Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure

Big Game, Small World

A Basketball Adventure

Over the course of a year on the cusp of the 21st century, in the aftermath of the Dream Team’s star turn at the Barcelona Olympics and Michael Jordan’s epic career, award-winning Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff traveled the world to take the measure of basketball’s impact.

His account doesn’t simply chronicle how Dr. Naismith’s game spread to the far reaches of the globe. Big Game, Small World: A Basketball Adventure also previews the way America’s leading sporting export, invented in Massachusetts by a Canadian clergymen and first taken abroad by missionaries during the 1890s, would become a globally integrated phenomenon on every level, from the grassroots to the NBA, over the first two decades of the new millennium.

As 3-on-3 prepares to make its Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games in 2021, there’s no better time to revisit Big Game’s unforgettable characters and unlikely staging grounds, from Bhutan to the Philippines, from China to Lithuania, from Brazil to the war-torn Balkans.

In Fall 2022, Duke University Press will publish a 20th anniversary edition of Big Game, Small World, with a new preface by the author.

Team of Broken Dreams

In advance of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, I collaborated with Hoop Dreams filmmakers Steve James and Peter Gilbert on this documentary short, Team of Broken Dreams, about the impact of the war in Yugoslavia on basketball players from the Balkans. Based on two chapters from Big Game, Small World, the film premiered on NBC, was nominated for an Emmy Award, and received the International Olympic Committee’s Media Award.


“Entertaining . . . memorable . . . His reporting is terrific.”

—New York Times Book Review

“Each piece could be a book or movie in itself . . . a keeper.”


“Alexander Wolff takes us through sixteen countries, from Bhutan to Poland, in search of a community of hoops. What he finds may be just too quirky to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but the pieces are prize winners.”

—Robert Lipsyte, New York Times

“Wolff has a great feel for basketball and the people who love the game.”

John Feinstein, author of A Season on the Brink

“Wolff’s important book . . . is in the tradition of Paul Theroux’s best work.”

—Hartford Courant

“A wonderful book . . . outstanding profiles . . . Wolff’s passion for the game burns feverishly.”

—Booklist (starred review)

“Fascinating . . . an enlightened sports travelogue . . . Highly recommended. Wolff’s knack for finding fascinating people to interview goes far in humanizing basketball in a global context.”

—Library Journal

“Part sociology textbook, part travelogue, part basketball encyclopedia, and 100 percent labor of love.”

—Peoria Journal-Star

“May lead the league in ambitiousness of scope . . . most instructive and great fun.”

Bill Littlefield, NPR’s Only a Game

“Lengthy, sprawling, eclectic . . .. Wolff has a historical sensibility that precedes his love affair with the game. . . . [He is] a sensitive, self-deprecating tour guide and storyteller.”

—Daniel Nathan, International Journal of the History of Sport