Giannis, Luka, KP, leading wave of foreign players

David Silverstein, Contributing Writer

Foreign players are making their mark on the NBA. When the NBA was created in 1946, there were no players from out- side the U.S.. However, in the past thirty years, the number of foreign players has skyrocketed. At the start of the 1991-92 season, there were 23 international players in the NBA. By the start of the 2016- 17 season, the number of foreign players had increased to 113 from 41 different countries. Today, according to Business Insider, foreign players make up about 25% of the league.

Elite foreign players who paved the way for the modern era of international players include superstars like Dirk Now- itzki, Vlade Divac, Detlef Schrempf, and Arvydas Sabonis. All of these players came from Europe, the leading source for up-and-coming NBA stars.

One such up-and-comer is Kristaps Porzingis, the 7’3” power forward from Latvia. He is actually one of two Latvian players in the NBA. Davis Bertans, of the Washington Wizards, is the other. Porzin- gis was drafted fourth overall in the 2015 draft by the New York Knicks. After a season-ending injury, he was traded last year to the Dallas Mavericks in January 2019. This season, Porzingis is averaging 16.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

“Kristaps Porzingis is showing that foreigners deserve a chance to play in the NBA. Porzingis is very dominant on the court and a great role model for other foreigners who want to play in the NBA,” said freshman Mikey Capabionco.

At 7’3”, Porzingis’ skills are unique: he can shoot three pointers, back down smaller players in the post, rebound, and drive the basketball from outside.  Porzingis’ teammate on the Dallas Mavericks, 20-year-old Luka Doncic, is having an outstanding sophomore season. According to Basketball Refer- ence, Luka is third in the MVP race at this point in the season, trailing only last year’s MVP Giannis Antetekounmpo, another European, and LeBron James.

“Doncic has filled Dirk Nowitski’s shoes and is in the MVP conversation. He is not only scoring tons of points, but making each of his teammates around him better. I think that it is remarkable how the Mavericks are the three seed considering the sheer lack of talent around the roster,” said freshman Sam Rothenberg.

Doncic grew up playing basketball outside of the United States in Slovenia. According to Mike Schmitz, an ESPN journalist, when Doncic was eight years old, his coach moved him up to the 13-year-old team because he was so domi- nant. Doncic signed a five year deal with Real Madrid at the age of 13 and showed overseas for the next few years. He entered the NBA draft in 2018 and was taken third by the Atlanta Hawks, before being traded to the Mavericks. He won the Rookie of the Year award last year and is continuing to dominate opponents. Doncic is proof that Europeans players can not only com- pete but also excel in the NBA.

Nicknamed the “Greek Freak,” Giannis Antetokounmpo is perhaps the best European player in the NBA. Last season, he won the MVP award over James Harden.

“Antetokounmpo playing in the NBA will play a big factor in the increase in the number of Europeans in the NBA. He is an outstanding player and people want to live up to his expectations,” said freshman Ryan Epstein.

Antetokounmpo’s life wasn’t always this glamorous. Growing up poor in the city of Athens, Greece, he trained multiple times a day for two years before being selected to play on an elite youth team. On draft night in 2013, Antetekounmpo had to hitch a ride with a fan because he did not have a car. He sent his first paycheck to his family in Greece and continues to give back to his home country.

Every year, NBA teams scout players all over Europe looking for the next Porzingis, Doncic, and Antetokounmpo. Amaz- ingly, despite these players’ great successes, European players’ fitness for the NBA is still questioned, with doubts being raised about their physical abilities and lack of “real competition.”

Eventually, these questions will disappear. Like Porzingis, Doncic, and Antetokounmpo, there will be more legends from all over the world who were doubted, but were also able to prove the skeptics wrong. The day may soon come when there are more foreign players in the NBA than there are players from the country where the game of basketball was born.