Kareem Abdul-Jabbar likes soccer and appreciates the skill required to play the game, but as an observer of American sports, he’s not sure about whether the World Cup success the United States team is having in Brazil will convert to lasting popularity here.
“American audiences see people kicking the ball to a teammate, only to have it intercepted by the other team,” he wrote in a Time.com essay. “A lot. To the average American used to the hustle of basketball, the clash of titans in football, the suspense of the curve ball in baseball, or the thrilling crack of the slapshot in hockey, the endless meandering back and forth across the soccer field looks less like strategy and more like random luck.
“It lacks drama. Of course, that’s not true at all, but that is certainly the perception.”
In America, fans like to see effort rewarded instantaneously with points, he wrote.
“Soccer doesn’t fully express the American ethos as powerfully as our other popular sports,” he wrote. “We are a country of pioneers, explorers, and contrarians who only need someone to say it can’t be done to fire us up to prove otherwise. As a result, we like to see extraordinary effort rewarded. The low scoring in soccer frustrates this American impulse.”
The Hall of Famer isn’t buying the idea that the game’s popularity with millennials and the increasing size of the Hispanic popularity will change things, either.
“Soccer is counting on the growing U.S. Latino population to raise its popularity. Between 2002 and 2012, the Latino population increased from 13.3% of the U.S. population to 17%. I’m certain that will be a factor, but perhaps not a huge one — this line of thinking doesn’t account for children seeking more traditional American sports in order to assimilate,” he wrote. “As many parents will attest, some children refuse to follow in their parents’ sweaty sneakers.”