On an international level, there may be no other game more dominated by the US than basketball. Baseball and American football don’t count as much because they’re played by a much more limited number of countries. But basketball is popular all over the world. However, the US national team has won almost every Olympics and the NBA is the world’s premium domestic league.
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of international stars featuring in the NBA. Today we’re going to take a look at 30 of the best foreign players to feature in the league. Some of these men are pioneers for the athletes who came after them, while others are young and exciting players from a new generation. Can any country shatter the US dominance of the court? Well, they’ll be looking to some of these international superstars for inspiration. Check out our list below.
30. Luol Deng
Deng fled his native South Sudan with his family as a child and settled in the UK. Eventually, he made it all the way to the NBA after a scholarship took him to the US. Then the Chicago Bulls drafted him and he stayed in the Windy City for 10 years. Consequently, he went on to become one of the NBA’s best African players.
An NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2005, Deng started out very well. The two-time All-Star is a Bulls legend. They even signed him to a one-day contract in 2019 so that he could retire in Chicago. As well as playing for the Bulls, Gasol also featured for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the LA Lakers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It’s fair to call Gasol Toronto’s favorite Spaniard. The towering Barcelona native played an immense role in the Raptors’ 2019 NBA Championship victory. It was a long time coming for the man they call ‘The Big Burrito.’ Over the past six years, he’s been one of the best defensive players in the league.
Certainly, Gasol’s statistics are fantastic. He was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. When you add in the fact that he’s a three-time All-Star and a two-time All-NBA Team member, it’s clear how good he is. Gasol has undoubtedly emerged from his brother Pau’s shadow.
Delfino holds dual Italian and Argentinian citizenship. He was part of the Argentinian side that shocked the world by winning gold in the 2004 Olympics, briefly ending the US’s run of dominance. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the first round, he was also the first Argentinian to achieve this feat.
Occupying the small forward role, Delfino is a real journeyman, playing in five different countries. The 2007–08 season was his most productive in the NBA, as he averaged 9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game during the regular season. That’s not half bad.
One of the tallest players in the NBA, Porzingist stands an insane 7′ 3″ tall. The Latvian usually plays as a power forward or in the center. After four successful years in Spain with Seville, he moved to the NBA with the New York Knicks. Subsequently, he’s one of the division’s best players.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses for Porzingis. He moved to the Dallas Mavericks in 2019 after a well-documented fallout with Knicks management. Consequently, he’s a pariah amongst fans of the New York side. He probably shouldn’t come back to the Big Apple anytime soon. We don’t think the All-Star will mind too much.
So far, Thompson is a one-club man. Drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011, the Canadian international is one of the NBA’s longest-serving players. A power forward, he’s played a massive role for the Ohio franchise in recent years. He helped them to the 2016 NBA Championship.
Thompson is one of the NBA’s best rebounders because of his high energy and intensity. However, his private life has become public knowledge. The Canadian is notorious for cheating on Khloe Kardashian during her pregnancy. You win some and you lose some.
Turkey’s Turkoglu had a nomadic NBA career. He played for six teams over the course of 15 seasons in the world’s premier basketball competition. The Turk was the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2008. Then he helped the Orlando Magic to the NBA Final in 2009.
As well as playing in the NBA, Turkoglu has represented his country with success. Hence, he helped Turkey to silver medals at the EuroBasket in 2009 and the FIBA World Championships in 2010. Finally, he currently serves as President of the Turkish Basketball Federation.
This Argentine veteran’s NBA career lasted for over 10 seasons. After making a name for himself in Spain, Scola attracted the attention of NBA scouts. In 2007, the Houston Rockets drafted the promising power forward. It was a good decision, as he made the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Scola definitely isn’t the most famous international player to appear in the division, but he definitely enjoyed a stable career. He also played for the Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, as well as several other NBA teams. The Olympic gold medalist is currently playing in Italy’s top division.
Petrovic tragically died in a car crash at the young age of 28. But make no mistake, this man was a genius on the court. The Croatian star played a crucial role in inspiring European players to come to the NBA. After spending a couple of seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers, he moved to the New Jersey Nets.
It was with the Nets that he evolved into one of the best shooting guards in the league. In his third season, he was scoring an average of 22.3 ppg. That was one of the best averages in the NBA. His healing ability was also the source of renown. Doctors once ruled him out for two months with a knee injury, but he came back after just two weeks.
