By William Hill
Last Updated: 9th January 2020
When it comes to favourite sports, the US and Europe are worlds apart. Americans do not understand why “soccer” is so important in the Old World, and Europeans could never quite grasp the American fascination with the vulgar “American football”. Yet one sport truly unites these two different cultures and rises to the top of fan favourites in both cultures: basketball. The NBA is religiously followed around the world, but could Euroleague ever gain as much spotlight and eclipse its American counterpart? Although they are both part of the same sports family, the two basketball tournaments reflect all that is different between Europe and the US.
The players: Teamwork vs. superstars
The first and most crucial difference that affects how the whole championship is laid out in practice, is the role that players have within teams. In the NBA, there are players who are superstars and everyone knows it. Franchises are built around them, from the days of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. If the Cavaliers currently stand first to win the Eastern Conference top seed in the NBA, even after an underwhelming season, it is thanks to the efforts of the King. Their superstar is so important to them, that the Cavaliers chose last year to send up-and-coming talent Kyrie Irving away to the Boston Celtics in what is rumoured to have been an effort to keep LeBron happy and in Cleveland. This year they sent away half their roster mid-season to rebuild around James.
This would never happen in a European team, which is much more focused on teamwork and on relying on several players at the same time. And this is also why European players score fewer points on average – not because they try to get the ball in through their one or two superstars, but because they rotate possession to achieve more points. Just before the NBA playoff season, in early April, the first scorer in the NBA was James Harden of the Houston Rockets, currently priced second to win the NBA Championship, behind the Golden State Warriors. Harden is averaging 30.6 points per game, while LeBron James is leading in overall points by a whopping 2111 in 77 games played. By contrast, the Euroleague is led by Alexey Shved of the Khimki Moscow Region, who is averaging 21.66 points – 9 whole points fewer than the NBA’s first scorer – and a mere 628 points in 29 games.
The franchise: Different layout, more excitement
Which brings us to the next point: the layout of the franchise itself. The NBA averages many more games per season and has a complicated playoff system that has fans going wild over odds to make it to the next round and head coaches factoring their team’s playoff seed into their game-play. By contrast, the Euroleague system is simpler and makes for fewer surprises, which leads to less suspense and the top contenders battling it out in the Final Four. On average, each team under the European system plays 37 games per season, while NBA teams easily get in 82 games just during the regular season – and then some for those teams that advance to the playoffs.
Even the NBA Finals are settled in a series of no less than seven games, depending on who gets to win four of them first – which sometimes is not set until the 7th game. In the 1957 NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics and the St. Louis Hawks alternated in winning games until the NBA Champion was decided in Game 7 and – for the first and only time ever in the NBA – in double overtime. Even some rules are different between the two tournaments; for example, Euroleague has a narrower three-point line at 6.75 m as opposed to 7.24 m in the NBA, zone defence without the three-second rule is allowed in Euroleague, but loose travelling is not forbidden in the NBA.
The teams and the fans
There are currently 30 teams competing in the NBA, half in the Eastern and half in the Western Conference, while 16 teams battle it out in the Euroleague. Yet one thing remains the same: basketball teams both in Europe and in the US are highly local focused. In the NBA, teams represent a specific state and loyalty is largely state-oriented. There are of course exceptions, as New York and Florida are the home of two teams each (legendary rivals Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks for NY, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic for Florida), Texas of three (Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs), and California is the base for four teams – Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, and current reigning champions and projected Western Conference winners Golden State Warriors.
In Europe, there are multiple teams from one country that compete for a spot in the Euroleague, but once a team advances, it usually gathers national support from fans – much like NBA teams usually get state-wide support. Fan culture is also different between the two worlds, as European fans tend to be more involved, travelling Europe-wide to support their team and also tend to get more aggressive in their support for their favourite franchise. By contrast, NBA fans are much more respectful of the rules and the referees, but they are also very vocal in supporting their team and booing the opponents. This is why when teams play at home they are at an advantage that is widely recognised across the NBA Championship, as vocal fans boost morale and annoy the opposing team.
The NBA is much more focused on putting on a spectacular show, with superstar players and franchises built around them.
In short, the NBA is much more focused on putting on a spectacular show, with superstar players and franchises built around them, while the layout of the tournament makes for more games and more suspense in the regular season and the playoff rounds – as well as the 7-game series. While the Euroleague makes for some high-quality teamwork basketball, the appeal and glamour of the NBA remains uncontested and will likely continue to draw international fans as the top basketball tournament worldwide.