NBA / Sep 9, 2011 / 12:00 pm

The All-NBA Starting Five: Foreign-Born Player Edition

Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki (photo. Monte Isom)

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

What do you think?

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  • north

    Listen, I love ‘Nique, but he shouldn’t be on this list. If you played for the US National team you shouldn’t be on this list.
    Where are Rik Smits and Detlef Schrempf? Yet again an article written by someone who just started watching basketball in 2001.

  • Joe’s Momma

    Nique being born on a military base means he was technically born in the USA.

    Good list. But Detlef definetly needs to get a shout out over Turkododo.

  • JDish

    This is a great article but I have to agree on one thing though with “north” blogger, I don’t think Dominique Wilkens belongs on this squad. I felt kinda confused that he’s mentioned on this list if he played for the US national team, that would disqualify him from this squad.

    And truly, where is Detlef Schrempf? He was a great foreign player, and I’ve read that he’s like a pioneer for the foreign NBA basketball players.

  • Pete

    Got to agree with North. Nique was born outside American borders, but he was still an American citizen. Kukoc deserves that spot. Hedo Turkoglu and Peja as honorable mentions?!?! What about Detlef Schrempf, or Kirilenko? Might as well add Luc Longley and Rasho Nesterovic on there too.


    Same argument can be said for Timmy.

  • http://youare.com Willis

    Vlade should have made the hon mention list for center.

  • S.bucketz

    “Euro teams are CHAMPING at the bit”…”with the best footwork man has ever SCENE”…?????seriously dude…r u foreign too cuz u sure as shit type like it

  • Promoman

    Detlef definitely deserved a spot. Until Dirk came along, he was the best Germany ever produced. Sabonis could’ve grabbed the center spot if he came into the league in his prime. Kirilenko needed mentioning too as does Sarunas Marciulionis.

  • MadSammyboy

    “Perhaps one of the more underrated players of all time…”

    Right, because a guy (Nash) who has two MVP trophies can only be accurately described as ‘underrated’.

    “With the best footwork man has ever scene…”

    Is Kevin Smith a professional writer? If so, this may be the first time in history a PROFESSIONAL WRITER has confused the words ‘seen’ and ‘scene’.


    Yeah, right now, federal law doesn’t recognize persons born in the US Virgin Islands as American citizens (though they are granted citizens’ rights), but I wonder if the law was the same when Timmy was born. Obviously, if Timmy wasn’t born with citizenship, he takes Dirk’s spot on this list.

  • JD

    wheres Deke?

  • Aleks Kaludjerovic


  • Aleks Kaludjerovic

    everyone who played for usa shouldnt count and detelf should be in too, Vlade had the best nba career of any foreign born center. Sabonis just didnt play long enough.

  • Aleks Kaludjerovic

    No players that played for USA should coun’t. Detelf should be honerable mention atleast or maybe even greatest foreign sf with peja battling for the spot. And Vlade definitively is the greatest foreign NBA center. Better than Sabonis cause of the longevity and impact his career had in the NBA. Sabonis may have been better in his prime (arguably) but he didn’t play in the NBA than.

  • Pdub

    Kirilenko has no business on this list whatsoever. It was right for him to be left off the list. He has been nothing but extremely overrated his whole career.
    And Peja does deserve his honorable mention don’t forget he was on an all nba team and avg 25 a game.
    Shout out to Dirk and finally gettin my mavs our first title. Legooo


    The All NBA Starting Five: Foreign Born Players…

    Starting SF Dominique Wilkins.

    No: Luis Scola, Andrew Bogut, Nene Hilario, Yao Ming, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Vlade Divac, Rick Fox, Mike D’Antoni, Detlef Schrempf?

    Good job your starting five included two people who played for Team USA though, otherwise it might’ve been embarrassing.

    (I know Ewing WAS born in Jamaica but IMO if you become a US Citizen you surrender all rights to be included on lists like this)

    Also Andrei Kirilenko mos def belongs on this list.

  • Arno

    IMO, citizenship doesn’t mean much. What is more interesting is: where did you learn to play ball?
    Nowitski or Parker learned in Europe and Yao in China, for instance. Schrempf went to college en the US. And Wilkins or Duncan are American.

  • snook

    “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.”

    – 20ppg/playoffs was ’05. won again ’07

  • cesar



    Sam Cassell. Dude’s from Mars. Born and bred.

  • Kevin K

    100% agreed with EN FUEGO ^