The great game of basketball isn't just an American phenomon by any stretch. It's become a integral part of sports culture outside in the United States in many areas of the globe such as Latin America. FJ and I got the opportunity to dialogue with veteran play-by-play broadcaster Álvaro Martín from ESPN Deportes to get a different look on hoops.
Saltar for some stylistic differences between hoops in the US and abroad, the rise in popularity of hoops across Latin countries, prestige comparisons between an NBA ring, an Olympic medal, and a FIBA championship, as well some names you better not sleep on!
Here's a little bit more about Álvaro:
Álvaro Martín is the dean of ESPN’s Spanish-language announcers, and the first on-air talent to announce sports in two languages in that network’s history, handling a wide variety of assignments in Spanish for ESPN Deportes and ESPN in Latin America since 1991, and English-language duties with ESPN. He has covered the NFL since the early 1990’s, and was assigned one of the most high-profile positions in sports television as ESPN Deportes’ Monday Night Football play-by-play commentator. He is also an NFL analyst for NFL Semanal, ESPN Deportes’ weekly NFL studio show.
Since joining ESPN, Martín has grown into one of ESPN’s most respected and versatile commentators. He has handled play-by-play for ESPN and ABC’s Spanish-language telecasts of 14 NBA Finals, 10 Super Bowls, several World Series and Stanley Cup Finals, and the America’s Cup in 1992 and 1995.
Martín has appeared on ESPN’s English-language editions of SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, and as a sideline reporter for the network’s signature Sunday Night Baseball telecast. Martín was nominated to the two editions held so far of the Spanish Emmy in the sports category.
Born in Puerto Rico, Martín received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1984 and a master’s degree in business administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988.
On to the Q&A...
Golden State of Mind: It's always interesting to watch an international team play against the United States because of the differences in style. What are some of the major differences between an international team and the teams in the NBA? How does playing internationally help a player make the transition from an international team to the NBA?
Álvaro Martín: The top international teams do not have the athletic ability that a U.S. team can put together. Their offense is geared towards moving, exhausting and testing the discipline of a more athletic opponent with sharpshooters (not just three-point specialists but mid-range shooters, too) and an endless array of passes, cuts and motion that looks to find the weakness in the defense. On defense, they make full use of zone concepts (which American NBA players stop seeing when they leave the college game behind. \
International players who come to the NBA have to adjust to one aspect of the sport in which the NBA stands out: its athleticism. I have heard these players say time and time again that the speed of the game requires a serious adjustment. However, they have told me (and would never say this for attribution to the press) that their superior fundamentals, compared to the lack of fundamental knowledge of the game from a significant portion of U.S.-bred players, gives international players an advantage.
Golden State of Mind: In popularity among sports to play and watch in Latin countries, soccer is king and baseball is second. Does basketball come 3rd? Any chance of basketball overtaking baseball? We've seen how the rise in popularity of basketball and football in the United States has drawn less youth towards America's pastime, baseball. Has the rise in popularity of basketball and baseball in Latin countries had a similar affect on soccer?
Álvaro Martín: We need to be more specific here. Baseball is king in the Caribbean Basin countries, with basketball vying with soccer as a number two sport (with the exception of Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica, where soccer is king.
South of the equator, baseball is a midget. Basketball becomes the number two sport. The beauty of hoops is that a kid from Chile may meet a kid from Mexico and one of the few topics of discussion they will have in common will be the NBA. The Mexican kid will know nothing about Chilean soccer and the kid from Chile will know little if anything at all about Mexican soccer. The NBA? Now, there’s a subject they can both enjoy.
Golden State of Mind: In the United States winning an Olympic Medal or the FIBA championship is quite an honor and achievement. However, a NBA Championship ring seems to be much more valued and held in higher prestige here. Does that hold true in many Latin American nations? For example, is Manu Ginobili more revered in Argentina because of his gold medal with the national team at the 2004 Athens Olympics or his 3 championship rings with the San Antonio Spurs?
Álvaro Martín: Winning a Worlds or the Olympics is the purest measure of national achievement. It would be the same in the U.S., except for the domination the country has had up until this decade, and now the realization that the NBA’s exceptionalism in its rules of play have become a liability.
Argentineans rightfully celebrate Manu Ginóbili’s accomplishments, but they were delirious when the country won Olympic gold in Athens. That generation of players is referred to in Argentina as ‘la generación dorada’ (the golden generation).
Golden State of Mind: Who are the rising hoops stars in Mexico, Central and South America that we should know about? Is there anyone you see making a major impact in the NBA over the course of the next 2-3 years?
Álvaro Martín: They are coming. In this Saturday’s Nike Hoop Summit, the world team includes Argentinean point guard Diego Gerbaudo and Puerto Rican forward Angel García, as examples of up and coming talent. Argentina alone has over 400 players earning a living as professionals overseas, some of whom are young, draft–eligible talent.
What’s scary is that this new generation of players will know the NBA better than its predecessors, because they grew up watching NBA games on cable television. Manu had no cable in Bahía Blanca, no NBA games to watch, except for the occasional series of games on broadcast TV and whatever videos he could get his hands on. Gerbaudo already knows Chris Paul’s tendencies.
All of us at GSoM wanted to thank Álvaro for coming on our show.