“With the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select Giannis Antetokounmpo.” These were the words of the late David Stern introducing the world to a 19-year-old prodigy from Athens. Who would’ve thought six years later he’d be an MVP and the face of the NBA?
The NBA’s transition from a primarily U.S. sport to one of the more popular global sports around the world did not just happen overnight.
The first international professional basketball player was Henry Biasatti, who was born in Italy. Biasatti played for the Toronto Huskies in 1946 and never became an established player in what was then the BBA.
The first international superstar who was drafted was a kid by the name of Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem “The Dream’’ Olajuwon emigrated from Nigeria and moved to Texas to play collegiately at the University of Houston.
David Stern became the NBA commissioner in 1984, coincidentally the same year Hakeem Olajuwon was drafted. After 1984, an influx of international superstars emerged.
Some of the names include Detlef Schrempf and Manute Bol, who were both drafted in 1985, Toni Kukoc, who was drafted in 1990, Dikembe Mutombo, who was drafted in 1991 and many other great international superstars.
David Stern had a vision to make the NBA a global phenomenon, and he truly reached his goal. Fast forward to this 2019-20 season. According to NBA.com 108 players from 38 different countries were on opening day rosters. This is going to continue to skyrocket year after year.
In the 2019 NBA draft, numerous international players were drafted with one of the highlights of the draft going to Rui Hachimura, who was the first Japanese player ever taken in the first round. Sekou Doumbouya, who was drafted 15th by the Detroit Pistons, also followed in the footsteps of many great French players in the NBA today.
This is truly unbelievable! Just 25 years ago, there were only 24 international players in the NBA, now the league is dominated by superstars from countless different countries around the world.
The NBA in 2020 is dominated by international superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic. They all even made the All-Star Game this season, so this goes to show the international influence of today’s NBA.
During the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, the U.S. didn’t even place in the top five. Spain ultimately took first with their team consisting of solid NBA talent like Ricky Rubio, the Gasol brothers and many others.
The amount of international players in the NBA is truly good for the game of baseketball. Players from the U.S. also turned the NBA into a global game. Players like the late Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Steph Curry and Lebron James inspired kids all over the world to want to get involved in the game of basketball and in the NBA.
Kobe’s impact on the game of basketball throughout the world was shown after his tragic death. Murals were painted all around the world from the Philippines to outside the Staples Center in L.A. almost immediately. The French sports minister, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. also tweeted their condolences.
Both David Stern and Kobe Bryant would be proud of all they have and will accomplish with their vision of an international NBA.