During WNBA All-Star Weekend, the NBA and Nike conducted the Jr. NBA Showcase, an event that gathered 40 13- and 14-year-old players from 17 countries from around the world.
Four groups – International Boys, U.S. Boys, International Girls, and U.S. Girls – were formed, and later split into teams who competed against each other.
International Boys had representation from Morocco, England, Uruguay, Serbia, Slovenia, Australia, Japan, Congo, Mexico, and Senegal, and International Girls were represented through the countries of Egypt, Croatia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Serbia, Nigeria, Uruguay, Australia, Mexico, and the Czech Republic.
The players spent the week leading up to All-Star Weekend participating in team practices, skill development sessions with Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy, NBA Cares activities, and of course exhibition games as well as institutional All-Star stables such as three-point, dunk, and skills contests.
The NBA’s efforts in activating international youth programs via Jr. NBA has been a stable for years, with programs launched all over the world, further establishing the league as one heavily invested in cementing basketball as a relevant sport on a global scale.
This has led to increased exposure of young players waiting in the wings for their time to take the NBA and WNBA floors some day in the future. Exposure that the NBA itself isn’t shy about participating in.
Just this past season, the NBA acquired the rights to air Victor Wembanyama’s games in the French league, and this summer aired multiple games at the Nike Peach Jam starring Cooper Flagg, the presumed top pick in two years. While Wembanyama and Flagg are closer in age to the professional ranks than 13- and 14-year-olds, it remains an interesting expansion in how the NBA is dealing with elite prospects.
In years past, the league had a history of mostly ignoring prospects until the pre-draft process, a trend they have utterly demolished over the past year, even going as far as setting up back-to-back exhibition games between Metropolitans 92 and the G-League Ignite, with the obvious allure of showcasing both Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson.
The decision to market young players still outside the NBA is an intriguing from the league’s side, and one that could resonate with younger audiences who see players their own age on a major sports platform.
Senior Vice President, Head of Youth Basketball Development David Krichavsky confirmed as much last week when he said that “The Jr. NBA Showcase will provide a platform for elite players from around the world to further develop as players as leaders, showcase their potential and create lifelong memories that will be the epicenter of basketball in Las Vegas this summer.”
For the NBA to continuously invest time, resources, and energy into grassroots basketball, while lining up major sponsors such as Nike, AT&T, Gatorade, and Wilson shows a willingness to establish a strong foothold in the youth ranks of the sport, helping young players from across the globe to find their own path within the game of basketball.