Basketball as a universal sport

Image from, Posted by Andrew Hunt

Basketball is a universal sport. It crosses language barriers. It’s more than just a game. Well, at least that’s what the NBA advertises and claims. However, after spending a couple months in London, I quickly realized the faults in those statements.

Try to find a free, 24/7 basketball court in South Kensington in London—they don’t exist. In fact, it takes quite the effort to find one. Merely asking a local didn’t even suffice.

An hour of Google research and a 30-minute Tube ride later, we finally arrived at a park equipped with a basketball court. Most other parks in London are either only grass, or only have football (aka soccer) courts.

Contrast that with where I live in Palos Verdes, California, where there are at least an easy 10 free outdoor basketball courts within a 30-minute radius—the closest being a 10-minute walk away.

Plus, after all the searching, the court we arrived at was a disappointment to say the least. The upside was that there were four hoops available, but the downside—which highly outweighed the upside—was that only one hoop had half a net. The other double-thick rimmed hoops were net-less.

There were two young boys playing on the hoop with the net, so we went down on the other side and shot around. Nearly every shot we swished bounced off the ground and over the 3-foot-high fence that surrounded the courts.

After 10 minutes of frustratingly attempting to warm-up, we challenged the boys to a pick-up game of two-on-two. They looked fairly athletic. One was tall and the other was a little shorter, probably about 5-foot-5-inches.

I think both of us were expecting some competition, yet we nearly swept them. And instead of creaming them over and over, we suggested swapping teams.

As we played on, it became clear these kids played more football than basketball, as their playing styles revealed. Rather than looking for the isolation plays, as American players tend to do, they were looking for the pass the entire time.

Even though neither of them could pass like Steve Nash, the fact that they tried to hit me on the backdoor cut was refreshing for me. They knew they weren’t the best players, yet they were willing to have some fun actually playing the game—not hogging the ball and trying to get up as many shots as possible.

These boys had patience and potential, though they may never truly learn how to play basketball because of its lack of popularity in London.

Between games we asked them questions and found out that school sports teams don’t exist. Sports teams are all club teams in London, which makes sense. The reason they don’t have outdoor basketball courts is because everyone who plays seriously is on a club team that hosts indoor practices (for around five pounds a pop according to the boys).

Basketball in London may have been a major disappointment, but I still think basketball is a universal sport. While it may not be held as highly, a game of pick-up brought us together—the American and British culture—for a couple hours.


  1. fromthefourthcorner says:

    I think in this article you have hit on one of the main reasons why football (soccer) is the most popular sport in the world – you can play it with nothing but a ball and a bit of space. Most sports require more equipment, space or people to make them enjoyable but you can have a fun game of football with say 6 people and a ball in an alleyway. Basketball needs even less people to play a game but it does need a hoop and a hard surface, which limits the amount of people globally who can play it whenever they feel like it. And if people grow up playing something of course they will be more interested in watching it too!

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