basketball in Europe

Basketball In Europe: History, Popularity And Facts

Basketball is one of the most popular sports in Europe. In this blog post, we will discuss basketball’s history and popularity in Europe. As well as basketball’s differences from basketball played in America.

We’ll also cover some interesting facts about European basketball. Like how many countries play it, who the best players are, and what the future holds for basketball in Europe!

History of Basketball in Europe

Basketball was created in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith. Who worked at the International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School (YMCA) in Massachusetts. The basketball court wasn’t invented until five years later. When another YMCA instructor, Senda Berenson, came up with it while trying to create an indoor sport for her female students during wintertime.

The Beginning

The first basketball associations were formed in Europe between 1910 and 1920. Some of these early basketball clubs are still around today! European basketball associations soon started hosting their tournaments which helped spread basketball throughout Europe even further.

basketball in Europe

The Olympic Stage

In 1936 basketball became an Olympic sport. Where Hungary won the medal count with a team made up almost entirely out of Jewish players that had survived the Holocaust.

Gaining Traction Through Time

By the 1960s basketball was becoming more and more popular in Europe. With basketball clubs sprouting up throughout Europe! Today basketball is most popular in Eastern European countries like Lithuania and Slovenia. Due to their dominance at international tournaments over the past decade or so.

How Popular is Basketball in Europe?

Basketball has also been increasing in popularity in Western European nations. Such as Germany, France, and Spain since 2010 when Dirk Nowitzki helped lead his country to win the World Championship title against Turkey. A victory that resonated through these three Western European basketball powerhouses.

Thank you, Dirk!

Basketball fans from all around Europe have started showing support for teams other than just their local national team. This happened largely because of Dirk’s success on a scale! However, some people feel that basketball fans should support their local basketball club instead of a foreign team. We’ll discuss this further in the next section!

“The dream team” that made more dreamers

Did you know, that the 1992 “Dream Team” of the USA has also affected a lot of Europe’s basketball popularity? This team was historic as it was the 1st US team ever constructed with professional players. It was mainly because the USA had a hard time winning against European teams in the Olympics.

1988 when the Soviet Union defeated USA, they fell to accomplish Gold and went home with just a bronze medal. 1992 Dream Team was spearheaded by Michael Jordan and all other NBA Hall of Famers.

In 1992 the USA never lost a game and dominated the competition. They won all 8 games by an average of 44 points and took home the Gold with ease. The Olympic games were set in Barcelona, France and it led to future NBA Hall of Famers.

Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker were the european stars that openly discussed in public how the 1992 Dream Team inspired them and changed their path. They were of young adolescence at the time and in turn had set a goal of making into the NBA. 3 decades later, they are all Hall of Famers.

TV Coverage

In recent years basketball has been getting more and more popular all across Europe. Due to basketball’s rising popularity. As well as increased media coverage from TV channels like Euroleague, FIBA, etc.

Basketball is now one of the most played sports throughout European youth leagues. It used to be that soccer was king when it came to youth participation rates. But basketball has recently exploded because there are fewer barriers for entry into basketball than there are with soccer.

Main Differences between American and European Basketball

Style of Play and Tactics

The basketball-style of play and basketball tactics in Europe is very different from that of basketball played in America.

basketball in Europe

One major difference is that European basketball clubs do not focus on acquiring the best players. Instead, they try to get a group of talented individuals who know how to work together as a team. This leads to more cohesive units rather than just teams full of all-star athletes.

Another key difference between basketball in Europe compared to basketball in America is that fewer long shots are attempted due to three factors. (i) Europeans tend to shoot better near the basket. (ii) There’s less open space on European courts. Making it harder for these long-range attempts. (iii) Good dribbling skills allow them easier access into scoring positions near the basket.

In basketball in America, a lot of emphasis is put on shooting from long range. And teams will often use an isolation play where one player dribbles down the court as his teammates wait at the three-point line to shoot a long-range shot. This style is very different from basketball played in Europe!

Another major difference between basketball in America compared to basketball in Europe is that fewer zone defenses are used by European teams. Which results in faster-paced games with more scoring opportunities for both sides. In basketball, there’s no such thing as ‘the fast break’ like there is football (soccer). But basketball does tend to be a much faster-paced game when it comes mostly to man-to-man defense. Rather than zone defense.

Basketball in Europe also tends to focus on the fundamentals of basketball. Such as passing, dribbling, and defense much more than basketball played in America. One example that is noticeable is the difference of “Bigmen” in Europe versus the NBA. Most NBA bigs have a specialty in blocking shots and running the floor, which basically is the product of being really athletic. Meanwhile European bigmen rely on skills and intelligence; These are noticeable since more European bigs have the ability to shot from outside and dish more assists compared to the average American bigman.

In a NBA star’s perspective

European NBA superstars such as Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo have also shared their sentiments why Europe is Harder than the NBA. They have collectively agreed that Europe has a smaller court area and there fore less spacing.

