When the NBA finals series tips off tonight, it’ll pit two of the most popular players in the game. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who was selected as the league’s Most Valuable Player this year, will be going up against the four-time MVP Lebron James and his fellow Cleveland Cavaliers.
The matchup also will continue to burnish the game’s reputation as one of America’s truly global sports. Last year’s finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat was broadcast in 47 different languages, with coverage available in 215 countries.
Looking at the roster of the two teams in this year’s championship series shows just how international pro-basketball has become. There will be Australians, Brazilians, a Russian, a Canadian, a Nigerian and a Bosnian competing. (League-wide, 14% of the NBA’s players are foreign nationals, according to data from sportingintelligence.com.)
In April, the NBA became the first of all American professional sports to visit Cuba, holding a four-day basketball clinic camp. And in August, Africa will be next when an exhibition game featuring the African players, captained by the Sudanese Luol Deng of the Miami Heat, will play against world players in Johannesburg. There have already been games played in London and in China.
All that exposure has helped the NBA build up its social media following outside the US. On the Chinese online media platforms Sina and Tencent, the NBA is the most followed sports league, with almost 100 million followers.
Around the world and across platforms, teams and players, the league has more than 800 million social media followers.