15 Countries Where Basketball is Popular (Worldwide!)

Ray McCallum flies in to slam the ball for a dunk during the basketball game
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Basketball is an immensely popular sport, which, in recent years, it’s considered to be among the fastest-growing sports worldwide. With billions of fans and new leagues popping up all over the world, it is safe to say that this sport is among the most popular in the world.

Although basketball is often overshadowed by other sports, like soccer, there is no question about its popularity. We’ll take a look at the countries where this sport is widely played and followed. 

These are 15 countries where basketball is popular.

1. United States

When you think about basketball, you’ll most likely think about the NBA, the official American basketball league. The United States is actually the country where basketball originated. Therefore, it won’t come as a surprise that this country is also where basketball is, arguably, the most popular. 

With large competitive leagues like the NBA and multiple college leagues, basketball has a huge following. It’s considered to be one of the four major sports in the U.S., next to baseball, American football, and hockey.  

Besides the popular basketball leagues in the United States, many people also hear about the sport via the athletes. Many professional basketball players have sponsorship deals with some of the largest brands in the world.

United States Basketball Selection at the 2016 Olympic Games
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2. Canada

In Canada, the popularity of basketball is continually growing, with millions of Canadians following the sport every year. This is especially true after the Toronto Raptors, in 2019, became the first non-American team to win the NBA Championship.

The sport is, especially popular at a college level. Nova Scotia, Southern Alberta, and Southern Ontario are parts of Canada where the popularity is the highest, which is, also where most college and high school teams are from.

Funny story. Although, as mentioned before, basketball was invented in the United States, the creator of the sport, James Naismith, was actually Canadian. 

3. Argentina

Basketball in Argentina is a sport that wasn’t that popular, not too long ago. Only after the Argentinian national team won the gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics, basketball’s popularity started to rise. Ever since then, basketball has been among the top most popular sports in Argentina.

The official Argentinian league is called the ‘Liga Nacional’, founded in 1985. Several well-known Argentinian players have made it to the NBA, especially Manu Ginobili who won the NBA Championship in four occasions. 

GINOBILI Manu (ARG) during basketball game Brazil (BRA) vs Argentina (ARG)
CP DC Press / Shutterstock.com

4. Russia

Although basketball isn’t the top sport in Russia, there is still a massive fanbase around it. The national team has seen some success on the international stage, coming second in the FIBA World Cup on different occasions. Also, in 2012, the country won its first basketball Olympic medal, when they obtained third place under David Blatt’s leadership.  

Russia is also home to some NBA stars, like 2016 NBA Champions Timofey Mozgov and Sasha Kaun; as well as what is regarded as one of the best European basketball teams, PBC CSKA Moscow.

5. Spain

When you think about sports in Spain, you might not think about basketball. However, basketball is quite popular in Spain. Especially because of their NBA star, Pau Gasol, who is, arguably, one of the best ambassadors of Spanish basketball. He has two NBA Championship under his belt. And as a result, the sport has gained a bunch of attention in the country. 

Another reason for the sport’s popularity in the nation is the Spanish Basketball league, the ACB, which is considered among the most competitive around the world. 

Spanish basketball player Anna Cruz in action during basketball match
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6. Australia

Basketball is a quite popular sport in Australia. According to Sweeney Sports, it’s estimated that 1 in every 3 Australians likes the sport, and about a million of them play it. Also, when it comes to team sports, basketball is the second most popular in the country, in terms of participation. 

The sport saw a bunch of popularity in the ’80s and ’90s, but during the beginning of the century, that popularity suffered a substantial decline. However, after a few years, basketball slowly started to gain its prevalence back. In recent years, many Australian players have made it to the NBA, spiking interest again. This truly showed that Australians are still interested in the sport, despite a sudden decline a few years back.

7. China

China is an interesting nation when it comes to basketball. Many Chinese thoroughly enjoy the sport. They are big basketball fans, especially of the American Basketball League and all of its stars. Actually, the NBA is considered to be one of the most popular sports leagues in China

Every year, more and more Chinese spectators tune in to watch the NBA playoffs. Back in the early 2000s, when former Chinese player, Yao Ming, played his first NBA game with the Houston Rockets, about 200 million watched the game.  

The Chinese do not only enjoy watching the sport, but they also like to play it themselves. The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), the Chinese equivalent to the NBA, estimates that there’re about half a billion Chinese that play basketball.  

CBA Playoff game between Beijing Ducks and Shanghai Sharks Bilibili
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8. Brazil

Although not as popular as soccer or volleyball, basketball is, indeed, a sport many Brazilians love to watch and play. The national team has won the FIBA World Cup on two occasions, as well as several international competitions. Besides that, the nation also supplies the NBA and various European basketball leagues with a bunch of fantastic players.  

