You’ve heard the refrain from soccer fans for years: “But it’s the most popular sport in the world!” That might have been the case in the past, but that might not be the case any longer, as basketball might have overtaken soccer as the world’s most played sport.
The reason? Call it the Yao Ming Effect. As Julian Borger of THE GUARDIAN writes, basketball has skyrocketed in popularity in China while soccer’s has plummeted. 12 percent of all people in China play basketball, twice as much as who play basketball. And that gap is going to continue to grow: one in three Chinese youths play the sport with more starting every day.
While NBA attendance might be hurting back home, the sport has never been more popular abroad, and that’s especially true in China. The NBA has recently signed a deal to build 12 new stadiums in China along with US sports giant Anschutz Entertainment Group. And there are 14 live NBA games every week on state-run and local TV.
There are other reasons for the growth of basketball in China while soccer falls back: the one-child policy creating a generation of self-centered kids (perfect for the NBA!) and a lack of space for fields. But it’s important to consider another, more frightening alternative:
That the giant Shaquille O’Neal statue in Beijing is exercising some sort of perverse mind control over the youth of China.