The impact of globalization will continue to impact our world. American cultures and customs that once dominated in influence have seen a decline. Reports indicate that the United States has fallen to third behind France and the United Kingdom in regard to soft power. This decrease means that certain strongholds and cultural aspects are dispersed throughout the world. Culture as an element of soft power is important to global relevancy and the impact a nation can have tactfully on the world stage. Governments rely on social and cultural capital to resolve conflicts diplomatically. With that said, global interspersion is not particularly new. However, with an isolationist administration in the White House, the continued dispersion would likely decelerate until an inevitable change in leadership. There is a flip side. As influence stalls under a new regime, sports and culture serve as the subversive arm to that impediment. Sports remain an important force that unites nations. A steeper decline would mean that we become influenced by culture as opposed to remaining at the forefront.
Soccer as a sport belongs to the world. No other sport captures the patriotism and intersectionality that soccer has, which explains in part the popularity. Basketball has and should follow that example. What soccer brings to the table is much larger than the game. The political ferocity that exists behind these games cannot be overlooked in that rivalries within the sport often predate the sport itself. The history of El Clasico, pitting Royal Madrid against the socialist party Catalans twice a year, brings a different level of intensity to the pitch for the fans akin to the Magic and Bird rivalry of the 1980s. Sports and politics have always had a connection, irrelevant to your plot on the political spectrum.
On an aesthetic level the NBA, for example, has made a concerted effort to reach fans around the world. As a global brand with supporters across all nations, expansion is inevitable. Efforts such as the NBA Africa game, as well as other organizations like Nike trotting their superstars out on global tours, certainly aid in furthering the sport. As the game expands outward, other elements contribute bringing their dynamic style of play. In 2016, half of the NBA’s first round draft picks were international born players. There is a trend. Global influence has grown to the point that it is now a necessity to facilitate an international squad during All-Star Weekend with future stars like Kristaps Porzingis and Andrew Wiggins. As international players continue to emerge, they will bring their style of play with them. Paul Gasol was one of the first to bring the European style big man to the forefront, ushering in a new era of big men that ultimately led to the first stretch five in Porzingis.
Historically in America, we like our athletes powerful. Athletes that dominate with athleticism, determination, and will. The international game in basketball as an example is different, more focused on floor spacing, skill set, and grace. International big men are trained earlier in their basketball lives with guard skill sets. When they arrive in the states, they already possess the capacity to pass, dribble, and shoot at an elite level. The hindrance to their development is often due to the adjustment to American culture. As we become more assimilated globally, this will surely change. Despite American dominance as the previous Olympics indicated, countries like Australia and Canada are beginning to emerge with younger NBA talent on their rosters. The impact this has on the game is apparent. Positionless basketball, in conjunction with a free-flowing offense, has ushered in the new era with imprints of the international game. The global initiative on behalf of the NBA speaks to a recurring theme of American adaptability to a changing marketplace.
Yet and still, soccer remains the most beloved sport in the world with zero indication of slowing up. FIFA’s most recent Big Count survey estimates that more than 265 million athletes are playing the game around the world. Part of what makes soccer so compelling is the passion from the fans and the federations they belong. In international scoccer, FIFA competitions mean as much if not more than club competition. In part, this is due to the level of competition. Of the five leading countries involved in club competition, Spain, Germany, France, England, and Russia (as well as South America as a continent), all are worthy competitors. Players, once they leave assignment with their national team to head back to club competition, bring their nation's audiences with them. When Eden Hazard suits up for Chelsea or Marouane Fellaini for United, Belgium is watching. A portion of the gap between the two sports comes from basketball still being relatively new to the world on that level. One will not see the lopsidedness in the World Cup that you see in Olympic competition. Basketball is still playing catch up around the world.
On the flip side, soccer is just beginning to find roots in the United States. With more broadcast networks invested in the game, the availability to the viewership has increased. Where soccer has the edge in nationalism, America has the edge in star power. What makes the game of basketball compelling to the world are the stars. Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are stars that are bigger than the organization that employs them. The opposite is true in soccer. What soccer needs to become a player in mainstream America are intriguing characters on and off the field. The game has star players but they have not yet reached the mainstream here in America. The casual basketball fan can tune into a game and find an attachment to one player to carry his or her interest. The top 30 basketball players in the NBA are still more recognizable than the top 30 soccer players to Americans. In part, the surface is smaller and the players are more identifiable in basketball.
To build star power in the United States, you would need to lure top talent away from Europe while in their primes, revamping the landscape to attract such talent instead of remaining a retirement plan for players beyond their prime like Kaka or Andre Pirlo is first. A transformation such as this would require a grassroots strategy of building leagues to compete with those in Europe and the Americas. America will not be able to match what those clubs bring in tradition and culture, but they can overtake them with innovation and creativity. The Minnesota United just broke ground on a new state of the art stadium that will seat upwards of 19,000. A step in the right direction for the sport.
Globalization is a robust force that is molding the world that we live, from trade and diplomacy to culture. As we continue to intersperse with one another, a lasting impact culturally will imprint how we receive information. Nationalism in sport is infectious. World Cup qualifying has begun and what you will see is a difference in the intensity from soccer fans who consume club competition on a weekly basis to that of the pride they feel watching their nation compete. There is something different about the game that brings people together. A force that unites as opposed to divides. Basketball, of all other sports, can overtake soccer as the world’s most popular. The game is relatively easy for the casual fan to follow as well as feasible economically to play. Basketball is new to the party, but, as nations continue to embrace the game, the cultural influence will surely have a lasting impact on the world much like its soccer companion.