- Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle discussed the impact of the Jr. NBA Global Championship, as well as the NBA’s presence and influence on the sport of basketball both in the United States and across the globe.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has been a part of some of the most meaningful venues and stages in basketball. Carlisle is one of 11 people who have won the NBA Finals as both a player and a coach. (He won the 1986 title as a member of the Celtics, then in 2011 guided Dallas to its first-ever championship.)
The significance of preseason basketball pales in comparison to that of the postseason. Nonetheless, when the Mavericks played two exhibition contests in China back in October, it was particularly meaningful for Carlisle.
During the trip, Carlisle saw the NBA’s global impact firsthand. When Dallas played a pair of games against the Philadelphia 76ers—once in Shanghai, then again in Shenzhen—the arenas were jam-packed with spectators. The environment was raucous. Interest was off the charts.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the NBA in my 34 years,” Carlisle said. “When I experience something like that, it just tells me that the NBA is doing a great thing here, expanding globally as much as possible.”
The game of basketball is significantly more accessible now than it was when Carlisle, 59, was growing up. As a child, he followed the game via magazines. Today, fans of all age groups from almost anywhere on the planet can tune into pro games with their smartphones or computers, affording the NBA as expansive an outreach as it’s ever possessed.
Over the years, the league has taken steps to nurture its growth, both stateside and on the international level. Last summer, the Jr. NBA hosted its first-ever Global Championship, an event which featured top boys and girls basketball players from across the globe in an event similar in composition to the Little League World Series. On Tuesday, the NBA announced plans to expand the Jr. NBA initiative next summer, when it takes place for the second time.
The youth basketball tournament, which features some of the top 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls from across the world, will be held Aug. 6-11 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World outside Orlando, Fla. Fourteen NBA teams will host local tournaments as the competition expands, while international competition will reach out through eight regions, including Africa, the Asia Pacific, Canada, China, Europe and Middle East, India, Latin America and Mexico.
Carlisle, in his 14th year serving as president of the NBA’s coaches association, does not understate the important of the grassroots program, which was created to spur interest in the sport of basketball and inspire young children to watch the NBA.
“The NBA is very forward-thinking from the standpoint of doing research, focus groups, etc. to find out what creates authentic interest in our game,” Carlisle said. “When kids get involved at a young age and take an interest, there’s a great chance that it can last a lifetime, and their interest in the NBA can be a great source of excitement and fulfillment for them.”
When the opportunity arose last summer for Carlisle to go to the Jr. NBA World Championships in Orlando and speak at the international coaches clinic, he recalled his own experience as a child.
“I remember when I was a kid growing up and how important it would’ve been to have more access to the NBA and more opportunity to be involved with NBA initiatives,” he said.
The thought inspired Carlisle to ask if he could serve on the Jr. NBA Leadership Council. Carlisle believes in the NBA’s universal influence. He said that the abilities of international players in today’s NBA serve as the most important evidence of the league’s global impact.
This season, nearly 25% of players on opening-night rosters were born outside of the United States. Carlisle said the diverse backgrounds have directly influenced style of play in the NBA.
“The NBA game has evolved into a high-paced movement and skill game,” Carlisle said. “The international influence on that is unmistakeable. So it’s just really exciting as time goes on.”
Carlisle speaks from experience having directly worked with some of the best overseas talents to compete in the NBA over the past 25 years.
He was an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets for two seasons while they rostered Croatian shooting guard Drazen Petrovic. He was an assistant with the Portland Trail Blazers when Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis debuted in the NBA in 1995. Perhaps most notably, for the past 11 seasons, Carlisle has coached arguably the greatest European player in NBA history in Dirk Nowitzki, whom Carlisle attests revolutionized the power forward position.
“It’s an anomaly now to see a team that doesn’t start a 4-man that can shoot the ball out to 28 or 30 feet,” Carlisle said. “That all started with Dirk.”
Now, Carlisle is overseeing the early development of rookie Slovenian forward Luka Dončić, the No. 3 pick of the 2018 draft who was dubbed the “Wonder Boy” before he stepped on an NBA court. Carlisle referred to Dončić as a point guard who at 6’7” and 218 pounds is doing things no international point guard has done in the NBA.
“(He) can virtually do anything on a basketball court,” Carlisle said. “He’s one of the most entertaining players I’ve ever seen in 34 years. That kind of impact, internationally, has been staggeringly important to our game.”
Because of what Carlisle has witnessed—and is currently witnessing—he contends that the days of international players having to prove themselves at the NBA level are long in the past.
“The NBA has great respect for the players that come over because so many have had such a great impact,” he said.
Fostering intrigue in basketball abroad and perhaps stoking the interest of the next potential Dončić or Nowitzki is part of the reason Carlisle finds the chance to partake in the Jr. NBA exciting. It also stems from his love for basketball.
When Carlisle agreed to serve on the council of the Jr. NBA’s initiative in the summer, he earned an even greater sense of fulfillment as an NBA coach. Speaking with youth coaches from all over the world—China, India, Latin America, Canada, Europe, Africa and some from the United States—was extraordinary. He saw their passion for the game emitted through their appreciation and gratefulness.
“I just got the feeling the second I walked in the building that this is one of the great good-will gestures and opportunities that I’ve ever had the opportunity to be involved with,” Carlisle said.
In explaining why he finds joy in working with the Jr. NBA Global Championship, Carlisle pointed back to a quote from former NBA coach Chuck Daly, whom he reveres as a friend and mentor: "Your level of love and respect for the game is the starting point."
“I have developed such a great love and respect for the game,” Carlisle said. “Having the opportunity to speak at the Jr. NBA World Championship clinics with the coaches was something that you dream about having the opportunity to do as a young coach, that you could be able to pass along ideas, different processes and procedures that you use in the NBA that might be able to help coaches from other countries develop young players.
“Really, this is what it’s all about.”