Unveiling the Surge of Basketball Popularity in Europe: An In-Depth Analysis

Updated: 746 Basketball

Our comprehensive analysis of Europe's rising passion for basketball, investigating everything from EuroLeague sensations to the NBA’s influence overseas.

Unveiling the Surge of Basketball Popularity in Europe: An In-Depth Analysis
Steve Madgwick Editor-In-Chief

Editor-In-Chief with 20 years experience covering the betting angles to breaking news stories. Daily slots player, Portsmouth fan and League Snooker Player

People often associate basketball with the United States and overlook the sport’s popularity in other parts of the world. After all, America is the home of basketball, invented in Massachusetts by Canadian-American James Naismith in December 1891. The United States is also home to the most prominent and well-known league in basketball, the National Basketball Association (NBA), which further accentuates the US-centric view of the sport. 

However, many countries around the world have a passion for basketball, hosting their own professional leagues and drawing in thousands of fans. With this in mind, we wanted to explore the sport's popularity in Europe, a continent where soccer, or football, has traditionally been the most popular sport. 

Basketball Beyond Borders: Unearthing Europe's Hidden Love for Hoops

🏀🌍 Did you know? Basketball is not just for the NBA! Europe's passion for the sport is soaring. Our new study explores top EuroLeague sensations and how the NBA fever has crossed the Atlantic 🗺️🎉

In this study, we will investigate the popularity of basketball in Europe by looking at several factors. We will explore the popularity of the top players in EuroLeague, Europe’s answer to the NBA, looking at various measurements to crown the most popular basketball player in Europe. 

This study will then investigate the popularity of the NBA in European countries to see how popular the American league is on the other side of the Atlantic, and explore the various nationalities that make up the current batch of NBA players.

Mateusz Ponitka

Rank Name Nationality EuroLeague Team Position Global Searches (July 22 - June 23) Instagram Followers "Love" Reactions on Content Popularity Score
1 Mateusz Ponitka Poland KK Partizan Forward 282,300 n/a 89% 8.77
2 Dwayne Bacon United States Panathinaikos Athens (formerly) Forward 319,200 451,000 65% 8.76
3 Mike James United States AS Monaco Guard 523,200 164,000 49% 8.07
4 Walter "Edy" Tavares Cape Verde Real Madrid Centre 240,600 130,000 88% 7.92
5 Mario Hezonja Croatia Real Madrid Forward 393,200 169,000 42% 7.61
6 Nando de Colo France LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne Guard 300,800 137,000 51% 7.57
7 Sasha Vezenkov Greece Olympiacos Piraeus (now signed with Sacramento Kings) Forward 240,600 78,500 82% 7.26
8 Lorenzo Brown United States Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv Guard 1,584,600 75,900 47% 7.23
9 Nikola Mirotić Spain FC Barcelona Forward 549,400 303,000 26% 7.15
10 Miloš Teodosić Serbia KK Crvena zvezda Guard 179,700 168,000 43% 6.86
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EuroLeague's Big Three: Ponitka, Bacon, and James Ruling the Popularity Charts

🏀🇪🇺 Who rules EuroLeague? Mateusz Ponitka's on top (8.77 score) 🇵🇱💙! Dwayne Bacon close second (8.76 score) 🥈, and Mike James at third (8.07 score) 🇺🇸🥉. All sharing in the basketball fever! 🌐🔥

Mateusz Ponitka                

Popularity Score: 8.77

Mateusz Ponitka is the most popular player in the EuroLeague, having received the highest score of 8.77. While originally hailing from Poland, Ponitka plays for the Serbian team KK Partizan, based in Belgrade. As much as 89% of reactions to content on Facebook featuring Ponitka were “love” reactions, showing that he is very popular among users of the social media platform, while there were also over 282,000 searches for the Polish small-forward, which could have in part been fuelled by his recent departure from leading Greek team  Panathinaikos.

Dwayne Bacon

Popularity Score: 8.76

Dwayne Bacon takes the silver medal as the second most popular player in the EuroLeague, with a popularity score of 8.76, only missing out on the top spot by a hair’s breadth. Bacon is a native of the United States, originally from Lakeland, Florida, and played for the Greek team Panathinaikos until April 2023, when he was released early from his contract due to disciplinary violations. 

