With a rich history dating back to the 1940s, NBA is one of the cornerstones of US sports. Never has basketball's biggest franchise garnered more attention than it has now, with viewership at home and overseas reaching record numbers.
One of its increases in popularity in the US has been attributed to the rise of legal sports betting with an overview provided by BetBlazers. A number of US states have already undergone the process towards legalization, with others projected to legalize in the coming months.
However, global interest has peaked for a whole new generation of young fans through an unlikely avenue - the popularity of the NBA among Europe's leading soccer stars. Two players, who have a combined social media outreach in the hundreds of millions, have done the most to help popularize the NBA outside of the US.
One of the biggest names in world soccer, Neymar, has been at the forefront of this surge in popularity. The Brazilian icon was flung to fame following a high-profile move from his native Brazil to FC Barcelona in Spain back in 2013. He then became the poster boy for Brazil's World Cup alongside supermodel Gisele Bündchen when Brazil hosted the tournament the following year.
Neymar currently takes home one of the largest salaries in world sport and has made no secret of his admiration for Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry. The Brazilian attacking forward has previously spoken of how Curry has influenced his game. Such is his passion for both the player and the sport, Neymar has reportedly captured Curry in a multicolored mural beside his own basketball court at his home.
Though it is unclear whether Neymar is also a Golden State Warriors fan, he also has likenesses of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, Jimmy Butler, and LeBron James alongside Curry. Such bold moves leave no doubt that Neymar is one of the most high-profile NBA fans in world sport outside of the US itself.
Another soccer star who has been even more vocal about his passion for the NBA is World Cup winner and former Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.
During the soccer off-season, Pogba has made numerous trips stateside to watch NBA matches and even train with his favorite NBA team Miami Heat. As recently as this summer, Pogba was pictured playing soccer with friends in Miami. The midfielder made a return to Florida this year following a high-profile convalescence back in 2019.
Just three years ago, Pogba reunited with friend and Heat small forward Jimmy Butler. The two were pictured on the court at Miami Heat's 109-94 win over New Orleans Pelicans. Pogba continues to be heralded as one of the major talents in world soccer. He has just completed a high-profile move to Italian giants Juventus, a team he had previously played for between 2012-2016, when he initially rose to fame.
A new era
Neymar and Pogba are just two examples of soccer players who have declared their love of the NBA in an association that could see more official collaboration soon.
Over recent years the NBA has been intent on securing more lucrative and expansive television rights contracts. In 2019 alone, the NBA generated $2.6 billion from domestic rights and around $450 million from broadcast contracts overseas. With such publicity from some of Europe's leading stars in a sport that attracts attention globally, this figure could rise substantially.