Basketball is the quintessential all American sport. Created in an unused gym in Springfield, Massachusetts, this sport took off around the United States, turning into a cultural as well as sporting phenomenon.
It is nearly impossible to find a neighborhood today without a basketball court. These are integral to the cohesiveness of any neighborhood (or cornfield if you are in Indiana), and one of the last outdoor spaces which have not been touched by a world consumed by digitalization – and many people are happy to keep it that way.
On the professional level, the sport has achieved tons of success. From merchandising to bringing the fans of a city or a region together, basketball is a unifying factor in helping revitalize cities, and getting hometown pride shown on a national level.
Recently, basketball has begun to become a force to be reckoned with outside of the borders of the United States. Especially after the fall of the Soviet Union when American culture started seeping into place it had not been previously, basketball has started to become in vogue in places where soccer once reigned supreme.
From Bosnia and Croatia to China and even North Korea (where the rules are whatever the Dear Leader wants them to be), basketball has started to become huge.
Due to this international surge of interest, there are now tons of foreign born players coming to the United States in order to play in the NBA. In fact, there were a record 113 foreign born player hooping it up on NBA courts in the 2016-2017 season alone, and there are expected to be even more to follow in the coming years.
Therefore, we wanted to find out, who were the greatest foreign born NBA players of all time? And where are all of these players from? Well it turns out that…
Steve Nash is often known as the Canadian, but in fact he’s a dual citizen and was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is regarded as one of the best foreign players, and likely overall players, who never won an NBA Championship. But that doesn’t take away from his 19-season career. During those years, Nash won two MVP titles. The Canadian was chosen 15th overall by the Phoenix Suns in 1996 draft, but was traded two seasons later to the Mavericks. After playing in Dallas for six seasons he returned to Phoenix. He played in the Association until the 2013-14 season, and retired after playing for the Lakers in LA for two seasons.
Yao Ming, the Chinese Big Man, was drafted as the top pick of the 2002 draft by the Houston Rockets. Ming, though he also never won a ring, was named to the All-Star team eight times and was All-NBA Second Team twice. The center averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds a game while with the Rockets. He retired after only eight seasons in the NBA because of his foot injury. Houston retired his no. 11 jersey during the 2017 season and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
The now San Antonio Spur center was Rookie of the Year during his first season in Memphis, in 2002, and was selected to the All-Star game six times. So far throughout his career he is averaging 17.9 PPG, 9.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He won two NBA Championships and was named to the All-NBA team four times. His career in international play has also been successful, winning three Eurobasket gold medals for the Spanish National Team as well as a World Cup gold and two Olympic silvers.
The German player spent 16 incredible seasons in the NBA, finishing his career with 13.9 PPG, 6.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He was twice awarded the Sixth man of the Year title in 1991 and 1992 and was a three-time All Star in 1993, 1995 and 1997. Schrempf hopped around the NBA, playing for Dallas, Indiana, Seattle and wrapping up his career in Portland with the Trailblazers. Unfortunately, even though he was an NBA great, he never won a ring.
The South Sudanese forward just wrapped up his 14th season in the Association, playing for the LA Lakers playing only 56 games in his worst season performance. Deng was drafted by the Suns in the first round, but started his career in Chicago where he spent ten seasons, making the All Rookie Team that first season. He was selected twice to play in the All Star game and in 2007 he won the league’s sportsmanship award, a prize the players vote for and is given to the player who exemplifies ethical behavior on the court.
Drazen Petrovic was drafted 60th overall by the Portland Trailblazers in 1986, but was traded to the Nets in the middle of his second season in the league. But unfortunately, Petrovic’s career didn’t last long. The Croatian died in a car accident in Germany in 1993, after just his fourth season playing in the Association. During those years he averaged 15.4 PPG, 2.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists, and his tragic death has left a “what if?” question mark on his career. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
The big man, Serge Ibaka, was born in 1989 in the Congo and is a dual citizen with a Spanish passport. Ibaka made a name for himself as a shot blocker during his seven seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, averaging 3.7 and 3.0 blocks per game during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. He is a three-time All Defensive player, and led the NBA in blocks in 2012 and 2013. He’s also been successful on the international stage, winning a silver at the 2012 Olympics and gold at the 2011 FIBA European Championship.
I didn’t take long for the Lithuanian to make his presence felt for the Portland Trailblazers. He spent seven seasons with the team (with a year off before his finals season), averaging 12.0 PPG, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He was named to the All-Rookie First Team in 1996, nearly a decade after the team originally drafted him. Sabonis is considered one of the greatest European ball players ever, and was awarded the Mr. Europa title, the European Player of the Year Award. He is also a gold medalist from the 1988 Olympics as part of the Soviet team.
