Looking at basketball cultures in the UK, Hong Kong and Uganda provides an interesting insight into the various continental differences.
Sports Gazette spoke to three basketball fans invested in these cultures to find out how they compare.
In Uganda, basketball has been present since the 1970s. However it has risen in popularity since the late 1990s and early noughties. In the last decade, the country has taken the development, growth and organisation of Ugandan basketball more seriously.
Uganda qualified for their first Afro Basket in 2015 with both the men’s and women’s teams. In the same year, the Ugandan women’s basketball team qualified for the All-African Games.
Despite this recent success, Uganda is still up and coming when it comes to grassroots basketball and growing the game. Ugandan sports journalist Usher Komugisha outlined the current state of affairs when it comes to basketball in the nation.
Komugisha said: “Well I would say that basketball is a sport that is loved in Uganda, also to be fair we have quite tall people in this country which should give us a bit of an advantage.
“We can’t even dream about hosting the Afro Basket because we don’t have the sports infrastructure to do something like that. Sports infrastructure in Uganda for lack of a better term is dead, it’s non-existent.”
Looking to Improve
The Ugandan basketball league is played at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) outdoor court. The only other option is the Lugogo indoor facility, an arena which is owned by the government and was built in 1954. The contrast, between this and, say, Madison Square Garden is striking.
In fact, you don’t even need to travel 13,000km to the US to find a vastly improved basketball structure. Just take a look at neighbouring Rwanda.
Komugisha said: “You can see how progressive His Excellency Paul Kagame has been in helping the game of basketball grow, being directly involved the construction and the success of the Kigali arena.
“I’m talking about a 10,000 seater arena. I know how many friends who flew into Kigali in December of 2019 to watch the Basketball Africa League qualifiers and they were thinking “Oh my God this is like an NBA court, this is what we see on television”
Komugisha calls Ugandan basketball players geniuses and superstars because of the adversity they have to overcome to showcase their love of the game.
In Asia, there is a strong basketball culture. The NBA’s involvement in the region has meant that the popularity of the sport has sky rocketed in recent decades. With stars of the past and present like Yao Ming, Ben Simmons and Liz Cambage, the continent has a lot to be excited about.
Colin O’Hanlon, an NBA producer living and working in Hong Kong details the basketball culture in the region and how the NBA is helping to enhance it.
O’Hanlon said: “I think it’s actually somewhat similar to the UK, the culture is really strong. You walk around and see lots of people wearing NBA merchandise: apparel, jerseys, kits, everything like that.
“There are basketball courts right, left and centre wherever you turn here, and people are super passionate for it.
“People love the big names; I know Kobe came out here a lot during his playing career and there just seems to be a massive adulation for the big stars”
Whereas Uganda is currently missing the sports infrastructure to strengthen their basketball culture, Hong Kong and Asia in general are a rising force when it comes to the sport.
The NBA has inevitably played a key role in the rise of basketball in Asia. As O’Hanlon mentioned, Asian fans are enamoured with the star power the NBA provides.
NBA all-stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and most notably Dwyane Wade have all had large influence on the continent.
In 2006, Chinese sportswear company Li-Ning began a collaboration with the NBA, with O’Neal as their first signing.
Wade was signed in 2012 after fostering a relationship with the company at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
By taking Wade away from the iconic Jordan brand, Li-Ning made a statement of intent regarding Asian basketball as a force to be reckoned with.
However, the NBA is also involved in the grassroots development of the game in Asia.
O’Hanlon said: “I came down here to help the team with Junior NBA which, for those of you who don’t know, it’s a massive organisation that runs in tandem with the NBA that goes to schools, teaches coaches how to play and coach basketball and tries to get the next group of people invested in basketball and playing basketball.”
There is hope on the horizon for African basketball too. Junior NBA is not an organisation that is restricted to Asia alone, Junior NBA Africa is a prominent organisation as well.
Additionally, the NBA has worldwide initiatives such as Basketball Without Borders that help promote the sport globally.
In the UK, basketball is the second most played sport, behind football and ahead of rugby. However, this does not mean all is well for basketball culture in Britain.
Back in November 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced the £300 million ‘Sport Winter Survival Package’, a cash injection to help maintain sports throughout lockdown.
Yet, of this £300 million, basketball only received £4 million. Lack of funding like this has caused the UK basketball community to take matters into their own hands.
Examples include Martin Dyan, founder of the GG3x3 basketball charity who recruited 14 volunteers to put up 76 basketball nets around London in the #NothingButNetLDN campaign.
Nathan Mundy, also known as the Boston Brit is a content creator and basketball lover. Basketball wasn’t a priority in Britain as Mundy grew up in the early noughties.
Mundy said: “When you’re in school especially in the UK you’re used to rugby and football, basketball’s not really a thing. I don’t know whether that’s the case in many other schools but in my school, it wasn’t a thing.
“So we only did basketball in PE, I don’t know, once every two years or something and if not, I’ve got some silly stories involving me and basketballs but we won’t get into that.”
Mundy says the biggest obstacle facing the rise of basketball in the UK is the time difference. NBA games are normally shown past midnight in the UK.
Hong Kong has an advantage here as the prime time games are shown between 6:00 AM up until midday.
Furthermore, the prospect of supplanting the Premier League in the UK seems bleak, regardless of basketball’s high participation numbers.
The same can be said for Africa, where football is the most popular sport.
However, the weekends see NBA games become more accessible for fans in the UK.
Mundy said: “It’s quite good that they play in the afternoons on Sundays. Most of the time I could be watching Boston at nine in the evening which is fantastic. You can just sit there watch it for a few hours and then you go to bed.”
Nine o’clock is actually quite late when it comes to weekend NBA games in the UK, most of the time they start as early as 5:00 PM.
Sky Sports broadcast NBA games in the UK and they have taken full advantage of this.
In an attempt to grow the game in the UK, Sky Sports provide a free NBA game to watch on their YouTube channel most weekends.
These three regions are at different stages in their overall development, let alone with sports. However, the common denominator across all three is the NBA’s involvement.
The league has an eye towards the future with the aforementioned Junior NBA and Basketball Without Borders targeting youth participation worldwide.
Alongside a close relationship with the WNBA, the intention is to integrate basketball into as many cultures as possible, in order to solidify the sport as a global powerhouse.