Tony Parker gave his Spurs fans, and fellow French, a reason to celebrate with his game-clinching shot in Game 1 Thursday night.
The Heat gave its fans watching in more than 200 countries more thrills in Game 2 on Sunday.
With 10 international players combined on both rosters and a record number of people tuning in worldwide, this year’s NBA Finals have a distinct international feel. With the series picking up in San Antonio on Tuesday, Parker is one of nine internationalplayers on the Spurs roster. Add the Heat’s Canadian reserve center Joel Anthony and there are a record number of international players in the Finals.
The series’ diverse representation coupled with the Heat’s spike in popularity since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in the summer of 2010 has prompted huge global interest. A melting pot of nationalities sets up shop inside AmericanAirlines Arena in a scene similar to the United Nations building. Pictures of the flags of the home nations of several media outlets were posted on the glass in front of several work stations overlooking the court.
Crews tucked inside the many control trucks parked outside the arena coordinated the continuous coverage in languages such as English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin and French just to name a few.
The convergence of TV and digital and social media is helping the NBA broadcast its signature event to a record 215 countries and territories in 47 languages.
“This is what the NBA and [commissioner] David [Stern] has been working for throughout his career,” said Steve Hellmuth, the NBA’s executive vice president for Operations and Technology. “Whenever a player comes to the league from a given country, his home fans obviously want to see him play on the big stage.”
Along with Parker, the Spurs have Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands), Nando De Colo (France), Boris Diaw (France), Aron Baynes (Australia), Cory Joseph (Canada), Patty Mills (Australia) and Tiago Splitter (Brazil) on their roster.
They represent the NBA’s huge growth in diversity and worldwide popularity that has continued to grow over the past two decades since the original Dream Team won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Since then, the number of international players in the NBA has grown from 21 to 85. That season, the Finals were broadcast to 87 countries.
According to Hellmuth, this year’s Finals are being covered by 16 announcer teams that are on-site plus another 31 broadcasting from remote locations.
“All of our players were instantly recognized globally after what the Dream Team did in 1992,” said Hellmuth, who has worked with the NBA since 1990 and has worked with NBC Sports and Major League Baseball. “We had Dirk Nowitzki in the Finals a couple of years ago [with the Dallas Mavericks]. We had no broadcast deal at the time with Germany. It was all broadband. But the numbers we tracked after the series were huge.”
The NBA also launched a new online feature called “NBA Finals Companion” that combines television and social media and is available through its League Pass and nba.com. It allows fans to play “NBA Challenge,” a real-time predictive gaming experience, view live tweets from international commentators, and post photos of themselves watching the games with #NBAFan to Instagram or Twitter for a chance to be featured on the NBA world feed television broadcast.
More than 310 international media members were credentialed for this year’s Finals, representing 34 countries.
Parker, De Colo and Diaw give France the most players it has ever had in the Finals.
Three French networks, including beIN Sport, which will provide live commentary for the first time, are providing on-site coverage.
Former NBA star Horace Grant was in Paris for Game 1 making TV appearances. French soccer stars Thierry Henry and Etienne Capoue are attending the Finals and appearing on their country’s broadcasts.
China’s CCTV is providing a customized feed for all games with commentary and graphics in Mandarin, and has a new weekly two-hour lifestyle show called NBA Primetime. SINA.com will stream every game live online and provide content with real-time fan interaction. The Heat played a couple of preseason games in China in October.
“In China, the No. 1 team for a long time has been the [Los Angeles] Lakers, but the Heat is emerging as one of the top teams the past three years,” said Shuangfu Li, a reporter for SINA. “The Spurs have a group of diehard fans in China. It’s a big competition between the fans over there. We know we have over 300 million fans watching this series.”
Europe, Asia and the Middle East all have networks providing coverage to countries in its regions, including Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Turkey, India, Japan, Australia, Philippines and South Africa.
Fans in Latin America and the Caribbean are also watching live on ESPN and through digital coverage on enebea.com in Spanish and nba.com.br in Portuguese.
“It’s an honor to represent Brazil in the Finals,” Splitter said. “It’s hard to make it in the NBA and even more to reach the Finals. I think a big part of Latin America is right there with us.”
But even if fans around the world don’t have a player representing them, the Heat has continued to be a source for big ratings boosts.
“It’s likely the team most watched in Spain the past three years since they’re always on TV,” said Antoni Daimiel, who is providing color commentary of the series for Spain’s Canal-Plus. “Before that, the Lakers and [Boston] Celtics have always been since it started growing in the 1980s. It grew even more with the arrival of Spanish players in the league like the Gasols.” Pau Gasol plays for the Lakers and brother Marc Gasol plays for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Added David Carnicero, play-by-play announcer for Spain’s Canal-Plus: “LeBron is a world idol. But due to the Spanish influence in Miami there’s been a big fan following for years especially since many Spanish artists have performed in Miami and gained a following.”
The growth is expected to continue even after these Finals as eight NBA teams are already scheduled to play exhibition games in six countries this October. The games will include the first preseason games held in Brazil and the Philippines, and in the cities of Bilbao, Spain, and Manchester, England. And there is talk of scheduling regular-season games abroad next season as well.
“It’s grown a lot in Brazil and a lot of people are cheering for us,” Splitter said. “This is big stuff for Brazil. We have a game there next year, and [the popularity] is growing. It will only keep growing more.”