For the past few decades, the world of sports has increasingly grown to be more and more international. The rise of popularity of certain sports, outside of the traditional settings, cannot be denied. Basketball is one such sport that has grown by leaps and bounds.
International players have had supporting roles in the past. However, things are changing, and many foreign players are becoming dominant forces on the court – something apparent from the back-to-back MVP titles of Nikola Jokic. The Serbian Joker is only one of a plethora of players changing the face of the league.
Let’s take a look at some of the best international NBA players that have made an impact.
1.Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)
It would be a great injustice to start any list without Hakeem “the Dream” Olajuwon heading the lineup. The big man’s entire career was with the Houston Rockets, and he won two NBA championship rings with the team. Other accolades include an MVP recognition for a regular season and two final awards for most valuable player. Although born and raised in Nigeria, Hakeem played for the USA at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, winning the gold medal. Olajuwon was a fantastic scorer under the rim and renowned for his blocking abilities. Today, he is recognized as one of the best players from Africa to play in the NBA.
2.Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece)
Dubbed ‘The Greek Freak,’ Giannis was born in the cradle of democracy yet traces his family origins to Nigeria. From today’s perspective, many wonder why Giannis got drafted so late, being the 15th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2013. Antetokounmpo is physically one of the most gifted players in NBA history. When he steps in the paint, opposing defenders seem powerless to stop his inevitable drive to the net. The proof lies in the two MVP awards from 2019 and 2020. Moreover, in the 2021 playoffs, nobody could stop him, and Giannis was a big part of the title for the Bucks.
3. Luka Doncic (Slovenia)
The Balkans have always been productive recruiting grounds for NBA scouts. Consequently, Slovenian Luka Doncic was recruited in 2018 by the Dallas Mavericks via a trade with Atlanta Hawks. He made his debut at 18 years of age and was not scared to go up against NBA veterans, signalling that a new star was on the horizon. In 2019, Luka was named Rookie of the Year.
4. Nikola Jokic (Serbia)
The Joker is redefining the role of a centre in basketball. Big men are not known for assists, but Nikola Jokic makes them a vital tool in his arsenal. The Denver Nuggets utilize Jokic in every aspect of their game, and not surprisingly, the centre got rewarded with two MVP awards for the 2021 and 2002 regular seasons.
5. Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
German basketball is not known worldwide as a powerhouse in the sport. That is slowly changing with Dirk Nowitzki joining the Dallas Mavericks. The power forward played for 21 years in the NBA and won the coveted Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy in 2011. Nowitzki was the most valuable player in 2007, a regular at the All-Star with 14 appearances, and won the NBA Three-Point Contest in 2006.
6. Joel Embiid (Cameroon)
Arguably, the best centre currently playing in the NBA, Joel Embiid steals the spotlight from three-point shooters that dominate the league. Several injuries have proven to be the biggest nemesis of the Cameroonian player. However, Joel finished the 2021-2022 season as the league’s scoring champion. This is further signalling why Embiid has made the Philadelphia 76ers a staple in the playoffs in recent years.
7. Steve Nash (Canada)
Some may disagree that Steve Nash qualifies as an international player, considering there is an NBA team from his home country in the league. However, officially Nash counts as a foreigner in the NBA. The journeyman Canadian forward played for 18 seasons in the leagues wearing the jerseys of the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and LA Lakers. Considered one of the best playmakers, Nash received two MVP awards for the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
8. Tony Parker (France)
San Antonio Spurs drafted Tony Parker in 2001 and ushered in one of the most successful eras in the team’s history. With the Frenchman as a point guard, the team from Texas won the NBA championships in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014. Moreover, in 2007, Parker won the Finals MVP. After 17 seasons with the Spurs, Tony signed with the Charlotte Hornets in 2018, where he finally retired in 2019.
9. Dikembe Mutombo (DR of Congo)
The finger wave after a successful block was a trademark move of Dikembe Mutombo. The centre entered the league at 25 years of age, later than most players. Despite this late start, he managed to play 18 seasons. Mutombo played for the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, and the Houston Rockets. He was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year four times and participated in the All-Star 8 times.
10. Manu Ginobili (Argentina)
The San Antoin Spurs were a powerhouse in the first decade of the 21 century, and Many Ginobili was a contributing factor. The Argentinian shooting guard’s long-range shots impacted the 4 championships the team won in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014. He remained a player in the NBA from 1999 to 2018.
Clearly, the NBA has benefited greatly from international players taking part in the league. Recently this benefit has seen explosive growth in fanbases for NBA franchises worldwide. There’s no doubt that more people around the globe are focused on basketball and specifically the NBA. As the trend continues, this list of players will only grow longer.