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Why Is the Game of Basketball So Popular?

author image Steve Silverman
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.
Why Is the Game of Basketball So Popular?
Friends are playing basketball. Photo Credit Benis Arapovic/Hemera/Getty Images

Basketball draws a huge following in the U.S. and around the world. More than 200 basketball-playing nations compete against each other, and the team title in Olympic basketball is one of the greatest sports-related honors a country can hope to achieve. The popularity of basketball on the Olympic stage has helped make it the second-most popular team sport in the world, just behind soccer.

Ease of Play

More than 300 million people worldwide enjoy driving to the hoop. This is partially due to the fact that basketball requires minimal equipment and participants. All you need to play is a pair of gym shoes, a ball, a hoop and a willingness to compete. Simply dribble a ball out on any playground court and you can practice by yourself. With one other player, you can play a competitive game of 1-on-1, and as more people show up, you can play 2-on-2, 3-on-3, and so on.

Exciting Finishes

Competitive basketball can be exciting game. As the game clock ticks down in a close game, it often comes down to the last shot. This is a frequent occurrence in basketball played at the high school, college and professional levels. Since there are so many dramatic finishes, it is easy for newcomers to become hardcore fans of the game.

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America's and the World's Game

James Naismith invented basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, early in the 20th century to give his students something to do during the winter months. The game caught on in New England, spread throughout the U.S., and then quickly throughout the world. The United States dominated international competition, racking up Olympic gold medal after Olympic gold medal.

When the U.S. suffered a controversial loss in the 1972 Olympics to the Soviet Union in the gold medal game, it set off a surge of interest in the game throughout the world. While Americans have howled about that game for nearly four decades, the rest of the world used it as motivation to develop their own teams. Today, teams from Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Russia, Yugoslavia and Australia have been successful and have challenged the United States from time to time.

1992 Dream Team

The 1992 Olympics in Barcelona was one of the most significant moments for the sport. The U.S. was determined to reestablish its dominance in Olympic basketball. To do so, it sent a team of NBA all-stars to compete against the rest of the world. The team featured Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and a number of other huge stars. Instead of clashing egos, the stars meshed together brilliantly, and the Americans rolled to the gold medal. The international basketball world was awed by the "Dream Team’s" accomplishments, which gave basketball another surge of popularity.

Betting Lines

Point-spread betting has made basketball a popular sport among gamblers. In particular, the NCAA Tournament, or March Madness, attracts a lot of attention among hardcore gamblers and other fans. Individuals who never bet on basketball bet in the NCAA Tournament. In addition to picking winners of individual games, bettors fill out brackets in which they predict the outcome of the entire tournament. The individual who can pick the most winners takes the contest.

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