They have also said that rules such as “3 in the key” in NBA is non-existent in Europe which makes it harder for player to drive the lane because a big man or a shot blocker would be camping in the middle.

They also said the basketball in Europe is more tactical and needs more thinking than the NBA, which merits that more European players have higher basketball IQ.

Season Schedule

The basketball season schedule in Europe is very different than basketball played in America.

Many European basketball leagues start playing around late August or early September and end somewhere between May-June whereas most American teams play from October to April/May (depending on whether they make the playoffs).

Rosters and Players

Also, European basketball clubs tend to have a much larger roster of players compared to American teams which can range anywhere from 13-15+ players per team while many NBA rosters only carry 12 players at one time! This allows more individuals who do not necessarily star athletes but still contribute positively to their respective clubs.

Another key difference between basketball in Europe compared to basketball in America. Its that there’s no such thing as ‘the draft’ like there is with the NBA. Instead, basketball players in Europe are free agents who can be contacted by any basketball teams they like – this creates a more equal playing field for all basketball clubs especially since there’s no limit on how many foreign athletes your team is allowed to have!

Lastly, European basketball leagues do not have the ‘star treatment’ that American sports get with things such as TV exposure and big-name sponsorships which often lead to bigger contracts for these star athletes compared to their fellow teammates because of their notoriety from being televised so much.

Best Basketball Players to Emerge from Europe

basketball in Europe

Dirk Nowitzki

One basketball player who is known worldwide for his basketball skills is Dirk Nowitzki – he joined the Dallas Mavericks in 1998/99 season where it took him little time to get used to the pace of basketball played in America but once he did, he proved himself as one of basketball’s best!

Dirk Nowitzki had been playing with the same team for the entirety of his career and even led them to win their first-ever NBA championship against LeBron James’ Miami Heat, before retiring officially in 2019.

Pau Gasol

Another basketball player who has proven himself is Pau Gasol – he grew up in Barcelona, Spain playing basketball but then moved to the United States where he attended college at ‘University of California Los Angeles’ (UCLA) before being drafted by the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.

Pau Gasol became one of basketball’s most versatile players and was often complimented for his defensive skills which were rare for a power forward or center position like him! He also helped popularized basketball in Europe by winning two Olympic gold medals with Spain during different tournaments held in Sydney, Athens & Beijing.

tony parker

Tony Parker is a French-American basketball player that was raised in France. He played professional basketball in France at the age of 17 but brought his talents to the NBA as a 19 year old. He was picked 28th overall in the 2001 NBA Draft.

He was able to play alongside Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and they are the winningest trio ever across almost 2 decades. Parker also won 4 NBA Championships and was named MVP in the 2007 finals. He retired as the 9th leading scorer and the 5th leading passer (assists) in NBA Playoff history.

Luka Doncic

Luka Doncic was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and began playing basketball at just eight years old where he became one of basketball’s youngest ever players to sign a professional contract with the Slovenian basketball league! He made his NBA debut in the 2018/19 season for Dallas Mavericks.

Luka Doncic has been compared by many basketball experts as ‘the next LeBron James’ for his incredible ability to play several different positions which is rare even among American athletes so it will be interesting how far this young superstar can go during his career!

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Another basketball player who has been compared to LeBron James is Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Milwaukee Bucks – he grew up playing basketball in Greece and then moved to America where he was drafted by the NBA.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s basketball career took off during his 2018/19 season as a member of the All-Star team despite being only 24 years old! He also became world champion with the Milwaukee Bucks, leading them to only their second championship win in their history, whilst taking the 2020/21 MVP title for that season.

Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic, nicknamed “The Joker,” is the latest emerging superstar out of Europe. Coming from Serbia, this Center is playing for the Denver Nuggets. He has the complete skillset of a modern basketball player. Can shoot from anywhere on the floor, can dribble from the back court, and he can also pass the ball much better than most NBA point guards. He’s currently averaging a triple-double in the NBA which explains his all-around skillset.

Drafted in the 2nd round, as the 41st overall pick, Nikola Jokic is the lowest-drafted NBA player to win the MVP award. He has won the MVP in back to back seasons from ’20-’22. He is also currently leading the MVP race in this NBA season as he’s leading his team to a #1 seed in the Western Conference.

Hall of famers of the present and the future

The first three stars listed above, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker, are pillars for European basketball. Fittingly, just last Feb 18, 2023; they are all headlining the 2023 Hall of Fame class. These three player are what inspired the 2nd generation of European NBA Hall of Famers.

The stories of Luka, Giannis, and Jokic are still being written. However, given their impact to today’s game and with the current rate of individual accolades they are getting, these three players are the next crop of European superstar to be in the Hall of Fame after more than a decade.


In conclusion, basketball in Europe has its share of differences when it comes to the style of play tactics, schedule, and so on. But one thing remains consistent throughout both continents. Basketball at its core is still an incredibly fun and exciting sport to watch and play!

Thank you for reading this blog post about basketball in Europe! If any of these facts were interesting or surprising then please let us know through commenting below.


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