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A whole new ball game: Hoop star Wade's soccer admission

updated 4:45 PM EDT, Thu September 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dwyane Wade is hoping to watch more soccer over the course of the season
  • Wade's interest has been piqued since his young son starting playing the game
  • The Miami Heat star is pleased with the growth of the NBA internationally
  • Wade rates the Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki as the best international player

(CNN) -- Global basketball icon Dwyane Wade is making a concerted effort to get his head around an altogether different ball game which he admits is the "number one sport in the world".

And it is parental responsibility that has piqued the eight-time NBA all star's interest in soccer.

"I'm trying to get into it," the Miami Heat star told CNN. "My youngest son Zion is playing soccer now, so I've got to learn the sport.

"So this season I'm really diving into soccer, learning the rules of the game. With Zion, and also my lady, they both love soccer, so I got to get into it."

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Wade is yet to pick a football team to support, but the 30-year-old is keen to sample the atmosphere of the planet's favorite sport.

"I need to learn about it first, but I do want to go to a game," he explained. "I want to feel the crowd and the energy -- it's the reason that soccer is the number one sport in the world."

It is football's global appeal that has prompted the NBA to make a strategic marketing push in targeting key markets like China, Africa and the Middle East.

That campaign has been boosted by the success of players like China's Yao Ming, whose nine-year stint with the Houston Rockets raised the profile of the league in Asia.

Meanwhile Spanish brother Pau and Marc Gasol, who play for Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies respectively, helped their country to a silver medal at the recent London Olympic Games -- when the U.S. beat Spain in the final to take gold.

Miami Heat fans celebrate the team's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals on Thursday, June 21 in Miami. Miami Heat fans celebrate the team's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals on Thursday, June 21 in Miami.
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Manchester United is the most valuable brand in football according to a report by independent consultancy Brand Finance. The global appeal and on-field success of the 19-time English champions has helped establish a brand worth an estimated $853 million. Manchester United is the most valuable brand in football according to a report by independent consultancy Brand Finance. The global appeal and on-field success of the 19-time English champions has helped establish a brand worth an estimated $853 million.
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"It's made (the NBA) very global," said Wade. "The international players are very talented, and it's been getting better and better. The game is so big, around the world now, as big as it's ever been.

"We take some pride in that. But we got a lot of work to do over here, because they keep getting better and better around the world because of this game. We're just happy to be the guys that are able to take this game globally."

Of all the overseas arrivals that have made their mark in the NBA, Wade singled out for special mention Germany's Dirk Nowitzki, who was named NBA finals MVP as the Dallas Mavericks beat the Heat to the 2011 championship.

"You look and say Dirk is probably the one that has the most of the respect from the standpoint of what he's done for so many years in the NBA.

"Obviously they beat us in the finals and winning the championship really put him up there in his place where he should be in our time. But there are other players that have been there before I played that could be named as well."

Despite the NBA's growth, it has some way to go before it can rival football's worldwide appeal given the last soccer World Cup final saw global television audience figures peak at 530.9 million.

"It's very big," said Wade on basketball's continued expansion. "We got a way to go to catch up with soccer, but I think our game is doing very, very well. We can be very proud of that but we have still got a lot of work to do."

Dwyane Wade: A father first

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