Picture this: it’s a crisp winter afternoon. You glance at the clock on the wall over the chalkboard. It’s your last few minutes of class, and you have some free time until you are dismissed. Surrounded by your friends, you lean back in your seat and spark a debate about the National Basketball Association.
Where are you? Tartu, Estonia, of course.
“Kevin Durant just joins super-teams,” Joonatan Johanson proclaimed. “He’s stolen two rings now from Lebron [James].”
Johanson is an aspiring journalist studying at the University of Tartu. He is working toward a career covering Estonian national sports, but it’s American professional basketball that most intrigues him.
An avid NBA fan, Johanson does not root for a single team.
“I’m more of a player fan. I like Lebron, so wherever he is, I go,” he said.
Basketball is a large part of Estonian sports culture. With the Russians dominating hockey and soccer as the preferred sport in most European countries, Estonians claim basketball as ‘their’ team sport.
Estonia has multiple leagues that compete at all levels from local to international.
“There’re so many different leagues here,” said Mike Pärn, who is also a Tartu journalism student. “I don’t even know all of the Baltic leagues that there are.”
Pärn and his classmates play regularly in recreational basketball leagues. And when they’re not on the court, they often spend their free time viewing NBA games.
“Kobe is the reason I started playing basketball,” Pärn said. “I’ll watch the Estonian teams if they’re good, or in the playoffs, but I always watch the NBA.”
The NBA isn’t the only US league that’s popular in Estonia. Sport bars that line the town square in the capital city of Tallinn display National Hockey League logos and uniforms on the walls.
“It’s just the way that [US sports leagues] are branded,” Pärn said. “The Baltic leagues get so confusing, because of the amount that there are. With [U.S. leagues], you know what you’re getting at all times.”