In recent years, basketball has been gaining a bunch of popularity. With more media coverage, as well as the signing of Brazilian players to the NBA, it is expected that the popularity of basketball will be boosted even further.

9. Philippines

Surprisingly, basketball is Philippine’s most popular sport; the nation is, literally, in love with the game. It’s widely played at a recreational, as well as professional level.

Basketball was popularized by the American when they introduced it in the early 20th century. The simplicity and accessibility of basketball made it easy for the Philippines to become obsessed with the sport. 

The Philippine Basketball Association, the PBA, was founded in 1975, which makes it the first professional basketball league in Asia, as well as one of the oldest in the world. In 1954, the men’s national team made history when they finished 3rd in the FIBA World Cup. This is one of the best results obtained in the World Cup by an Asian country.

10. Serbia

Team Serbia in action during group A basketball match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

Despite being a relatively small country, Serbia has a strong basketball following and is always a strong contender when it comes to international basketball competitions. The nation has won the FIBA World Cup on more than one occasion; in 1998, they won their first title in Greece, under the FR Yugoslavia.

In 2006, after the split from Montenegro, Serbia founded the Basketball Federation of Serbia, as well as the Basketball League of Serbia. When it comes to their national league, the KK Partizan and KK Crvena Zvezda, both from Belgrade, are two of the most successful basketball clubs in the country. 

11. Greece

The turning point for basketball in Greece was when, in 1987, the men’s national team won, for the first time, the EuroBasket Championship. After that, the nation has been a strong competitor in major International basketball competitions. In several occasions, the men’s team has reached the semifinals in the FIBA World Cup.

The GBL, the Greek Basketball League, is among the top domestic league in Europe. The most successful team in the league, without a doubt, is the Panathinaikos. They have the most Greek Basket League Championships and have won the Euroleague multiple times. 

12. Italy

In Italy, basketball is among the most followed and watched team sports. Besides soccer, Italians enjoy watching the NBA, as well as the LBA (their domestic leagues). Throughout the years, several Italian players have played in the NBA, and many foreigners have joined the Italian league. 

The ‘Lega Basket Serie A’, which was founded in 1920, is the top basketball league in the country and is considered among the strongest leagues in Europe. The two most successful teams are the Olimpia Milano and the Virtus Bologna. 

When it comes to international competitions, the nation has attained a couple of medals in the Summer Olympics. Then, in the EuroBasket Championship, the national team has achieved the top places in about ten occasions, winning their first title in 1983. 

Italy Giorgia Sottana and Olcay Cakir from Turkey on the FIBA Women's Eurobasket
Igor Panevski / Shutterstock.com

13. France

Although not among the top sports in the country, basketball is, indeed, followed and played by many French people.

Since 1980, French television started to show NBA games. This started a significant growth in the popularity of the sport. However, not only is the sport itself responsible for the increase in popularity. Instead, basketball started to become part of the French pop culture, it began to be incorporated in sneakers and music, thus rising in popularity.

In recent years, the nation has had better success in international competitions, marking, for some, a new era for French basketball. In 2013, the men’s national team obtained their first EuroBasket title, and, in 2014, for the first time also, they made it to the podium in the FIBA World Cup. Their counterpart, the women’s national basketball team, is among the most prosperous countries in the EuroBasket Women league. 

Besides having a strong domestic league, throughout the years, many French players have made it to the NBA – does the former NBA star Tony Parker sounds familiar? He played for the French national team on multiple occasions.  

14. Croatia

Basketball isn’t as popular in Croatia as it is in other countries. The popularity of basketball is overshadowed by sports like soccer and handball. However, in recent years, more and more Croatian players are joining the NBA. Therefore, slowly sparking more interest in basketball, which may lead to a rise in popularity. Nevertheless, basketball in Croatia does have a strong core following.

15. Lithuania

Basketball is, by far, the most popular sport in Lithuania. Basketball for the nation is like soccer for many other countries.

Euroleague basketball match between CSKA (Russia) vs Zalgiris (Lithuania)
Bukharev Oleg / Shutterstock.com

Lithuania is not only known as one of the top basketball countries in Europe but also in the world. The men’s national team (a.k.a. “The Baltic Giants”) has seen great success on the international stage. On many occasions, they have achieved the top places in the EuroBasket Championship, the Olympic Games, as well as in the FIBA World Cup.

The sport receives a lot of support from the public, as well as private sectors. As a result, there are many basketball schools and courts where young talent can be developed.