The Impact of International Players on the NBA

If he’s alive today, James Naismith must have been surprised by his creation’s huge impact when he invented basketball at Springfield College in Massachusetts in 1891.

The game’s development has not only grown in leaps and bounds but has also attracted players anywhere around the globe.

 Since its inception, basketball has become the biggest sport on the planet. The entrance of players from various corners of the globe also brought much attention and hype to the game.

The game’s popularity also paved the way for the equally famous National Basketball Association (NBA) players around the world. This professional basketball league for male players is comprised of some 30 rival teams across the United States and Canada.

Today, the players are not only coming from America but also include those known players born outside the United States and its territories abroad, and, yes, from the European nations.

According to Statista, some 21.8 percent of NBA players came were classified as international players, based on its 2020 study.

In the 2019 to 2020 season alone, some 108 international players from 38 nations and territories joined the NBA teams for the opening night of the games.

“This will be the sixth year that there are at least 100 international players in the league,” said Philip Song, of Samford University, in his research. In the said season, there were 20 players from Canada, and nine players from Australia and France, respectively.

“The increase of international players even caused the spark of the updated format of the Rising Stars Game in 2015 from Rookies vs. Sophomores to USA vs. World,” he added.

Based on the recent data, the Dallas Mavericks have the biggest number of international players, with seven. This was followed by the Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns, with seven international players. On the other hand, at least five players are part of the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards, Memphis Grizzlies, and Sacramento Kings.

In the 2018-2019 season, at least four out of the five player awards were garnered by an international player.

Gianna Antetokounmpo from Greece bagged the Most Valuable Player, Luka Doncic from Slovenia got the Rookie of the Year, Pascal Siakam from Cameroon was awarded Most Improved Player, and Rudy Gobert from France earned the  Defensive Player of the Year award.

“It is interesting to see how the league is so diverse and how the game is reaching to different parts of the world,” Song said.

“This gives motivation for people across the world to pursue their basketball dreams and lets them know that there is an opportunity for them no matter where they are,” the renowned researcher added.

Some interesting insights on the coming of international players into the NBA

Troy Justice, the NBA Vice President and Head of International Basketball Development, shared some valuable insights on the impact of international players joining the NBA. He also talked about agents who discovered these international players quickly in today’s situation in basketball sports.

In his talk with Basketball News, Troy came up with some interesting insights on how all these international stars have contributed to the globalization initiative of the NBA.

“Thirty years ago, when we really started digging in and investing in the international landscape from the NBA side, there were only 23 international players,” Justice said.

“Now, we have 121. [That’s] incredible growth over that period of time. And to be real honest, I think we’re only scratching the surface in terms of not only talent identification but just the development of the game globally. So, it’s amazing,” the NBA official added.

Since the mission statement of the NBA is “to inspire and connect people everywhere through the power of basketball,” the coming of international players in the NBA is a strong testament of this.

The impact of this phenomenon is that it drives the players in other countries to have a “can-do attitude” in the basketball field.

“That’s exactly what’s happening. The next generation watched the previous generation and because of that, they said, ‘I can do it!’ Like, ‘Somebody else has done it, and look where they came from, look at their path, and nothing can hold me back,” he said.

“If I put my mind to it and work hard, I can do it too.’ And so that inspiration is what I think has created this legacy and also this new amazing level of stars that we’re experiencing. We’re really at an all-time high from an international perspective,” Justice added.

According to the NBA executive, it is now easier to spot NBA drafts outside the United States compared to 20 to 30 years ago.

Following the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders and NBA Academy programs, players outside America can easily join the events and be discovered after that.

“Those types of things are just making it more convenient,” Justice said.

Another best thing that is happening in the NBA with the entrance of the international players is that it shattered the bad impression and misconceptions or stereotypes that these players are “soft” or that they deserve to go because they are not just good in the game.

“And these are young stars! What’s amazing is these MVPs are not veteran players. These are young, talented players. When you are looking at the 121 international players, I mean, a large majority of them are young, hungry, growing players who are learning and reaching new heights,” Justice added.

The Bottomline

With the globalization of the NBA, there is no problem today with the coming of international players to the game. NBA is all about the basketball game. It is never about colors or countries, or race. Everything about NBA is the sheer love and fun of the basketball sport. Thus, the future of the game is not only confined to America, where basketball was first invented. Playing a game is a universal thing. In this manner, it must be open to everyone, wherever or whoever they are, as long as they qualify in the draft, play strong, and do excellently on the basketball court.