Basketball / NBA

Star players from around globe help NBA to stretch worldwide growth

AFP-JIJI

The NBA Finals returned to the United States on Monday after the best-of-seven showdown’s first games were played in another nation, a sign of the league’s growing global impact.

Defending champion Golden State and the Toronto Raptors traveled from Canada to California after the Warriors won 109-104 Sunday to even the series 1-1 as the scene shifts for Games 3 and 4 Wednesday and Friday.

“Symbolically, having our first finals outside the United States maybe has a big impact on countries that follow the NBA but don’t have teams,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

“This clearly is a marker of sorts . . . that will, I think, be a milestone.”

An NBA Finals world feed is sent to 215 countries in 50 languages with viewing parties hosted by the league and its partners in Canada, China, Japan, the Philippines, Italy, Brazil and Mexico.

“Here we are today with very much a global sport, one of the most popular sports in the world, and 25 percent of the NBA is comprised of players who were born outside the United States,” Silver said.

In all, there were 108 international players from 42 nations on opening-night NBA rosters this season. There were 11 Canadians, the most from any country outside the U.S.

The NBA Finals features seven players from beyond U.S. borders, including Australian center Andrew Bogut and Swedish forward Jonas Jerebko for Golden State.

The Raptors have Cameroonian forward Pascal Siakam, Spanish center Marc Gasol, Republic of Congo forward Serge Ibaka, Canadian forward Chris Boucher and England forward O.G. Anunoby, who underwent emergency appendectomy surgery in April.

Ibaka will communicate on the court with Siakam in French and Gasol in Spanish.

“That’s what the NBA’s about,” Siakam said. “It’s about opportunities and guys coming from different places and all coming to compete at this level.”

And that’s not counting Raptors guard Jeremy Lin, the first NBA Finals American player of Taiwanese heritage and third of Chinese ancestry. He was signed by Toronto in February, his eighth NBA club after starting with Golden State in 2010.

“To be here like this, I did not expect this,” Lin said.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse is an American whose prior coaching stops included 11 years in Europe, mainly for such British squads as the London Towers and Manchester Giants.

“All those stops, and in some pretty remote places, were a valuable learning experience, just running and managing the team,” Nurse said. “I used a lot of it as a testing ground.”

Nurse’s assistant coaches include Patrick Mutombo from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sergio Scariolo of Italy.