It goes without saying that the NBA is the most popular professional basketball league on the planet. It’s where anyone who’s anyone in basketball strives to play in, at least once in their career. In the 2017-18 NBA season, all 30 NBA teams combined generated around $8 billion in revenue, up significantly from $5.87 billion two years before that. It’s clear that the NBA is where the money is for the world’s best b-ball talent.
Americans absolutely live for basketball. It’s not just the North American NBA that usurps other basketball leagues around the world. Even every single second of the NCAAB, the US college basketball league, is reviewed as fans want the latest parlay picks, predictions and previews. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo or the next college hopeful looking to become the next Antetokounmpo, America is the number-one global hotspot for basketball.
But where else is professional basketball popular outside of the US? You might be pleasantly surprised to find there are plenty of thriving professional basketball leagues away from the media glare of the NBA. Below are five of the leagues that the pros who don’t quite make the NBA tend to frequent.
Caption: The EuroLeague is the pinnacle of pro basketball in Europe
First and foremost, let’s take a look at what many people perceive to be the biggest professional basketball competition outside of the NBA, the EuroLeague. Think of the EuroLeague in the same light as soccer’s Champion’s League – a tournament where Europe’s elite basketball teams compete having enjoyed success in their domestic leagues in the previous season. This 16-team competition was last won by CSKA Moscow. It’s also worth mentioning the EuroCup, which acts as the second-tier European competition, with the winners of the EuroCup gaining entry into the EuroLeague for the following season.
Turkish Basketball Super League
Basketball is rapidly becoming one of the most popular professional sports in Turkey. Although there is a history of basketball being played here dating back to the early 20th century, the Turkish Basketball Super League (BSL) was not established until 1966. There is a significant amount of money being pumped into the BSL at present, attracting big-name coaches as well as players. Ex-Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt has coached BSL team, Darussafaka S.K. Meanwhile the Philadelphia 76ers have clearly been scouting the BSL carefully, having hand-picked Furkan Korkmaz in the first round of the 2016 Draft.
Spanish Liga ACB
Although the Turkish BSL is rapidly gaining traction, Spain’s Liga ACB remains Europe’s biggest and most prestigious professional basketball league. Established in 1957, the league has been largely dominated through the decades by two teams. Soccer fans will probably be able to guess which teams too – FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. In fact, only ten of the 63 titles have been won by other Liga ACB teams. Liga ACB has been a very successful proving ground for several NBA All-Stars, most notably brothers Paul and Marc Gasol, and Kristaps Porzingis.
German Basketball Bundesliga
Germany’s Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) may have a reputation as a mid-tier professional basketball league throughout Europe, but many are confident the BBL is firmly on the rise as a competition and a brand. BBL games get impressive attendances, thanks largely to investment in nationwide marketing. The BBL can’t yet demonstrate a pathway to the NBA for young and established players in Europe, but several former NBA players are making the move the other way. Former Clippers draft Jared Jordan has played a starring role for Tigers Tubingen in recent years.
Italian Lega Basket Serie A
Last but by no means least, Europe’s longest established professional basketball league. The Italian Lega Basket Serie A (LBA) predates the likes of Spain’s Liga ACB, having been founded way back in 1920. The challenge for teams in the LBA is the restrictions on their respective rosters. Each roster must have a minimum of five Italian players and five players from outside the European Union (EU). Alternatively, teams can use three non-EU players, four EU-based players and up to five Italian nationals. Olimpia Milano is the most successful team in LBA history, winning 28 championships, with ‘Le Scarpette Rosse’ (The Little Red Shoes) last winning it in 2018.
The growth and success of these leagues just goes to show there is life outside of the NBA for basketball fans and players alike. The improvements in these national leagues should also make a big difference when it comes to international basketball events like the Olympics, with Italy and Germany sure to reap the benefits of their domestic leagues with improved national squads in future.