How have players from overseas had an impact in the NBA?
It’s strange to even think that there was a time when foreign players in the NBA were seen as a huge risk that was not worth the reward for many inside the league.
One of the biggest (unfair) generalizations from foreign players included not possessing the athletic ability of some of their American counterparts, which were seen as a hindrance to their game. However, by no means has it been a roadblock to their development.
By the time the 1992 Olympics rolled around and the Dream Team took to the stage in Barcelona, there were already more than a few big-name foreign players playing in the NBA. Though, not many expected any of them to explode onto the scene the way the likes of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and the rest of Team United Stats captivated the city of Barcelona during that summer in 1992.
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In those Olympics the Bulls duo of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were giving nightmares to Toni Kukoc who would be on the Bulls team in a few years and help them win three NBA titles. When the Dream Team played the Croatians, there was a massive learning curve for Kukoc as he was restricted to just four points and committed seven turnovers.
However, just a few years later, Kukoc was averaging 16 points per game for the Bulls in the NBA.
With the evolution of the game from those times and the NBA developing a more culturally inclusive ethos, it was inevitable that more and more foreign players would make the step to the bright lights of NBA basketball. Is this because the game is significantly less physical now than it was back in the 1980s and 1990s, or simply due to the game evolving to the point where it has been influenced so much by those from overseas?
Smaller lineups being used by NBA teams with more and more players having a skill set which could be considered vastly superior to those that came before them. Take a player like Nikola Jokic for example. The game has seen a few 7-footers with that long-range shooting ability, eye for passing, and overall basketball IQ perhaps ever.
Then how can you forget Dirk Nowitzki? He put in a performance in the 2011 NBA Finals which was one for the ages. Many were convinced this would be LeBron James’ first NBA title, but the German big had other ideas. Arguably the greatest shooting big man of all-time, he willed the Dallas Mavericks over the line and thrust himself into the archives of NBA folklore.
Being underestimated by your opponent can sometimes work in your favor and this can be said for numerous foreign players who have come into the league. Drazen Petrovic, you remember him? His career was unfortunately cut short due to a deadly car accident.
Before his accident, he was considered one of the greatest shooters of all-time. Many followed in Petrovic’s footsteps with success in the NBA. One of the biggest in recent memory is Manu Ginobili, who became irreplaceable for more than a decade.
It continues to this day with the likes of Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, and many more. In fact, you can make the argument that the Toronto Raptors don’t win the 2019 NBA Championship without its international impact – specifically Pascal Siakam.
The NBA’s basketball without borders program has given an opportunity to many players overseas and in 2012 it would prove a defining one for Siakam. By his third season in the league averaging 27 points and 11 rebounds has made him a household name – further evidence that every corner of the globe has something to offer the NBA fraternity.