBA’s international growth

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Photo: Twitter / The Hill

When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks or writes about basketball, it’s a good idea to pay attention.

The all-time great center is an intellectual, a deep thinker and a gifted writer on many subjects. He delivers nuanced commentaries time after time.

Indeed, NBA history — and the broader perspectives that examine the growth of the game — is just one area of expertise for the league’s all-time leading scorer.

In his latest column for The Guardian, a British newspaper, Abdul-Jabbar opines on the significance of the Toronto Raptors winning the NBA title last week, beating the Golden State Warriors in a dramatic six-game series. In doing so, the Raptors became the first non-American team to claim the title.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted that there were 108 NBA players this season from 42 nations and territories, which amounted to 24.5 percent of the players in the league, for the 2018-19 campaign.

In his view, this has been a catalyst for improved competition.

“Every one of the 30 teams had at least one international player,” he wrote. “The influx of these exceptional players from other countries has resulted in a higher level of competition, forcing American-born aspirants to step up their games. There is no entitlement in the NBA, it is the ultimate meritocracy: your value is measured by performance alone. And if we increase the pool of competitors, the entire game will be elevated even higher. This is evident from examining the Raptors’ roster which includes Serge Ibaka (Congo and Spain), Pascal Siakam (Cameroon), Marc Gasol (Spain), and OG Anunoby (born in London to Nigerian parents). One of the assistant coaches, Patrick Mutombo, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The team president, Masai Ujiri, was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria. Nick Nurse, the head coach, developed his coaching career in Europe.”

Growth of the game

Examining the growth of the game on a global scale, the former UCLA, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers standout also commented on the NBA’s grassroots efforts.

“For some other countries,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “the catch-22 is that a sport has to be popular to get the resources to develop children’s skills, but it can’t become popular without raising children with those skills. The NBA has been on a fervent mission to expand the league internationally through a variety of promising programs. Since 2001, they have conducted basketball camps in 27 countries on six continents. In February, they announced that they had established a 12-team Basketball African League that would begin in 2020. I participated in the Basketball Without Borders Africa 2018 camp in Johannesburg and saw first-hand the level of enthusiasm for the sport.”