Before playing at Panathinaikos, Bacon spent a year playing for French team AS Monaco and has also played for NBA sides Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets. Bacon has a huge Instagram following of 451,000 people, over 319,000 Google searches in the past year and 65% of reactions on Facebook being “love”.

Mike James

Popularity Score: 8.07

Mike James is another American player who has moved their career across the Atlantic to play for a European team. With a popularity score of 8.07, James is the third most popular player in the EuroLeague, with over half a million Google searches in the past twelve months and a considerable 164,000 Instagram followers.

While James is a native of Portland, Oregon, he began his professional career with an international team by signing with KK Zagreb in 2012. Since then, James has played for various teams in both the NBA and EuroLeague, including Panathinaikos, Olimpia Milano and the Brooklyn Nets and has been with AS Monaco since September 2021.

Lorenzi Brown is the most-searched EuroLeague player

Lorenzo Brown

Rank Name Global Searches (July 22 - June 23)
1 Lorenzo Brown 1,584,600
2 Nikola Mirotić 549,400
3 Mike James 523,200
4 Dante Exum 523,000
5 Mario Hezonja 393,200
6 Shane Larkin 373,100
7 Kevin Punter 334,700
8 Dwayne Bacon 319,200
9 Nando de Colo 300,800
10 Mateusz Ponitka 282,300
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Scoring High in the Search: EuroLeague's Most Googled Players

🔍🏀 Lorenzo Brown takes the lead as the most-searched EuroLeague player with over 1.5M Google searches 🎉🌏! Nikola Mirotić and Mike James follow in the #GoogleFame race 🏁💻

Lorenzo Brown

Global Searches: 1,584,600

Lorenzo Brown is the most-searched EuroLeague player in the past twelve months, being searched on Google over 1.5 million times. Another US native, Brown originally hailed from Rockford, Illinois, but has since taken up Spanish citizenship to represent the country internationally while being coached under the legendary Sergio Scariolo.

Nikola Mirotić

Global Searches: 549,400

Nikola Mirotić has the second-highest number of searches in the past year, with 549,400. Mirotić began his professional career playing for the Real Madrid Juniors, before signing for the senior team in 2008, where he quickly became one of the team’s standout players. Following six years at Real Madrid, Mirotić entered the NBA by signing with Chicago Bulls in 2014, where he spent four seasons, followed by shorter stints at New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks. Coming full circle, Mirotić re-joined Real Madrid in 2019 and has remained with the team ever since.

Mike James

Global Searches: 523,200

Mike James is the third most-searched EuroLeague player in the past year, totalling 523,200 searches. This high number of searches could have been inflated by James’ temporary suspension from AS Monaco due to an internal violation of team rules. While minor controversies and suspensions are not uncommon in any sport, they can greatly impact a team’s performance when key players are unavailable due to disciplinary action.

Dwayne Bacon has the biggest Instagram presence in the EuroLeague

Dwayne Bacon

Rank Name Instagram Account Instagram Followers
1 Dwayne Bacon dbacon 451,000
2 Nikola Mirotić nikolamirotic33 303,000
3 Jan Veselý 24janvesely 247,000
4 Shane Larkin shanelarkin 233,000
5 Dante Exum daanteee 198,000
6 Kostas Sloukas kos_slou 176,000
7 Mario Hezonja supermariohezonja 169,000
8 Miloš Teodosić milosteodosic4 168,000
9 Mike James mrnatural_05 164,000
9 Gabriel Deck gabrieldeck14 164,000
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Dribbling Through Instagram: Top Followed EuroLeague Stars

📸🏀 Dwayne Bacon tops the EuroLeague Instagram charts with 451K followers 🏆! Nikola Mirotić and Jan Veselý follow with 303K and 247K followers each. On-court action meets off-court life! 🙌💫

Dwayne Bacon

Instagram Followers: 451,000

The EuroLeague player with the most Instagram followers is Dwayne Bacon, with a whopping 451,000 people following his account. Bacon regularly posts pictures of himself on the court, with his family, or sporting the latest fashion, allowing followers to catch a glimpse of what the basketball star is like when he’s not shooting hoops.

Nikola Mirotić

Instagram Followers: 303,000

Nikola Mirotić has the second-highest Instagram followers in the EuroLeague, with 303,000. As a devout Serbian Orthodox Christian, many of Mirotić’s posts on the platform feature orthodox religious artwork and biblical quotes or passages, though most posts are basketball-related.

