Foreign Players Stepping into the Spotlight


In the early 1980s, if you had a gathering of the NBA top players, away from the NBA arena, 75 – 90% of the room would be players from the United States.

If you did this same exercise today, you may think that you have accidentally entered room that was conducting a United Nations Meeting.

Foreign players have finally gained equal status as NBA stars that were born in the United States.

In the mid to late 1980s, as college coaches started scouring other countries for big men, there was an influx of centers from other countries with the likes of Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwan, Detlef Schrempf, and Dikembe Mutombo.

With the exception of “Dream” most foreign players were thought of as either defensive specialists or project players that would hopefully turn in to serviceable role players.  None of them were expected to lead a team or be a key cog in a championship contender.

As the NBA got more global exposure, foreign players started to arrive in the NBA having better offensive games which made teams pay attention.  College coaches started to go overseas to not only scout big men, but outside shooters as well.  Good examples of this progression would be the likes of Drazen Petrovic and Sarunas Marciulionis. 

In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the influx came directly from overseas as players came over from professional leagues in other countries and thereby skipping college altogether.  Players like Bostjan Nachbar, Hedo Turkoglu, Toni Kukoc, Tony Parker, and Pau Gasol were going from being late first and second round projects to bona fide first round picks. 

Thanks to David Stern’s global expansion of the NBA, foreign players were able to watch more games and they were able to adapt their game to how it was being played here.  So when they came here, there was a minimal adjustment period needed to get use to how the game was played.

With their athleticism, aggression in the low post and high Basketball IQs, they started to show that notion of the soft foreign player was thing of the past.  Some foreign perimeter players even had the ability to shoot from beyond the arc as well as slash to the basket.  Their games were more complete games than some of their American counter parts, whom rely on talent and athleticism to help them to carry their team.This evolution reached an apex in the mid-2000s with Yao Ming and Darko Milicic being drafted with the first and second overall picks respectively. 

You started to see foreign players becoming the a more of a focal point of the offense for franchises (See Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Yao Ming).

So San Antonio Spurs, what are your thoughts on the development of foreign players to the forefront of the NBA top players conversation?