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The stranglehold of hockey is over, hoops is here to stay

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Everyone knows how the story goes, Canadian James Naismith invented the game of basketball while teaching in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891, but since its invention, basketball has become an iconic sport south of the border.

As a professional sports league, the NBA is a well-oiled machine that grows in popularity and profits on a yearly basis. There are millions of children across the globe that aspire to be the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James.

Although Canada is typically seen as a hockey nation, there are changing tides as urbanization and cost of playing hockey both trend upward. Parents of hockey players earn on average 15 per cent above the national median, according to a 2013 Hockey Canada survey. Forty-six per cent of parents whose children recently stopped playing hockey cited cost as being the number one factor, according to the survey.

In the United Nations’ report on global urbanization, Canada was ranked 40th in the world with over 80 per cent of the nation living in urban settings. These two factors contribute heavily to basketball’s popularity, a sport that’s inexpensive and much more popular in cities.

Five years ago basketball dethroned hockey as the most popular youth sport in the nation, due to these factors, and it should be no surprise.

The Canadian men’s national team is currently competing in the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Americas Tournament for a berth in the 2016 Summer Olympics. The crop of new Canadian talent is directly representative of the basketball boom in our country.

A roster that is referred to as the “Canadian Dream Team” boasts the most star power ever assembled for the nation. Nine players are signed to NBA teams—some of whom are superstars. NBA Rookie of the Year winner Andrew Wiggins, 2013 first-overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, Celtics scoring big man, Kelly Olynyk, and NBA champion and newly signed Raptor, Cory Joseph, round out the star studded lineup.

If it weren’t for contract negotiations with the Cleveland Cavaliers, star forward Tristan Thompson would make the Canadians an even more formidable force.

The team is one of the favourites in the tournament even without Thompson, after winning the Tuto Marchand Continental Championship Cup, the warm up series in late August.

Our nation’s rising success in basketball over the past 20 years traces back to many factors, one of which is the NBA’s presence in Canada.

In 1995, the NBA granted two expansion teams to Canadian cities, one in Toronto and the other in Vancouver. After struggles with a sub-par team and low attendance, the Grizzlies moved to Memphis in 2001.

Despite some struggles, the Raptors have developed a loyal following but their cultural importance is much more significant.

At the same time that the Raptors were blazing the scene with Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, the nation’s first superstar was making waves in the league. Steve Nash took the world by storm in the mid-2000s, winning two NBA Most Valuable Player trophies on his way to earning a sure fire spot in the Hall of Fame.

For Canadian kids, the Raptors, and Grizzlies, (You can still spot Vancouverites donning their lost team’s logo) paired with Steve Nash were a perfect combination for dreams to develop.

Twenty years ago, there were barely any Canadian players in the NBA. Today Canada has the second most in the league. Canada’s basketball explosion speaks to the level of development in the national mindset—kids want to be basketball players over any other sport. But the shift from skates to sneakers is far from over.

The truth is that it’s really just beginning.