Jamaica’s Love for Basketball: The NBA’s Impact on the Island Nation

November 28, 2023 9:00 AM

Even though it’s barely existed for 100 years, basketball is quickly climbing the ranks of the most popular sports in the world. Hoops are easily accessible — with a court and nets being much easier to set up than the piles of equipment needed for a game of American football or ice hockey — and that’s a key factor when many parts of the world struggle to put food on the table.

We’ve seen basketball take off in popularity in recent years, with China and Europe two often-talked about areas of heavy growth because of the NBA stars they continue to churn out.

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On the global stage, smaller sized countries often have the cards stacked against them when it comes to international competition: even if they possess a good deal of talent, there are simply less people to choose from in order to flesh out an entire roster, especially against countries like the United States that have hundreds of millions of people.

Jamaica, which at 4,240 square miles and 2.8 million people is a little smaller than the state of Connecticut, proudly bucks that trend time and again, and basketball is just another example of that. Here’s a look at how basketball became so popular on the Rock, and how the NBA continues to impact the island nation.

Early Days of the Sport: Patrick Ewing

When you’re looking at sports that originated in another country before finding immense popularity elsewhere in the world, you can often point to a single trailblazer who helped to spark that cultural diffusion: take a look at Roberto Clemente’s impact on baseball in Latin America, for example. While people have played basketball in Jamaica since the early 1900s, the island nation joined the world stage in a big way during the early 1980s.

That’s because of NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, and lived there for the first 13 years of his life. Ewing eventually moved to Massachusetts, where he began to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with on the court after initially excelling in soccer and cricket back in Jamaica.

Championship Pedigree

Ewing led his high school team to three consecutive state championships, cementing himself as one of the best players in the country before joining the Georgetown Hoyas in college. Ewing, who eventually grew to be 7 feet tall and 255 pounds, was an excellent athlete, often a rarity for someone of his stature.

He took the Hoyas to three Final Fours during his time in college, winning one National Championship before being drafted by the New York Knicks with the first overall selection. Unfortunately, his championship success ended there, as the Knicks made just one NBA Finals during his 15 year tenure there, losing to the Houston Rockets in seven games.

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Ewing has maintained pride in his Jamaican heritage, serving as a role model for the next generation of basketball lovers from the country as many kids aspire to be like him and make the NBA someday.

The NBA season began last week, while the National Basketball League, the highest flight of basketball in Jamaica, has been playing for several weeks now. If you want to bet on hoop, be it American, Jamaican or any other sport or league in the world, be sure to use these NBA odds in order to lock in the best possible chances of winning big.

Looking at the National Teams

As I alluded to earlier, one excellent way of seeing how successful a sport is in a given country is by looking at how the national teams perform in global competitions.

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The Jamaican men’s national basketball team has seen a decent amount of success, recording four gold medals in FIBA’s Caribbean Basketball Championship. Ewing, unfortunately, played for the United States National Men’s Basketball Team throughout his international career, racking up a pair of Olympic gold medals, including as a member of the Dream Team in 1992… leaving Jamaican basketball fans to wonder what could have been had he played for his hometown squad.

As of September 2023, the Jamaican Men’s National Team was ranked No. 106 in the world, per FIBA’s comprehensive rankings, so there’s still a good deal of work to be done. The Women’s Team sits in a similar position, ranked No. 103, and they have two CBC gold medals to their name.

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The good news is that the NBA is the best of the four major sports leagues in North America at growing the game on a global basis, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a good deal of Caribbean outreach soon.

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