Hoop dreams do come true – all it takes is one superstar

Denmark could potentially become world beaters in basketball … providing the next Michael Jordan is born in Jutland


It’s nearly impossible to call basketball a ‘team sport’ these days. Sure, there are five guys on a team and they occasionally pass the ball to each other, but it’s all meant to distract you from the fact that basketball is built on individual skill.

And to be perfectly fair, it has to be. With only five players on the court at one time, basketball is one of the few team sports in which a single superstar can carry his/her team to success. Having a dangerous striker on the pitch or a great defender on the ice will simply never have the same effect. Whether people like it or not, basketball is driven by stars.

Take Germany’s national team, for example. Prior to 1999, the Germans had been to the FIBA World Championships twice over a span of 40 years and only finished as high as 12th. Then a German youth called Dirk Nowtizki joined the team, and the Germans went on to qualify for each of the next three tournaments and even win bronze in 2002. As Nowitzki continued to develop into the world-class player that he is today, waves of popularity in his homeland followed. Thousands of Germans stayed up until 6am to watch their hero lead his team to an NBA Championship last summer; Germans in 1999 would’ve laughed at such an event.

Nowitzki has singlehandedly put German basketball on the map, and he is not the only one. France was going nowhere before the emergence of fellow NBA superstar Tony Parker, and where was Chinese basketball before Yao Ming? All it takes is one great player to give a country hope.


Basketball stars like Germany's Dirk Nowitzki have popularised the sport in their home countries (Photo: wikipedia.com)

For Denmark, maybe that player is about to arrive. His name is Anton Larsen and at 23 he’s one of the country’s brightest ever talents in the sport. Lanky and an even seven-feet-tall (213.5cm), he left Copenhagen for the United States two years ago to enroll at Old Dominion University. He is one of only a handful of Danes whose skills on the court have brought them to the US, the mecca of basketball.


“Basketball is small in Denmark. It’s been my dream for a long time to play in the States,” Larsen told The Virginian-Pilot.

Despite entering his third year with the team, Larsen is raw by American standards. He played in just 12 games last season, totalling 15 points and nine rebounds in 36 minutes of action. Unimpressive statistics to be sure, but the fact that Larsen was recruited to play in the United States (at defending conference champion Old Dominion, no less) shows potential. 

Larsen is an anomaly, however, as basketball has always struggled to compete with sports like football, badminton and cycling. These sports are deeply rooted in a tradition that basketball has never had; after joining the European Championships in 1951, Denmark lost 23 of its first 27 games in EuroBasket competition and has not improved much since.

“Basketball in Denmark is basically a hobby,” Danish coach Geoff Kotila told an ESPN.com blogger. “It’s so hard to get a practice together.”

It would only take one great player to change all that, and maybe he’s already out there. According to eurobasket.com, there are at least seven Danish players at American universities and high schools with many others certain to join them in the coming years. Others have opted for a different path, staying in Europe to play professionally in leagues throughout Spain, Switzerland and Italy.


Copenhagen's very own Anton Larsen is currently attending college and playing hoops for Old Dominion University in the US. He and other young Danish players are making the sport successful in Denmark (Photo: hbbk.dk)

The Danish youth national teams are also teeming with talent. The U-20 team finished seventh in Division B of the European Championships last year while the U-18s finished second and are now considered one of the best young squads in Europe. Teen phenomenons Rasmus Glarbjerg and Esben Reinholt will be particularly interesting to watch; both are currently playing professionally in Denmark and were selected to participate in FIBA’s U-18 All-Star game this summer.


For a tiny nation of less than six million people, Denmark has all the natural tools to succeed in this sport. Danes are typically tall and nimble, giving them the size to post up under the basket and the agility to face up and shoot jump shots. Many European players, including Nowitzki, have had success with this build.
At this point, who’s to say that the next Nowitzki won’t hail from Denmark?

If he does, the outlook for Danish basketball would change dramatically. Curious Danes would flock to the Danish Ligaen, where imported Americans are already beginning to introduce the country to a flashy, high-flying style of basketball. Kids would start trading their football boots for basketball shoes and put their height to good use. As we saw in Germany, the sport could move from hobby to religion almost overnight.

Maybe that next great player is 6,000 kilometres across the Atlantic at Old Dominion University. Maybe he’s buried somewhere in the national team’s developmental system or a small club in northern Jutland. Maybe he hasn’t even been born yet. But if or when he comes along, Danish basketball will never be the same.  

Fact file | National Team Timeline

1951: EuroBasket debut, finishes 14th of 18 teams with 3-7 record

1955: Finishes last of 18 teams with 0-8 record; last EuroBasket appearance for 41 years

1996: Returns to EuroBasket

2005: Qualifies for EuroBasket Division A with 86-70 win over Ireland

2007: Defeats Estonia 69-68, its first and only win in Division A competition before being relegated back to Division B

2009: Senior team is relegated once again, this time to Division C

2013: Will return to Division B after finishing undefeated in Division C of 2011 European Championships



  • How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    How internationals can benefit from joining trade unions

    Being part of a trade union is a long-established norm for Danes. But many internationals do not join unions – instead enduring workers’ rights violations. Find out how joining a union could benefit you, and how to go about it.

  • Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals in Denmark rarely join a trade union

    Internationals are overrepresented in the lowest-paid fields of agriculture, transport, cleaning, hotels and restaurants, and construction – industries that classically lack collective agreements. A new analysis from the Workers’ Union’s Business Council suggests that internationals rarely join trade unions – but if they did, it would generate better industry standards.

  • Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    Novo Nordisk overtakes LEGO as the most desirable future workplace amongst university students

    The numbers are especially striking amongst the 3,477 business and economics students polled, of whom 31 percent elected Novo Nordisk as their favorite, compared with 20 percent last year.