GRAPHIC BY DENISE THUONG
By JACOB RAMOS
The new generation of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars is here, finally.
After years of being dominated by American stars such as Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, the league is transitioning, both personally and culturally.
American stars still rule the game, as both up and coming and bonafide stars from our country are plentiful. Players such as Trae Young, James Harden and Karl-Anthony Towns get better with each passing season and contribute to the fairly American demographic within the NBA. Despite this, the league has definitely seen an increase in international players over the past 30 years with notable athletes including Dirk Nowitzki, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac.
The game has never been led by a group of young international stars, but all of this and more have changed with the arrival of the new generation of NBA talent.
In the past decade, there has been a subtle trend in NBA drafts. In a typical instance of recruitment, a prospect is stashed away in their home country, playing out a professional contract signed as early as age 14 to play in their country’s version of the NBA. This continues until deemed fit for the league and thus sent to the states to begin their contract with the team that drafted them, sometimes as long as four years later. One of the notable young stars in the league, Dario Šarić of the Phoenix Suns, took this path to America, and the NBA.
In 2018, the NBA reported an astounding 108 international players, ranging from 42 different countries and territories. This number is expected to grow exponentially with time, especially as more players are drawn from their stashes.
Although, not all stellar players are the products of stashed drafts. Luka Doncic, the second year swingman from Slovenia, is lighting up scoreboards and is well on the way to leading the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs. Doncic was traded to the Mavericks on draft night and came over quickly from his EuroLeague team, rather than being stashed for years in Europe.
Without a doubt, Doncic’s talents deserve every bit of praise they have received and he surely owes a sizable amount of success he received in his home country. From the age of sixteen, Doncic played for Real Madrid for three years in the EuroLeague. In this short time, Doncic improved rapidly, earning multiple awards unheard of for a player of his age.
Plenty of critics have continued to denounce aspects of his game, specifically his speed and physical readiness for the NBA game. In fact, many naive scouts have also attempted to claim Doncic’s game would not translate to the NBA, as the European basketball mindset is extremely different from the NBA’s.
However, what critics continuously fail to realize about foreign born players transitioning to the NBA is that the vast majority of them have already have level of professional experience. If young players have not played professionally, it is likely they have substantial experience against older competition.
Now, Doncic is a shoo-in to be an all-star, is an MVP candidate and has captured the hearts of NBA fans around the world with his dazzling step-backs and clutch shots.
Another foreign player who is racking up points and accolades is Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis is already regarded as a top three player by nearly the entire NBA community, including fans, players and coaches.
Moving past a modest start to his NBA career, Giannis exploded in the 2019 NBA season, nearly averaged a triple-double, bringing fame and an Eastern Conference Finals berth to his team.
Giannis’ explosion may be lacking in shooting, a necessary component of nearly any all-star’s repertoire, but his sheer athleticism and god given talents allow him to muscle through defenders and entire teams alike.
Giannis’ heritage has played a large part in his image, as well as the league’s image.
For example, he has been deemed “The Greek Freak,” based off of his otherworldly talents and athleticism.
As for NBA basketball, it has benefited greatly from worldwide exposure, something that has not started with Giannis, but definitely was pushed further due to his strong Greek roots.
Giannis and Doncic may be the brightest young foreign stars in the NBA, but they definitely are not the only ones. African born Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Kristaps Porzingis of the Dallas Mavericks both are constantly putting up numbers and leading their teams to wins. Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, Kyrie Irving, Marc and Pau Gasol, you name it.
Dear Lebron James, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant: You may have the NBA world now, but these foreign stars will soon rule the court.