As practice gyms remain dark and abandoned, droves of NBA players are headed all over the planet to fine-tune their skills. European teams are champing at the bit as Americans have finally arrived to wow audiences overseas. With players from everywhere invading today’s NBA, the transition for these athletes should be seamless. However, it wasn’t so long ago that finding a foreign player on an NBA court was well, downright foreign. Over the past 20 years, the NBA has seen a mass influx of international stars, and this team is a compilation of the best.
Point Guard: Steve Nash (1996-Present)
Perhaps one of the more underrated players of all time, South African born but Canadian raised Steve Nash was drafted into the NBA in 1996. After riding the pine behind greats such as Kevin Johnson, Sam Cassell and Jason Kidd for two years in Phoenix, Nash was traded to Dallas. In 2000, Nash took the reigns as the Mavs’ primary playmaker and never looked back. Although things for Nash couldn’t work out in Dallas financially, he brought his pass-first mentality to Phoenix where with the aid of Mike D’Antoni‘s prolific offense, won two MVPs. He currently ranks sixth on the all-time assists list with a few years of good basketball left in him.
Honorable Mention: Tony Parker
Shooting Guard: Manu Ginobili (2002-Present)
Manu Ginobili was an afterthought of the 1999 NBA Draft when the Spurs selected him with the 57th overall pick. However, the crafty lefty would soon become a key cog to numerous championship titles. After honing his skills in both Argentina and Italy until 2002, Ginobili had a frustrating start to his rookie year between injuries and fighting for minutes with Steve Smith. There was some room for improvement, as there always is in the NBA, but towards the end of his rookie season Manu showed a lot of promise. He took many by surprise during the playoffs helping guide the Spurs to their second championship in franchise history. Two years later, Manu averaged 20 points per game in the postseason as the Spurs raised yet another championship banner. Despite not winning another championship since, his matador defense and all around hustle has earned Ginobili the title of best international shooting guard.
Honorable Mention: Drazen Petrovic
Small Forward: Dominique Wilkins (1982-1999)
Dominique Wilkins wins the starting small forward spot on the technicality that he was born in France while his father was in the military. However, this does not take away from the highlight film of a career that he had. Despite never even making it out of the second round of the playoffs, Wilkins produced dunks so electrifying that you would have to pinch yourself to believe that they were real. When the dunk contest was at its best, Wilkins vs. Jordan was the most anticipated matchup to see, with ‘Nique bringing home the hardware twice. He was a scoring champion at 30.3 points per game in 1985-86, a nine-time All-Star, and in 2006 was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Although never a champion, he will forever be known as “The Human Highlight Film.”
Honorable Mention: Peja Stojakovic, Hedo Turkoglu, Toni Kukoc
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki (1998-Present)
With one of the most infamous Draft Day trades ever, the Bucks traded a little known German named Dirk Nowitzki to Dallas for Michigan product Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The rest is history. Solidifying his Hall of Fame career with a ring, Dirk is currently the face of all international athletes in the NBA. Despite playing his first NBA game as a 20-year-old, Nowitzki fared well for himself even though Dallas struggled. For his career, Dirk has made 10 All-Star teams, won an MVP, a Finals MVP, and secured that elusive championship ring, with still years to improve.
Honorable Mention: Pau Gasol
Center: Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-2002)
For someone to be selected over the G.O.A.T., you better pan out. Hakeem Olajuwon, a Nigerian native, did more than that. With the best footwork man has ever scene, Olajuwon became one of the best centers to ever play the game. Although he gets lost in between the Wilt Chamberlains and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars of the world, Olajuwon quietly built a resume of one of the best centers of all time. The Hall of Famer was a 12-time All-Star, MVP, Olympic gold medalist, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Award winner. With a career average of 3.1 blocks per game to go along with his artful post game, Olajuwon will never be forgotten.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Ewing, Arvydas Sabonis
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