The NBA has never had so many international basketball players

The strongest basketball league in the world has never had such a high percentage of foreign or international players. Many would agree that, at the moment, the best NBA basketball players are coming from outside the United States.

The rise of international basketball in the NBA

Let’s go back in time for a moment, to when Hakeem Olajuwon was the first player selected in the 1984 draft. It was the first time in history that the NBA had selected a basketball player from outside its borders. It would be safe to say that the Houston Rockets also had the league’s first international superstar, paving the way for players from African countries – Dikembe Mutombo and Joel Embiid.

A few years later the NBA became even more open and international. Yugoslav stars Toni Kukoč, Dražen Petrović, Vlade Divac, Dino Rađa and Peja Stojaković arrived. Later came Arvydas Sabonis, and let’s not forget Marko Milic, who was the first Slovenian to be selected in 1997 draft as the 33rd overall pick.

Basketball was becoming more and more international and popular (of course, American basketball with its stars had a big influence). At the beginning of the new century, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Yao Ming, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Steve Nash became the real stars. Unfortunately, this era was also marked by a few misguided picks of European or international basketball players. Confidence in international prospects has declined somewhat, but that did not mean that NBA teams did not dare to take risks. In the last decade alone, 37 non-US basketball players have been selected in the draft (1st to 14th overall).

Today, the NBA is more international than ever

Before the start of the season, the NBA announced that 120 basketball players from 40 countries around the world have joined the league’s teams. Canada (22), Australia (10) and Nigeria (5) set records. Each of the league’s 30 teams has at least one international player, a true indicator of the international spread of basketball.

It is worth noting that there are a number of basketball players who share US citizenship. These are Kyrie Irving, Bam Adebayo, Matisse Thybulle, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jalen Green, but they are not included in this list.

Many would agree that the best NBA basketball players are the ones who don’t come from the USA. These are, of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokić, Joel Embiid and Luka Dončić. So what is it about the NBA that makes it the most widespread league in history?

  • Last season, Jokic, Embiid and Giannis were in the top three spots for MVP
  • There are three sets of brothers (Hernangomez, Antetokounmpo and Wagner) from Europe playing in the NBA
  • Giannis and Jokic have won the last four MVP titles
  • Doncic, Embiid and Giannis ranked in the top three in the annual NBA GM Survey
  • There are currently 14 international basketball players who have played in the NBA All-Star game

At least 5 international basketball players have been selected to play in the All-NBA Team since the 2018-19 season

Teams with the most international basketball players

The Toronto Raptors have the highest number of international players, with 8 international players on their team. The Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks follow with seven players each. The Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder are next with six players each.

Next season, the number of international basketball players will increase even more. Even if that will not be the case, the French up-and-comer Victor Wembanyama will almost certainly go down in NBA history as the new No.1 international pick.