From Aug. 31 to Sept. 15, China will host 92 games among 32 nations in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 to determine a global champion. But first, months of qualifiers have to be played to whittle 80 countries down to 32.
This week, 44 games will be played in one of the final sets of qualifying showdowns for each of the four continental groupings. Soon, the World Cup field will set, and players from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa will share an international stage.
Since 1950, FIBA has run its own tournament, previously the World Championships and now rebranded as the World Cup, that has served as its own way to crown supremacy. China will be its 15th different host, and the field has steadily grown from its original 10 participants.
It’s not a secret that the United States dominates basketball. While it hasn’t won every Olympics gold or all the World Cups, it’s won its fair share and always been in the mix. There’s not another country on earth that can match America in its basketball development and infrastructure, and this can lead to some American fans becoming less engaged at an international level. The sport is so good here domestically that some don’t think the rest of the world is worth watching.
To these people, I say it matters.
Since players like Dirk Nowitzki and Vlade Divac became household names, more and more foreign, particularly European, players have come overseas. Every year, some of the top picks in the NBA Draft are non-Americans, and every year, foreigners impact the game at increased levels. Some of the most exciting young players in the NBA today are foreigners, from Luka Doncic to Kristaps Porzingis to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the college game has started to see more overseas talent earn scholarships, too. Some programs, such as St. Mary’s and Gonzaga, have even relied on recruiting foreigners as a key part of their success.
The growth of basketball beyond the American border is evident. As any sport grows in popularity, so too does the level and density of the talent. Basketball is the healthiest it has ever been on an international scale, and with global efforts to take the sport to places people wouldn’t have dreamed of decades ago, it won’t stop.
If you love basketball, you should want it to reach as many people are possible. It shouldn’t matter if they’re American or not. All people deserve the right to learn about this great game and the opportunity to challenge and expand themselves athletically, mentally and otherwise through basketball.
That’s why the FIBA World Cup matters.
In this sport, the only worldwide competition that has traditionally mattered is the Olympics. The Olympics are the pinnacle of sport, and there’s no question it holds a special meaning in basketball that cannot and should not be discredited. But as basketball’s presence swells greater and greater, an international celebration focusing solely on the sport is needed; a competition where the focus is basketball and nothing else, with the whole world coming together to enjoy hoops only.
The Olympics are king, and that’s okay. It will attract more talent, bigger names, and the results will have more meaning. But it will never be all about basketball. That’s why the World Cup matters.
You likely won’t have heard of most of the participants in the World Cup later this year. Many of them will certainly never have played in America, professionally or collegiately. This will turn off some people, but for anyone who cares about the success of basketball, it shouldn’t matter. What should matter is the love these players show the sport and how much a game so often thought of as American means to those all over the world.
I encourage all basketball lovers to watch some of the qualifiers this week and next if they can. I can’t promise you it will be the best basketball you’ve ever seen or that you’ll recognize all the names on the backs of jerseys, but I can promise you that you’ll see the kind of impact this sport is having on the world.
When you go to the gym early in the morning to get shots up or stay late in the weight room to get extra reps, it will remind you that there are others just like you in China, Slovenia, Australia, Nigeria and Chile putting the same blood and sweat into the game. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, then I don’t know what will.
FIBA WATCH GUIDE
Friday, Feb. 22
- South Korea at Syria (8:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Senegal at Rwanda (9:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Slovenia at Turkey (10:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Montenegro at Ukraine (11:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Poland at Croatia (11:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- China at Jordan (12:20 p.m., ESPN+)
- Spain at Latvia (12:20 p.m., ESPN+)
- Central African Republic at Mali (12:20 p.m., ESPN+)
- Lithuania at Netherlands (1:50 p.m., ESPN+)
- Hungary at Italy (2:05 p.m., ESPN+)
- New Zealand at Lebanon (2:20 p.m., ESPN+)
- Ivory Coast at Nigeria (2:50 p.m., ESPN+)
- Argentina at Puerto Rico (6:50 p.m., ESPN+)
- Panama at USA (6:50 p.m., ESPN+)
- Uruguay at Mexico (9:20 p.m., ESPN+)
Sunday, Feb. 24
- China at Syria (5:20 a.m., ESPN+)
- Finland at Russia (7:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Australia at Iran (9:20 a.m., ESPN+)
- Philippines at Kazakhstan (9:20 a.m., ESPN+)
- Japan at Qatar (9:20 a.m., ESPN+)
- South Korea at Lebanon (9:20 a.m., ESPN+)
- New Zealand at Jordan (9:20 a.m., ESPN+)
- Rwanda at Central African Republic (9:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Israel at Serbia (9:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Estonia at Georgia (9:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Czech Republic at France (10:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Bulgaria at Bosnia & Herzegovina (11:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Greece at Germany (11:50 a.m., ESPN+)
- Nigeria at Senegal (12:20 p.m., ESPN+)
- Venezuela at Canada (2:20 p.m., ESPN+)
- Mali at Ivory Coast (2:50 p.m., ESPN+)
- Chile at Virgin Islands (5:50 p.m., ESPN+)