The important moments illuminating the growth of basketball in Canada are obvious.
NBA arrived in Canada in 1995 with the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies; Vince Carter’s Dunk Contest victory in 2000; the Raptors’ first playoff appearance in 2000; Canadian Steve Nash won back-to-back MVPs in 2005 and 2006; consecutive No. 1 draft picks – Andrew Wiggins in 2014 and Anthony Bennett in 2013.
There are also less obvious — but just as important — markers: The steady proliferation of baskets in driveways; the impact of the Internet; the growth of AAU programs; development of coaches at every level; welcoming immigration policies; a bronze medal at the 2010 U-17 FIBA world championships; Canada Basketball’s aggressive, but thoughtful approach to player development; corporate interest; steady migration of young talent to U.S. prep schools; the NBA’s deep resources; and the growing influence of Canada Basketball CEO Michele O’Keefe.
“It was a confluence of a lot of factors,” Wayne Parrish, the CEO of Canada Basketball from 2007-2015, said, explaining the impressive growth of Canadian basketball, particularly in the past decade.
That confluence has led to the most remarkable and expanding era both in popularity and talent level of basketball in Canada, and it will be celebrated the next three days when Toronto plays host to NBA All-Star Weekend.
Raptors guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are All-Stars in the East, and Canadians Andrew Wiggins, Trey Lyles and Dwight Powell will play for the World team in the Rising Stars Challenge.
“It’s incredible that a young player in Canada can turn on the TV and he’s got a better than 50 percent chance that he see will an NBA player from Canada playing,” Nash told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s definitely changed. That was rare when I was in high school and college. Now, it’s expected and commonplace.”
The numbers help tell the story of basketball’s popularity and growth:
A record-12 NBA players on opening-day rosters.
Three first-round picks in the 2014 draft – Wiggins, Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis – and a Canadian has been drafted every year since 2010.
354,000 kids age 3-17 play basketball, according to a 2014 Canada Youth Sports report.
Studies and surveys reveal an increase in participation and popularity, especially among teens, in the past six years.
Triple-digit increase in Raptors games TV viewership in Canada over the past three seasons, coinciding with consecutive playoff appearances.
Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray (Ontario) is a projected lottery pick and high school freshman RJ Barrett is ESPN’s No. 1 Class of 2019 player – a sign the talent pool isn’t shrinking
The number of Canadians playing at Division I schools is up more than 30% since 2009-10.
What was happening?
Relatively inexpensive to play, basketball was making inroads into provinces across the country.
“This has been a hockey-driven country for its entire history. Hockey has a mindshare of the Canadian consciousness that surpasses football in the U.S. and rivals soccer in Brazil,” Parrish, the former CEO of Canada Basketball, said.
“How do you chip away that? One of the ways is you provide alternatives on the participation side.”
Leo Rautins, the Raptors play-by-play guy, said Parrish “opened doors to good things we’re seeing today.”
Youth leagues and camps became standard in communities, and like Rautins, Parrish was involved at the grassroots level.