When it comes to scouting basketball talent over international waters, no one’s been more successful than the San Antonio Spurs. From going deep in the second round to find future Hall-of-Famers to making key trades, they have become home to some of the best foreign-born players the league has ever seen.
Overall, 42 players born outside of the United States have signed with the Spurs at some point since they were established in 1973. Some have spent mere minutes seeing time on the court while others spent over a decade donning the Silver and Black.
Ranking 42 players is undoubtedly a tall order that will have plenty of people questioning some placements on the list, so let’s first establish the criteria of these rankings.
Statistics and overall impact on the Spurs will be the most important things being considered for this list. An important detail regarding this is that overall NBA career isn’t being taken that much into account, just their careers as a Spur (sorry, Dominique Wilkins).
Statistics certainly aren’t the end-all, be-all, though, as important playoff performances and place in San Antonio lore can also bump certain guys up.
Two things before jumping into the list: It’s important to note that the U.S. Virgin Islands are a territory of the United States, so one obvious choice will not be here. Secondly, Croatian-born Luka Samanic was just drafted and has only seen the court for 12 minutes as a Spur, so he’ll also be omitted from the rankings.
Without further adieu, let’s jump into number 41:
41. Alex Garcia (Brazil) – 13 min played, 3 total points
While he’s had a great career internationally, Alex Garcia never quite made an impact in the NBA. Signed by the Spurs for the 2003-04 season, the 6-3 guard’s only made baskets were a single field goal and free throw in a January game against the Washington Wizards.
Garcia showed up in eight games for the New Orleans Hornets the following season before returning to international play.
40. Mengke Bateer (China) – 0.8 PPG, 0.8 REB
Funnily enough, Mengke Bateer’s translator was probably the most memorable part of his tenure with the 2003 NBA champion Spurs. I can still see him excitedly jumping around after big plays, glasses nearly flying off.
As for Bateer himself, he essentially became the Spurs’ victory cigar that season. When Mengke was in the game, you knew it was garbage time. He finished his Spurs career with nine total points, making 4-of-17 attempts from the field.
39. Pops Mensah-Bonsu (U.K.) – 3 games played, 20 min total
There was a brief moment in time that Pops Mensah-Bonsu seemed like he was going to be something special. Through eight games with the Austin Toros in the 2008-09 season, the 6-9 Brit averaged a staggering 26.6 points and 13 rebounds per game.
While he impressed with an 11-point, six rebound performance against the Cavaliers in his second game with San Antonio, Pops was released after just three games and signed by the Toronto Raptors two days later.
38. Uwe Blab (Germany) – 2.1 PPG, 7 total games played
He definitely has one of the most fun names to say in the NBA, but Uwe Blab’s time in San Antonio was short-lived. Blab was a Dallas Maverick for four seasons before ending up on the Warriors and Spurs in his final season in 1989-90.
Blab was a 7-1 center that never quite panned out in the league, averaging two points per game for all three teams he played for. After just seven games with the Spurs, Blab finished his basketball career in Italy and Germany, retiring in 1993.
37. Chris Welp (Germany) – 1.2 PPG, 0.9 REB
This one is definitely a deep cut. Chris Welp spent 109 total games in the NBA over four seasons, with just 13 of those being with the San Antonio Spurs.
The seven-foot center from Delmenhorst spent most of his time with the Philadelphia 76ers from 1987-89, averaging 3.6 points in 82 games. In San Antonio, Welp averaged 4.3 minutes per game and scored 15 total points in 13 games before moving onto the Golden State Warriors.
36. Donatas Motiejunas (Lithuania) – 13 min, 6 total points
Although Donatas Motiejunas had a successful few years in the league, the majority of that was with another Texas team, the Houston Rockets. The seven-foot lefty spent four seasons in H-Town, averaging 12 points per game in the 2014-15 season.
After playing sparingly for the New Orleans Pelicans in 2017, Motiejunas didn’t see NBA action again until the Spurs signed him in April 2019. Donatas’ biggest contribution for the Spurs was his seven-point outing in Game 4 of the first round of the 2019 playoffs against the Denver Nuggets.
Ultimately, a higher offer from the Shanghai Sharks lured Motiejunas away from re-signing with the Spurs.
35. Julius Nwosu (Nigeria) – 1.3 PPG, 1.0 REB
I’d be hard-pressed to pick Julius Nwosu out of a lineup, but once upon a time in 1995, he showed up in 23 games for the Spurs. Those were the only games he would ever play in the league, as he would go on to play with CSKA Moscow and win the Russian league title the next year.
Nwosu scored 31 points in 23 games for San Antonio, even making two brief playoff appearances against the Nuggets and Rockets.
34. Shane Heal (Australia) – 3.7 PPG, 6 total games played
The first of three Aussies on this list, Shane Heal’s time with the Spurs was too short-lived to really assess his effect. The 6-foot point guard had an impressive debut against the Knicks in 2003, finishing with 11 points on 2-of-5 from beyond the arc.
He got spot minutes for the six days following that performance but ultimately fell out of the rotation (and the NBA), with his last game being in November 2003.
33. Joel Anthony (Canada) – 1.3 PPG, 1.6 REB
Joel Anthony was a solid bench player in the NBA that was able to enjoy two championships with the Miami Heat. By the time he joined the Spurs, however, he was 34 and on his last legs.
Like everyone before him on this list, Anthony only received garbage-time minutes, for the most part, playing just 6.4 minutes per game over a 19-game stretch. Joel retired with the Spurs after the 2017 season at age 34.
32. Žarko Paspalj (Montenegro) – 2.6 PPG, 1.1 REB
Seven years before winning a silver medal with Yugoslavia in 1996, Žarko Paspalj had a stint with the Silver and Black. The 6-8 forward from Montenegro showed up in 18 total games from 1989-90, all with San Antonio.
Paspalj mostly played garbage-time minutes, as Sean Elliott was getting the bulk of the minutes at his position as a rookie. One amusing story about Žarko: The Spurs once sent him to see a hypnotist to help kick his smoking habit, since he would sometimes smoke up to three packs a day.
Needless to say, Paspalj didn’t last long in San Antonio, heading back overseas after just 28 games.
31. Andrew Gaze (Australia) – 1.1 PPG, 58 total min played
Alright, so Andrew Gaze didn’t exactly play a lot, but his reputation of being the greatest Australian-league player ever paired with him being a part of the 1999 title team bumps him up a bit.
The 6-7 guard averaged just three minutes per game with the Silver and Black, with his highest output being a six-point game against the Clippers on 2-of-4 shooting from downtown.
Just to give you an idea of his greatness in Australia, however: The NBL MVP award is currently named after Andrew Gaze, as well as the Australian International Player of the Year award.
Up next, numbers 30-21 on the list, which will have some names that are a lot more recognizable.