The Serbian big man spent 16 seasons in the NBA, eight of them with the LA Lakers who drafted him 26th overall in 1989. After his tenure with the Lakers he spent two seasons on the East Coast with Charlotte before returning to California to play for the Sacramento Kings. He made the All Rookie Team in 1990 and played in a single All-Star game. He averaged 11.8 PPG, 8.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists for his career and currently works with the Kings as VP of Basketball Operations and General Manager.
The Turk retired from the NBA after 15 seasons in the Association, averaging 11.1 points and 4.0 rebounds a game. Turkoglu was drafted 16th overall by the Kings in the 2000 draft, but spent only four seasons in Sacramento before heading to Orlando for eight seasons, with stints in Phoenix and LA. The 6’10 big man was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2008 and has two silver medals as part of the Turkish team.
The younger Gasol brother is a three-time All Star, including this past season (2017). He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and was a three-time selection to the All-Star team. Marc, who was also drafted by the Grizzlies and is still playing in Memphis, made his presence felt right away, scoring 10 points in 10 straight games in November of his rookie season. So far he’s averaging 14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists for his career.
The former 14th overall pick from Croatia averaged 17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists during his 14 seasons in the NBA. Stojakovic was a three-time All-Star and became an NBA Champion during his final season, while playing with the Dallas Mavericks. The Kings retired his no. 16 jersey in 2014, and he currently works with the team as VP of Player Personnel and Development as well as General Manager for the franchise’s D-League team.
Dikembe Mutombo is one of the most recognized former stars, if not for his play than for his voice and his no, no, no blocking antics. Mutombo was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He spent 18 seasons in the NBA, his final season playing in only nine games. He was named an All-Star eight times but is on the list of stars who never won a championship. But his no, no, no antics we mentioned earlier did make a comeback recently in a Geico commercial.
The long-time Maverick spent 13 seasons in the NBA, 11 of them with Dallas and two with the New York Knicks, after which he left the league. Panama-born Rolando Blackman wrapped up his career with 18.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists a game. He was a four-time All Star and in 2015 he found his way into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, after starring for Kansas from 1977-81. The Mavs retired his no. 22 jersey in 2011.
The career-long Pacers star began his career on the All-Rookie First Team back in 1989. He’d make an All-Star game nearly a decade later in 1998. Rik Smits averaged 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 assists for the Pacers over 12 seasons. He was given the nickname the Flying Dutchman, after the ghost ship that wasn’t allowed to dock at any port. Smits is also known for his obsession off the court, his love for, and collection of, motorcycles.
The Dominican-born Horford wrapped up his 10th season in the NBA with a run in playoffs with the Celtics. Boston lost in the Eastern Conference Championships to the Cavs. Horford averaged 14.0 points 6.8 rebounds and 5.0 this past season for the Celtics. Before heading to Boston, he spent nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, averaging 14.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He is a four-time All Star from 2012, 2011, 2015 and 2016.
The Russian-born Kirilenko played 13 seasons in the NBA, most of them with the Utah Jazz. He was named to the All Rookie First Team in 2002 when he averaged 10.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game, and was selected as an All-Star in 2004. He retired from the Association after the 2014-15 season while playing with the Brooklyn Nets. Throughout his career, Kirilenko had 87 double-doubles, three triple doubles, 11.8 points and 5.5 rebounds. He also received only a single technical foul in 13 seasons.
Manu gonna Manu and he keeps on Manu-ing. The long-time spurs star finished another season in 2016-17 with a trip to the Western Conference Finals, though San Antonio lost to the Warriors. We’re still waiting to hear if he will continue playing next season, but so far in his career the Argentine is averaging 13.6 points 3.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists in his 15 seasons. He’s a gold medalist from the 2004 Olympics, representing Argentina, and won two golds at the FIBA America Championships.
Another San Antonio great, but one who had to sit out part of the playoffs in 2016-17 due to Injury. The Belgian-born French player spent two years in the French league before he crossed the pond to play for the Spurs in 2001. He’s a four-time champion, six-time All-Star and Finals MVP from 2006-07. Throughout his career he’s tallied 98 double-doubles and is averaging 16.2 points, 2.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He’s also a gold medal winner as part of the French National Team.
The Lithuanian-born Ilgauskas was drafted by the Cavaliers as the 20th overall pick in 1996. He spent 12 seasons in Cleveland before heading to Miami for his final year. He was named to the All Rookie First Team in 1996-97 after playing in every single game and starting 81 of them, and was a two-time All Star in ‘03 and ‘05. He wrapped up his career with 194 double-doubles, and averaging 13 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists.
Andrew Bogut had the chance to play with the Cleveland Cavaliers this season and win a title against his former team, the Warriors. But he was injured within seconds of entering his first game in a Cavs uniform. The Australian big man was part of the Warriors 2015 championship team, was named to the All-Rookie First Team and blocks leader in 2011. He also had a lot of success in the NCAA, leading the University of Utah to the Sweet 16 and was National Player of the Year.
