I recently got away to the home country of last year’s No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Andrea Bargnani. While this next statement is as unscientific as they come, I was surprised at the lack of basketball anything in my short vacanza in Roma. The level of competition in European basketball is clearly on the rise, but it seems much of the “populi Romani” have yet to catch basketball fever.
Italy is a soccer country. That much is clear. The country devotes an entire daily newspaper, “Corriere dello Sport”, to sports. And by sports they mean soccer. The May 10 edition of the newspaper was 33 pages long -- 23 pages covered soccer.
There was, however, 1½ pages of coverage of the country’s Serie A basketball league (starting on page 24). There were a couple of game stories, but the section was filled mostly with box scores.
No one wears basketball jerseys or other apparel on the streets of Rome. When I lived there back in 2004, it was the same. Stores don’t sell apparel of the local hoops teams. NBA apparel is almost as hard to find.
The Celtics angle of this story (I know you all were waiting for it) comes in now. I stumbled upon the lone bastion of NBA-dom in Rome’s Termini train station. At the very international “Foot Locker” store (perhaps you’ve heard of it?), I found for sale some of the typical merchandise found in the states.
The biggest surprise was a Paul Pierce jersey (49.99 Euros). The store had four players represented, and Pierce was one of them (Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, and Luol Deng were the others). Though the league has switched to Reebok, the jerseys were the old Champion models.
There's at least one basketball fan in the mountain town of Montepertuso, Italy.
The store also sold the ever-stylish Adidas limited edition shoes from several teams, including the Celtics. They’re the same ones the dancers wear. A poster of France native Tony Parker on the wall (mixed in with posters of Ronaldinho) was the only other trace of NBA basketball in the place.
This is by no means a comprehensive study, but my observations in Rome over the past few years suggest that basketball seems as unlikely to blow up in overall popularity in Italy as soccer is in the United States. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.