The Globalization of Basketball: Latin America (Part 2)
By Joshua Motenko
Belize is an underdeveloped dreamer of a basketball nation. They may need a miracle, or thirty years of focused hard work to make an impact on the NBA.
Basketball Popularity Ranking: Second to futból.
Current NBA Players: Milt Palacio, Utah Jazz.
Milt Palacio is a Belizean citizen, born in Los Angeles, CA to Belizean parents.
Names you could see picked in the NBA draft in the next 4-5 years: None.
Most North Americans don't even know that Belize is a country. Belize culture shares many similarities with Patrick Ewing's birthplace: Jamaica. A short ethnography would tell you that this tiny underdeveloped country on Central America's Caribbean coast is a laid-back African culture that is famous for its beaches, reggae music, and North American expatriates. But basketball is becoming a stable and important piece of their society, mainly because of exposure to the NBA. Belize may be the only country in the world that includes NBATV as part of the nation-wide basic cable television package. Not even in the States is it as widely distributed. Anyone with a television has access to the NBA year-round. The NBA's embrace of African American culture through hip-hop has made it even more popular among Belizean youths.
The NBA is so popular in fact, that when spending some time with the semi-professional team in Orange Walk, just north of Belize City, the players nicknamed me Scalabrini -after the Boston Celtics forward - because of my red hair and home city. Upon hearing this nickname, I was shocked - almost to the point of being disturbed - at how knowledgeable these players were of NBA personnel. The fact that these players even knew of such an unused role-player like Brian Scalabrini was impressive since he is far from a household name, even in the U.S. I could only imagine the kinds of other obscure basketball references the Belizeans would be able to pick up on. But this was just another reminder that the reach of the game extends far beyond the first world and will continue to show up in unexpected ways.
The best level of basketball in the country is the semi-professional league, the Belize Basketball Association (BBA). Players are athletic and play a fast paced open-court style. But because of lack of basic basketball education and limited infrastructure, Belizeans play with a YMCA-style misdirection that is frustrating to watch. The coaches run drills that seem to have been created the day before, and the players execute them with the conviction of a high school varsity squad in September. Players are not accustomed to the ideas of team defense at any age level, and many other basic basketball fundamentals are simply non-existent.
When I first arrived on the courts in Belize, it seemed that I was looking into the past, seeing the development of basketball from its beginnings. At first glance, wasn't this what a more established basketball country like Brazil might have looked like 30 years ago, at least in terms of talent development and league organization? I soon realized that because of its size and economic climate, such a comparison for Belize was somewhat romanticized. Yet the prospect of seeing a historical depiction of international basketball in modern times has remained within me, feeding my passion for exploration as if I were an archeologist. Belize is as good an example of this as any country in the world.
The BBA is a league that is struggling simply to stay active. The 2005 BBA season was cancelled due to economic reasons, and in the last year the league underwent a massive reconstruction involving several franchises changing hands. During this time, politicians oversaw the construction of new stadiums hoping for a leg-up in up-coming elections. Often times, success of the basketball infrastructure is dependent upon political agendas. But for the first time in history, the 6-team league was able to get fully organized by holding a player draft with a lottery system in 2006. Each franchise now has a USD$15,000 salary cap, with suggested pay rates of USD$ 25-125 per player per game, based on the draft position of the player. This is a great advance for Belizean basketball, but they are still light years away from producing players for the NBA.
Belize is a country that dreams of making a global impact on the basketball court. Players look up to NBA all-stars. Coaches and league administrators look up to the success of other Latin American countries. Yet at this point Belize can only dream of being a great basketball country. However, due to the countrywide infatuation with the sport and the athleticism of the Belizean players, don't be surprised to see Belize pop up on the basketball radar of NBA scouts over the next 10 - 15 years. http://nbadraft.net/motenko002.asp