The Canadian small forward still has plenty of years ahead of him in the NBA. He wrapped up only his third season in the Association, averaging 23.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists for Minnesota in 2016-17. He was the top pick of the 2014 draft out of the University of Kansas, was named to the All-Rookie First Team and was the Rookie of the Year, averaging 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds during his first season.
Boris Diaw was named the league’s most improved player in 2006, after his third season in the league, and it only got better from there for the French forward. Diaw won a ring while playing for the Spurs in 2014. But it seems his career is winding down after 14 seasons in the Association. He is currently playing for the Utah Jazz, averaging just 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 73 games played during the season. But Diaw has had an incredible career so far internationally as well, winning the Eurobasket gold in 2013.
The Brazilian-born Anderson Varejao just wrapped up his 14th season in the Association, playing 12 of them with the Cleveland Cavaliers before he was traded. But he was recently released from the Golden State Warriors midseason. In 2009-10 Varejao was named to the All Defensive Team, and has averaged 7.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists for his career. We’re still waiting to see where he will end up next season.
Matthew Dellavedova became an NBA Champion during his third season in the league, playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2013-14 through 2015-16 and winning alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. He averaged 3.9 points a game and 2.8 assists during the team’s playoff run. The Australian was then traded to Milwaukee and has averaged 7.6 points and 4.7 assists for the Bucks. Dellavedova comes from a family of athletes which includes two sisters who also play basketball in the US.
Everyone was waiting for the Spanish star to debut for the Timberwolves during the 2011-12 season after he was drafted fifth overall in the 2009 draft. Rubio was named to the league’s All Rookie First Team, averaging 10.6 points and 8.2 assists. He also has a long list of accomplishments in Europe including being named Mister Europa in 2008. He’s a two-time Eurobasket gold medal winner and a silver medalist from the 2008 Olympics. He is currently averaging 10.3 points, 8.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds a game.
Argentinian Luis Scola just wrapped up his tenth season in the league and his first season with the Brooklyn Nets. Scola was drafted 55th overall but made an impression during his rookie season, being named to the All-Rookie First Team. He has had 129 double-doubles, 32 of them during the 2009-10 season alone, while he was playing for the Houston Rockets. In international play, Scola won an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and two FiBA America Championships.
The Canadian star made his presence felt in the NBA during his rookie season in 2011-12, averaging 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds and was chosen to the All Rookie Team. He enjoyed two remarkable seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14, averaging 11.7 points both years with nearly ten rebounds, but his numbers and minutes played have shrunk since, with the addition of LeBron James and Kevin Love. In his six seasons he’s already had 132 double-doubles and is dating a Kardashian. Not bad for a 26 year old.
The basketball player Nene, who shouldn’t be confused with the footballer Nene, was chosen by the Knicks at the no. 7 spot in 2002, but they gave up his rights to the Nuggets. That was, perhaps, a questionable move, seeing as Nene was named to the All Rookie team after averaging 10.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. He spent most of his 15-year career with Denver before heading to Washington and playing this past season in Houston (on just a 1-year contract). So far he’s averaged 12.0 points and 6.3 rebounds for his career.
The Argentina-born star spent eight seasons in the Association, jumping between teams. He played for Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee and wrapped up his career with a single season in Houston. His best season was 2010-11 in Milwaukee, averaging 11.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists. His international career as part of the Argentinian National Team eclipses his NBA career, winning a gold at the 2004 Olympic games in Athens and a Bronze in Beijing four years later.
Kristaps Porzingis is seen by many as the man who can, and hopefully will, save the New York Knicks. Remember the kid who cried when he was drafted? Well, the only way Porzingis will make Knicks fans cry again is if he leaves or wins a championship. The 21 year-old is averaging 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists so far, after only two seasons in the NBA. In 2015-16 he was named to the All-Rookie Team, and made some noise in the postseason due to his frustration with the franchise.
The Croatian Toni Kukoc spent 13 seasons in the Association, winning three championships while playing on Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The second round pick made the All Rookie Team in 1993-94 and was Named Sixth Man of the Year in 1995-96. He averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists over his lengthy career. His best season came in 2000-01, when he averaged 19.7 points and 6.2 assists. In 2015 he was named Special Adviser to the Chicago Bulls’ President as well as COO.
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest foreign players to play the game, and one of the greatest players in the NBA. The German is known for his fadeaway shot, and for taking down the Miami Heat’s Big Three in the 2011 NBA Finals, when he won his first, and so far only, ring. Nowitzki is a 13-time All Star, 12-time All NBA selection, was MVP of the 2006-07 season and Finals MVP in 2011. He’s averaging 21.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists for his career.
Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the most well-known foreign NBA players in history, and may be the best. Olajuwon spent 18 seasons in the NBA, winning Championships in 1994 and 1995, taking advantage of Michael Jordan’s first retirement. He was chosen as the Finals MVP both years, was a six-time All NBA team pick and 12-time All Star. He played for Houston for 17 seasons before heading to Toronto and then retiring. He averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists for his career.