With FIBA Eurobasket in full swing, I think we can all agree that the game of basketball has expanded to a global game. Even more so, the NBA has become a global league, available to markets now that we never thought possible.
And we, as basketball fans, love it.
The NBA specifically has embraced the globalization of the game, recruiting and evolving quality players from all over the world. The Memphis Grizzlies have hit the jackpot with two specific brothers from Spain, first Pau Gasol, and now Marc Gasol. Both players were staples for the Memphis Grizzlies, proving their worth on and off the court in today’s NBA.
My generation has reaped the benefits of past generations’ foreign players laying the ground work for international success. Technically, the first international player to play American professional basketball was Henry Biasatti from Italy in 1946, he played in the Basketball Association of America, the NBA’s predecessor.
But the 1992 Summer Olympics, aka the year of the Dream Team, put NBA basketball in the international spotlight. This was the first Olympics to allow professional athletes to participate.
In that same year the NBA opened its first office outside North America in Hong Kong.
Long story short, the NBA has come a long way.
Fox Sports released their top 20 international players of all time, you’ll be surprised at who makes the list, either because of skill, or perhaps you didn’t know they were from a different country.
Recognizable names who have set the precedent for long NBA careers like Peja Stojakovic proved that the international game, though different in style, can compete in the NBA. Other names include Rik Smits, Vlade Divac, Dikembe Mutombo, and fan favorite Yao Ming.
Basketball is played differently across the globe than here in the States. The European game specializes in passing and fundamentals. The American game is high flying and shake-n-bake.
But both styles have learned to play with and against each other.
The difference in style of big men is also quite obvious. Take our own Marc Gasol, a 7-footer that can dribble, pass, and shoot. Or, an even more extreme case, Dirk Nowitzki, a big man who shoots more jumpers than dunks/lay-ups, and is not known for defense or shot-blocking. Now we all want to imitate the Dirk “one-legged” jumper. Other American big men like Dwight Howard play a bully-ball style, above the rim, and specialize in rebounding.
The guards have also changed the game. Steve Nash? A wizard with the ball, passing and scoring. Manu Ginobili perfected the Euro-step, a basketball move that has become commonplace among basketball guards. How about his teammate Tony Parker: the epitome of point guard. Ricky Rubio was recruited from European league basketball to showcase his talents in Minnesota. The list goes on…
The NBA announced last Fall that the league had a record 113 international players from 41 countries. That made for three years in a row above 100 international players. In the 2016-17 that was roughly 25% of all players.
Some of the best young talent in today’s NBA come from outside the United States. Kristaps Porzingis, Andrew Wiggins, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and the Greek-Freak himself, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
International players are an essential part to the foundation of the NBA.
The beauty of today’s NBA is that it has become a melting pot of exciting talent from every corner of the world. It has taken decades for the international community to make an imprint on American professional basketball, but now that imprint is cemented and will continue to grow.
Let’s all be grateful we get to watch the best talent from not only our own homeland, but from across the globe as well.