The Rise & Rise Of The NBA In Australia

The Rise & Rise Of The NBA In Australia

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Recently, an exhibition match was held between the Phoenix Suns – the team with the best regular season record in the NBA last year – and the NBL’s Adelaide 36ers. Despite Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton all playing minutes in this game, Adelaide wiped the floor with them pretty much from the opening tip. Some quickly rushed to the defence of the Suns, claiming that it was just an NBA pre-season game and that we shouldn’t overreact. For others, this only confirmed what we already know to be true: you simply can’t overlook Australia in the game of basketball anymore.

This isn’t America’s game anymore. The sport has over 450 million players across more than 200 countries, with what some estimate to be about 2.2 billion fans around the globe. It is the third most popular sport in the world behind football/soccer and cricket.

This is also made clear by looking at the NBA’s best players. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic are all at the top of a league with 109 international players from 39 countries on the NBA rosters. On opening night last season, eight of those players came from Australia… and that number’s only growing with each passing year.

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Last season, the NBA saw a 35% uptick in viewership in Australia compared to the year prior, with a 27% jump during the Christmas Day games on top of that. ESPN also continues to increase the number of games broadcast in Australia every year. Basketball is played by approximately one million people across the country, with Basketball Australia reporting in 2014 that it’s the second highest team participation in Australia. 

Aussies have demonstrated that they’re more than happy to fly the flag. According to sales from, Patty Mills’ #8 for the Brooklyn Nets was the most purchased jersey in Australia for 2021. The golden boy Josh Giddey also cracked the top four on the same list, becoming only the second rookie to do so after Ben Simmons. We sure have come a long way since the days when you’d be lucky to find a Michael Jordan jersey – if anything – in a sports store. 

Josh Giddey Interview

This has also manifested itself in the form of the NBA developing its own series of activations and events across the country, that both reflect and further the league’s cultural impact within Australia. Back in August, Sydney hosted its own pop-up NBA Gallery, which was a multimedia exhibition celebrating Australia’s connection to the American sporting league’s history. More recently, the NBA unveiled a vibrant 40-metre mural at RMIT in Melbourne. Designed by Kris Andrew Small, a prominent Sydney-based artist, the work transformed a basketball court into a celebration of the NBA’s growth, evolution, and impact on local culture.

There’s a reason we love it so much. Basketball is a team sport at its absolute best. With only five players per side on the court at any given time, every athlete is important to their team’s success and are rewarded for impacting the game and implementing their own style. It’s perhaps the only sport where 6’2” (1.88 m), 185 lbs (84 kg) Stephen Curry and 7’1” (2.16 m), 325 lbs (147 kg) Shaquille O’Neal could both be recognised as two of the greatest to ever do it. It’s a beautiful game and Australian sport is better because of it.

The NBA is the collection of 500 blokes at the absolute top of one of the most played sports in the world. Anyone that can be there, probably is there. The players fortunate enough to make it are often elevated to a kind of legendary status that involves being known by your first name: LeBron, Kobe, Michael, Steph, Shaq… You know who they are. Their reputation precedes them.

Given the incredible reach of the NBA, it’s rare that generational talents ever come from the one place. Some might be surprised to know that Melbourne producing three number one draft picks has made it home to the most number one draft picks in NBA history. Not New York. Not Chicago. Melbourne: the true mecca of basketball. 

Although Kyrie Irving chooses to play for Team USA in the Olympics – he was still born here, holds dual citizenship, and we’re more than happy to include him in that tally.

The 24 players from Australia that have been selected in the NBA draft since 1969 – including nine in the first round – reflect an almost unbelievable combination of hard work and talent. If you look at all of the names listed below, you can map the journey of Australia’s rise in the NBA world; you could produce an upwards graph, both in terms of frequency, as well as how high the players were selected.

  • 1969 – Carl Rodwell (Atlanta Hawks): 20th round, 217th overall
  • 1974 – Eddie Palubinskas (Atlanta Hawks): 3rd round, 61st overall
  • 1991 – Luc Longley (Minnesota Timberwolves): 1st round, 7th overall
  • 1997 – Chris Anstey (Portland Trail Blazers): 1st round, 18th overall
  • 1997 – CJ Bruton (Vancouver Grizzlies): 2nd round, 52nd overall
  • 1997 – Paul Rogers (Los Angeles Lakers): 2nd round, 53rd overall
  • 1997 – Ben Pepper (Boston Celtics): 2nd round, 55th overall
  • 2002 – David Anderson (Atlanta Hawks): 2nd round, 37th overall
  • 2005 – Andrew Bogut (Milwaukee Bucks): 1st round, 1st overall
  • 2007 – Brad Newley (Houston Rockets): 2nd round, 54th overall
  • 2008 – Nathan Jawai (Indiana Pacers): 2nd round, 41st overall
  • 2009 – Patty Mills (Portland Trail Blazers): 2nd round, 55th overall
  • 2011 – Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers): 1st round, 1st overall
  • 2011 – Ater Majok (Los Angeles Lakers): 2nd round, 58th overall
  • 2014 – Dante Exum (Utah Jazz): 1st round, 5th overall
  • 2014 – Cameron Bairstow (Chicago Bulls): 2nd round, 49th overall
  • 2016 – Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers): 1st round, 1st overall
  • 2016 – Thon Maker (Milwaukee Bucks): 1st round, 10th overall
  • 2017 – Jonah Bolden (Philadelphia 76ers): 2nd round, 36th overall
  • 2019 – Matisse Thybulle (Boston Celtics): 1st round, 20th overall
  • 2020 – Josh Green (Dallas Mavericks): 1st round, 18th overall
  • 2021 – Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder) 1st round, 6th overall
  • 2022 – Dyson Daniels (New Orleans Pelicans): 1st round, 8th overall
  • 2022 – Luke Travers (Cleveland Cavaliers): 2nd round, 56th overall

You’ll note that the imposing big man Luc Longley has a special place in history here as the first Aussie selected during the first round circa 1991. He was also the first Australian to play in the NBA at all, instrumental within the Chicago Bulls during their second three-peat (1996-1998) and being widely cited as a massive influence on basketball’s popularity in Australia to this day. His lack of inclusion in the Netflix documentary The Last Dance is still unforgivable. 

In many ways, the popularity of the NBA in Australia mirrors the journey of its Australian athletes. It no longer exists on the fringes. It’s here and will continue to prove itself time and time again.

In present day, we get to watch consistent greatness from our own national team. We’ll never get sick of watching Patty Mills turn into prime Michael Jordan while donning the green and gold, and have a lot of young guns like Dyson Daniels and Josh Giddey (the man responsible for the four youngest triple doubles in NBA history) with exceptionally bright futures ahead. 

Of course, whenever Ben Simmons decides he’s finally ready to lace up for the Boomers, we’ll accept him with open arms. We are already expecting a massive return to form from him on the Brooklyn Nets this year. Until then, there’s plenty to watch out for in Australian basketball. As Josh Giddey told us himself in an exclusive interview:

“As those older guys hit the back end of their career, I think there’s not going to be any drop off with the new younger guys we’ve got coming through. So it’s exciting times and I think a gold medal next year at the World Cup and then ’24 in Paris is really realistic.”

If you’re interested in following our guys in the NBA, it’s never been easier. The NBA recently launched a revamped app that lets you watch all 1,230 games of the regular season – as well as the playoffs – live or on-demand from any device. It includes personalised experiences, original shows and influencer content – all for a price that has dropped around 50% since last season.

You can purchase access to a full season for $154.99 or $21.99 per month. Hit the link below to cop an NBA League Pass. 

This article is sponsored by NBA. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.

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