Countries That Love Basketball Outside of the US 

Photo courtesy of FIBA

Countries That Love Basketball Outside of the US 


Basketball originated in the late 1800s when James Naismith, of Springfield, Massachusetts (originally from Ontario), invented the popular indoor ball game. The first public game took place on March 12th 1892 and it quickly spread across the US like wildfire in the years that followed. Originally a college sport, basketball reached a higher level of popularity when the NBA (National Basketball Association) was launched in 1946. 

The sport spread across the globe, with several countries, including Canada and Russia, adopting the game in the early 20th century. It was included in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, primarily due to the hard work of FIBA, the International Basketball Federation, established in 1932. The NBA’s dominance in the 21st century can lead people to believe that basketball is only big in the US but this certainly isn’t the case. Keep reading for a few examples of some countries that love basketball outside the US. 


Much has been made of the so-called “Northern Uprising”, as Canadian players increasingly make their mark on the NBA. Basketball has strong historical ties with the Great White North but the sport struggled in the country throughout the mid-1900s. Many people don’t realise that the first NBA game took place in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, with the Toronto Huskies taking on the New York Knicks. 

Basketball’s originator, James Naismith, was also originally of Canadian descent. Nevertheless, basketball always came second to hockey or baseball for most of the 20th century in Canada. The path to the NBA for Canadian players was tough, with Nova Scotia’s Will Njoku becoming one of the first to make it out of the draft in 1994. 

An exclusive interview with Njoku for the Betway Insider illuminates the unfavourable conditions he went through during his childhood playing basketball. During the 1980s, there were hardly any hoops or courts to practise on, so opportunities were limited. This is in stark contrast to today, when basketball facilities are widespread and plentiful. 

Canada has started a much deeper love affair with basketball over the last decade or so. To put things into perspective, there were four Canadian NBA players in 2010, but in 2022, there are 29 and counting. Andrew Wiggins won an NBA Championship in 2021 and other players, like Bennedict Mathurin, are also showing their worth. One thing is certain⎯basketball in Canada is here to stay. 


Currently No. 4 in the FIBA World Rankings, Serbia has been a basketball powerhouse since the days of the former Yugoslav federation. The first league was established in 1945, with countless star players coming out of the country in the decades after. Serbian basketball is also notable for its abundance of pioneering coaches, who are instrumental in increasing the quality across Europe and beyond. 

Five Serbians currently play in the NBA, with Nikola Jokic being the most famous. The Denver Nuggets centre is a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and four-time NBA All-Star, known for his exceptional playmaking abilities. He’s the current cream of the crop regarding Serbians playing in the NBA, but the likes of Nikola Jovic are also making their mark. 

Nevertheless, measuring the quality of Serbian basketball with the NBA alone is disrespectful to the Basketball League of Serbia, where teams like Partizan and Crvena Zvezda regularly compete on the continental and global stages. If there’s one country that can stake a claim to love basketball more than the US, it’s Serbia. 


The news that Luka Doncic’s rookie card recently sold for $3.12 million at auction indicates Slovenia’s presence on the global basketball stage. Another former Yugoslav nation with a rich heritage in the sport, the Slovenes’ greatest achievement so far is winning EuroBasket 2017. Not only did they lift the trophy, but they did so in style, winning every single game on the road to becoming European champions. 

Basketball has a rich history in Slovenia, with school children playing the sport since the early 1900s. The Basketball Federation of Slovenia was established in 1950 and, since then, it’s played a crucial role in the continued popularity of the sport. 


Spain are currently the European and World champions, they have enjoyed considerable success over the last few decades. The four-time Olympic Gold and EuroBasket winners also have two FIBA World Cups to their name, with legendary players like Pau Gasol setting the standard for several generations of Spanish ballers. 

Real Madrid and Barcelona are the most successful Spanish basketball teams, much like in football. The sky’s the limit for this exceptionally passionate basketball nation. 

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