As the world’s top basketball league, it is the dream of every aspiring basketball player to play in the NBA one day. Gone are the days when the NBA was a purely US-oriented league, and one of the countries that have strongly embedded itself into the NBA culture is Spain.
The country is known as home to some of the brightest players who have played in different squads in the NBA; for instance, brothers Marc and Pau Gasol are two of the most distinguished Spanish players who played in the NBA and inspired the youth to pursue the dream of making it big in basketball.
While many American players who are unable to make it big in the US, find their way to the Spanish leagues ACB, one of the best in Europe.
While football rules the hearts of the majority of the Spanish population, basketball comes in a close second. The sport’s popularity has increased massively in the previous years as the younger generation has begun to take a keen interest. So, let’s explore how basketball became such a popular sport in Spain and its current status in the country.
History of Basketball in Spain
While basketball was invented in the late 1800s, it did not reach Spain until the 1900s. In 1921 a Spanish priest Eusenio Millan introduced the sport in Spain. During his visit to Cuba, he had seen people playing basketball and thought it would be an ideal sport for Spain, considering the country’s cold climate.
Eusenio Millan introduced the sport initially in a school in Barcelona where he worked as an educator. The priest then went on to establish a basketball team in 1922, Layetano. In the following years, there was exponential growth in the number of basketball teams across Spain. The Spanish Basketball Federation (FEB: Federación Española de Baloncesto) was established in 1923. In 1932, a basketball contest was organised between Madrid and Catalonia, paving the way for inter-regional and international competitions.
Today the FEB has more than 375,000 registered basketball players, and more than 3300 registered basketball clubs. It oversees the affairs of the men’s and women’s national basketball teams and the country’s top professional basketball league.
Spanish national basketball team
The Spanish men’s national basketball team has been a member of FIBA since 1934. The team played its first international match against Portugal in April 1935 in Madrid and won. The team qualified for the Olympics for the first time in 1936 but could not participate in the event due to the Spanish civil war that had started just before the games. The team appeared in the Olympics again in 1960 but did not achieve success until 1984, when it won the silver medal. Overall, the team has won three silver medals and one bronze medal in the Olympics.
The national team has also appeared in the EuroBasket 32 times and won four gold medals, six silver and four bronze medals. The most recent success was winning the EuroBasket 2022. Besides the EuroBasket, Spain has played in the FIBA World Cup 12 times and won the tournament in 2006 and 2019. Today, the Spanish national basketball team is ranked first in FIBA rankings.
The women’s national basketball team has also been playing internationally since 1934, and like the men’s team, it is one of the strongest in the world and currently placed 4th in the FIBA rankings. The team has won gold at the EuroBasket four times, with the latest win in 2019. It also won one silver medal and five bronze medals in the tournament. The women’s team has appeared in five Olympic events and won a silver medal in 2016. Moreover, the Spanish women have won one silver and two bronze medals in the FIBA World Cup.
Spanish basketball league system
The Liga ACB is the highest professional basketball league in Spain and one of the best in Europe. While the FEB oversees it, the Asociación de Clubs de Baloncesto administers its operations. The Liga ACB was established in 1983 as the ACB Primera Division.
Before its formation, the Liga Española de Baloncesto was the top basketball league from 1957 to 1983. The league was managed by the Spanish Basketball Federation until the member clubs of the Liga Espanola decided to establish the Basketball Clubs Association and formed the Liga ACB.
Today, the Liga ACB comprises 18 teams who are very competitive and won major tournaments. The current champion of the league is Real Madrid which has won 14 titles. However, the team winning the most titles is Barca, with 16 wins.
Like the football club, Real Madrid is one of the most successful basketball clubs and won 10 EuroLeague Championships, among other titles. FC Barcelona Bàsquet, or Barca, is the oldest basketball club in the ACB, founded in 1926. It is one of the most successful teams in the league, winning the European Championship twice and completing the Triple Crown in 2003. The ACB follows a promotion and relegation system with LEB Oro, the second-highest division.
The LF, or Liga Femenina de Baloncesto, is the women’s highest professional basketball league. It was founded in 1964, and currently, it has 16 teams, with the Perfumerías Avenida as the current champions. The LF follows a promotion and relegation system with the Liga Femenina 2, the second-highest basketball league for women in the country.