Jan Veselý

Instagram Followers: 247,000

Jan Veselý has the third most Instagram followers in European basketball, with 247,000. Veselý gives his followers plenty of posts to scroll through, with well over 800 currently on his account. He regularly posts photos from his professional games and images of himself enjoying time with his family and his adorable Great Dane.

Donta Hall is the most loved EuroLeague player

Donta Hall

Rank Name Facebook Reactions on Content "Love" Reactions
1 Donta Hall 373 94%
2 Jordan Mickey 1,800 93%
3 Brandon Davies 39,600 89%
3 Mateusz Ponitka 5,500 89%
5 Walter "Edy" Tavares 721 88%
6 Élie Okobo 463 87%
7 Jalen Reynolds 19 84%
8 Sasha Vezenkov 868 82%
9 Scottie Wilbekin 342 80%
10 Jordan Loyd 685 76%
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Court-Side Love: EuroLeague Stars Winning Fans' Hearts on Facebook

💕🏀 Facebook loves Donta Hall with a massive 94%

Donta Hall

“Love” Reactions: 94%

Donta Hall has the highest proportion of “love” reactions on Facebook content at 94%, showing he has a dedicated and supportive fanbase. A native of Luverne, Alabama, Hall played for several NBA sides, including the Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, before moving to European basketball, where he now plays for AS Monaco. All the reactions to content featuring Hall in the last year were positive, with no “angry” or “sad” reactions at all.

Jordan Mickey

“Love” Reactions: 93%

Jordan Mickey has the second highest proportion of “love” reactions on Facebook content at 93%, just a fraction behind first place Donta Hall. Mickey started his professional career playing for NBA side, the Boston Celtics, where he spent two seasons before moving on to play for Miami Heat in 2017. Since then, Mickey has played for various EuroLeague teams, including Real Madrid and Russian sides Khimki and Zenit St. Petersburg. Mickey left Zenit following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine and has been with Virtus Bologna since July 2022.

Brandon Davies & Mateusz Ponitka

"Love” Reactions: 89%

Brandon Davies and Mateusz Ponitka tied for third place, with each player seeing “love” account for 89% of all reactions on Facebook content. Davies, a Philadelphia native, played for NBA sides Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets before moving to European basketball. Davies has played for seven European teams, including AS Monaco, FC Barcelona and Olimpia Milano, and now plays for Valencia since signing with them in July 2023.

Ponitka has played for various European teams, including Polish teams Asseco Prokom and Zielona Góra, as well as teams in Belgium, Russia, Turkey and Italy. Ponitka recently made headlines with his move from Greek team Panathinaikos to Serbian team KK Partizan.

Slovenians are the biggest NBA fans in Europe

Slovenians in NBA

While EuroLeague is immensely popular among basketball fans in Europe, the NBA also attracts many international fans from the continent. After all, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy basketball in both of these prestigious leagues. In this section, we’ll explore which European nations are the biggest NBA fans by comparing the number of searches for the American League in each country.

Rank Country Population NBA Searches NBA Searches per 100,000 people
1 Slovenia 2,099,790 1,660,600 79,084
2 Spain 47,222,613 22,893,000 48,479
3 Ireland 5,323,991 2,375,100 44,611
4 Iceland 360,872 137,640 38,141
5 Italy 61,021,855 22,332,000 36,597
6 Luxembourg 660,924 233,500 35,329
7 Israel 9,043,387 3,145,700 34,785
8 France 68,521,974 23,706,000 34,596
9 Serbia 6,693,375 2,227,000 33,272
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Slovenia to Ireland: Europe's Biggest NBA Fans Unveiled

🏀🌍 Slovenia leads Europe in NBA searches with a whopping 79K per 100K people 🇸🇮💻! Spain and Ireland follow suit 🇪🇸🇮🇪, proving basketball's global reach extends far beyond the US 🌐🔥

Slovenia                

NBA Searches per 100,000: 79,084

Slovenia is the European country with the biggest NBA fanbase, with a huge 79,084 searches per 100,000 people. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in Slovenia, and the country is currently ranked seventh in the FIBA world rankings, which is impressive for a population of around 2.01 million. There are currently three Slovenian players in the NBA: Vlatko Čančar of the Denver Nuggets, Luka Dončić of the Dallas Mavericks, and Goran Dragić, who currently plays for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Spain

