NBA … Going, Going, Global

By Darrell Harris

Hard to believe as it is, there is still a strong contingent of basketball fans not yet abreast with Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. Every season, NBA General Managers are given a poll asking who’s the one player they’d start a franchise with. The winner this year – no surprise, it was Giannis. The Bucks also lay claim to the best record in basketball.

Somehow, he’s still merely “the Greek Freak” to many. It’s as if the casual NBA fan still wears a lens that shows a domestic league featuring a couple unique international talents. Incorrect. The NBA is now the Premiere league of basketball, showcasing the world’s best talents from what has become a global sport.

On opening night for the 2018-19 season, the league’s 30 rosters comprised 108 international players representing a record-tying 42 countries and territories. In a league of 494 players, the ratio is equivalent to an international player in almost every starting lineup.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of 65 European players in the league today, is unequivocally dominating the league. On a nightly basis Giannis showcases an overbearing skillset combining his strength, length, and all-around competitiveness. His stats are eye-popping and he leads the league with a player efficiency rating (PER) of 30.79 – if any stat indicates you are the best, it’s PER. For context, the Greek Freak earned Shaquille O’Neal’s blessing to use his “Superman” moniker.

Giannis at age 24: 27.5 ppg | 12.7 REB | 6.0 AST | 58 FG%  

Shaq at age 24: 26.2 PPG | 12.5 REB | 3.1 AST | 55.7 FG%

Jokic mismatched against smaller Stephen Curry. (AAron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post)

 

Giannis is not at all alone in the international showcase taking place this year. Denver Nuggets Center Nikola Jokic has established himself as an MVP candidate as well. The Serbian 7-footer has anchored the Nuggets, leading them statistically in points, rebounds, and assists. More impressively, the Joker’s Nuggets have a chance at stealing the number one seed in the west – a position the Warriors haven’t relinquished in years.

NBA legend and basketball soothsayer Bill Walton said it best, “He’s a beautiful player who plays a mental game. He has what seems to have been lost in the world, which is peripheral vision.” Gotta love Bill.

 

Then there’s rookie sensation Luka Doncic, Luka Legend!

Much of Luka’s rookie season has been unprecedented. The Slovenian baller has demonstrated a position-less approach in the way he plays that is simply puzzling. You see everything from this kid – flashes of elite athleticism, ball handling wizardry, laser-like passes, game winners, Dragon Ball-Z custom kicks, a half-sleeve tattoo, and a filthy bag of stepback jumpers. Tuesday night, he messed around and got a triple double (a record seventh for players U21). All this, and he just celebrated his 20th birthday four weeks ago. Impressive, indeed.

The future of basketball might be brightest in Dallas, Texas. When you consider that Luka is yet to be joined by his soon to be running mate, 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better young core in all of basketball.

 

The two squared off in a EuroBasket final in September 2017, in what was a great contest.

 

Basketball Without Borders

The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) along with the NBA made a groundbreaking announcement in February. Beginning January 2020, the Basketball Africa League will come to fruition. This cross-continental league will consist of teams coming from Egypt, Angola, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco, Senegal, and more. Existing pro teams will vie for spots in the league through qualification tournaments.

We know one person who’s already announced their involvement with the league – former President and basketball fan alike Barack Obama.

BWB Asia 2016 campers with NBA players and personnel

These efforts towards globalization were preceded by the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program, Basketball Without Borders. The goal of BWB is to unite global fans of the sport, develop international talent, and enrich the communities they are planted in. Over 55 past Basketball Without Borders participants have been drafted and/or signed since 2011 alone. Currently 26 such players are on NBA rosters, including Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Jamal Murray (Croatia), Dragan Bender (Croatia), and last year’s No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton (Bahamas).

 

COUNTRY
PLAYERS IN NBA
CANADA
11
AUSTRALIA / FRANCE
9
SPAIN
7
GERMANY
6
CROATIA / SERBIA / TURKEY
5

 

What’s neat about this upward international trend, is that it coincides with the decline of some of the best international careers we’ve seen. Names that come to mind are Frenchman Tony Parker, Argentine and Olympic gold medalist Manu Ginobili, and German fade-away extraordinaire Dirk Nowitzki. As these legends say goodbye, a new wave of hungry international talent is ready to take the league by storm.

The progress made the past two decades has been exponential. In another twenty years, who’s to say that basketball can’t eclipse soccer as the number one sport the world?

 

 

1 Response

  1. This article was a great depiction at how the NBA has expanded and continues to expand internationally. Basketball Without Borders, was the section that stood out the most to me since it not only presented new information but also sheds light on the NBA’s execution on their continuation of globalization. Good work D, looking forward to more works! – Ivy Rose

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.