NBA Searches per 100,000: 48,479

The European country with the second highest rate of NBA searches is Spain, with 48,479 searches per 100,000 people. Basketball is incredibly popular in Spain, the second most popular sport after association football, or soccer. In fact, Spain is currently the highest-ranked country for basketball in the world, according to FIBA, even beating out competition from the USA by a slight margin. There were four Spanish players signed to NBA teams in the 2022-23 season, including Santi Aldama of Memphis Grizzlies, Usman Garuba of Oklahoma City Thunder, and Ricky Rubio of Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Willy Hernangómez of New Orleans Pelicans, who recently signed for FC Barcelona.

Ireland

NBA Searches per 100,000: 44,611

The country with the third biggest NBA fanbase is Ireland, which saw 44,611 NBA searches in the last 12 months. Basketball is popular in Ireland, but it has a lot of competition from other more established sports in the country. Ireland’s most popular sport is Gaelic Football, followed by the likes of rugby, football, and horse racing. There are currently no Irish basketball players in the NBA, and the national team is ranked 96th in the FIBA world rankings.

International players make up one-quarter of the NBA

basketball international players

While the NBA is an American league featuring teams based across the United States and Canada, many international players spend at least some of their professional careers playing for one or more of its 30 teams. In this section, we will explore the makeup of the NBA in the 2022/23 season to find where most international players come from.


basketball international players table

A total of 429 players in the NBA are from the United States, accounting for 75.40% of the total. This means that 24.6% of players in the NBA are originally from abroad. However, there is also one Canadian team in the NBA, Toronto Raptors, which would likely explain why Canadians make up the largest proportion of international players, with 25 accounting for 4.39% of the total.

Aside from Canada, France has the most international players in the NBA, with a total of 13, or 2.28%. These include Nicolas Batum and Moussa Diabate of the LA Clippers, Evan Fournier of the New York Knicks, and Theo Maledon of the Charlotte Hornets.

Australia is the only other country to field more than ten players in the NBA, with a total of 12 accounting for 2.11% of all current NBA players. The transition from Australia to the United States is slightly easier than for players from other countries due to the shared English language. However, cultural differences will still mean it can be difficult to adjust. Some of the current Australian NBA players include Josh Giddey and Jack White of Oklahoma City Thunder, as well as Josh Green and Kyrie Irving, who play for the Dallas Mavericks.

Other countries with a larger number of players in the NBA include Germany, which has eight NBA players, Serbia, with six; and Turkey and Nigeria, with five players each. 

Methodology

We wanted to look at the state of basketball in Europe, finding out which EuroLeague players are the most popular and looking at the popularity of the NBA amongst European players and fans.

To do this, we first identified the top players in the EuroLeague, taking the 50 highest-scoring players since the 2019/20 season from the EuroLeague website. We also added any of the top 10 highest-earning players in the 2022/23 season, according to Eurohoops.

We then collected the number of followers each player had on Instagram and the number of searches each player received in the last year, by using Google Keyword Planner to look at search data. Additionally, we used BuzzSumo to record the proportion of “love” reactions left on Facebook content relating to each player. 

These three factors were combined into a single popularity score, allowing us to reveal the most popular players. We also assessed all of the players in our study for each individual factor, revealing the top scorers in each category.

Several players were removed from the study as they shared names with other famous people, meaning the number of searches and “love” reactions on Facebook content may not relate specifically to them. Of the 50 remaining basketball players in our study, 5 did not have an Instagram account for which to collect data, and one player did not have any Facebook reactions data on BuzzSumo. The scores for these players were calculated solely from the 2 factors which they had data.

We also looked at the popularity of the NBA in different European countries. We used Google Keyword Planner to collect search volumes for “NBA” for the past twelve months for all European countries, including Turkey, countries in the Caucasus region, and Israel. This search volume was then normalised against population data taken from the CIA World Factbook to calculate the rate of searches per 100,000 people for each country. The countries were ranked by this factor, and those with the highest rates were considered the biggest fans of the NBA.

Finally, we also included a section on the international makeup of players in the NBA. We used data from the NBA website showing the number of players from each country in the 2022/23 season.

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