First of all, Rubio was the youngest player ever to appear in the Spanish ACB League. He was just 14 years old. So it should come as no surprise that he has gone on to greatness in the NBA. This man is a born basketball player. Many regarded him as the best European guard prospect ever. That’s a lot to live up to.
There’s still time on his side to prove how good he is. Rubio spent six seasons with the Timberwolves before moving to the Utah Jazz. However, he currently plays for the Phoenix Suns, joining them on a three-year $51 million contract. In 2012, he made the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
The man they called ‘Peja’ is a Sacramento Kings legend. A small forward, there was nothing tiny about this 6′ 9″ giant. Hailing from Croatia, he had an astounding NBA career. First of all, he’s a three-time All-Star and a member of the 2004 All-NBA Second Team.
Furthermore, Stojakovic made 1,760 three-point field goals in his career. This put him tenth overall at the time of his retirement. The Croatian had a massive impact, helping the Kings to a Western Conference Final. Finally, in his one-and-only season with the Dallas Mavericks, he won an NBA Championship. Then he retired, citing injury problems.
Ibaka will never have to pay for a drink in Toronto ever again. After helping the Raptors to the 2009 NBA Championship, he’s going to be a legend forever in Canada’s biggest city. One thing is for sure, Ibaka has come a long way from Brazzaville, Congo, where he grew up.
Now he’s one of the most distinctive NBA stars on the planet. Ibaka is a three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection and has twice led the league in blocks. He spent seven years in Oklahoma before a nomadic journey took him to Spain and finally back to the NBA. Now the Spanish international is an NBA champion.
A glance at this towering Dutchman should tell you that he was a natural fit for basketball. Standing 7′ 4″, Smits found into his way onto the court despite soccer being more popular in the Netherlands. However, he made his way into the game and found himself playing at the highest level in the NBA.
Smits spent the entirety of his 12-season career with the Indiana Pacers. He was an NBA All-Star in 1998. That was probably the best moment of his time in the US. Despite never winning an NBA Championship, he did make the Finals in 2000, where the Pacers lost to the Lakers.
Now 33 years old, it feels like Horford has been around forever. The Dominican player has starred in the NBA since 2007. Now in his twelfth year in the league, it’s safe to say it’s gone very well for him. He’s a five-time NBA All-Star, which just goes to show how consistent this man is.
Horford spent most of his career with the Atlanta Hawks. Recently, he played for the Boston Celtics but now he’s with the Philadelphia 76ers. However, it appears as though his form is not as good as before. All good things come to an end. In short, Horford has had a brilliant run in the NBA.
This man is a true NBA legend. He’s the first player from outside the United States to record over 1000 NBA games. That’s a truly phenomenal record, but there’s more. He is also one of seven players in NBA history to record 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, and 1,500 blocked shots.
The Hall of Famer spent most of his career with the LA Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. But it was with the Kings that he saw his best form. During his time in the ‘City of Trees,’ he became an All-Star. To sum up, the Serbian star is one of the most important foreign players in the NBA.
First of all, Kirilenko made his breakthrough as the youngest player to ever compete in the Russian Super League. Then the Utah Jazz came along and snapped him up. The Russian star was the youngest European player to feature in the NBA. Nicknamed ‘AK-47,’ Kirilenko ironically comes from the city where the rifle was first made.
He made the NBA All-Rookie First Team after his first season, was an NBA All-Defensive Team pick three times, and played in the 2004 All-Star Game. In short, Kirilenko was a top talent and an excellent defensive player. The All-Star was the NBA blocks leader in 2005.
Born in Split, Croatia, Kukoc is one of the first foreign players to make a massive impact in the NBA. The Croatian star won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in 1996. Furthermore, he was a three-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls. Kukoc is currently working as a Special Advisor to Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Bulls.
Although his natural position was small forward, Kukoc was incredibly versatile. Throughout his career, he played in every position on the court. Finally, he also had supreme success with Yugoslavia. Together with Vassilis Spanoulis, they are the only players ever to achieve the EuroLeague Final Four MVP honor three times.
French international Tony Parker is one of the best Europeans to play in the NBA. A four-time NBA champion, Parker is also a six-time All-Star. Amazingly, Parker didn’t care about basketball when he was young. He wanted to play soccer but when he saw Michael Jordan’s performances he changed his mind.
This pleased his father who played basketball for Loyola Chicago. Parker spent 17 years with the San Antonio Spurs as their starting point guard. As well as his NBA success, Parker starred on the international scene. He was the MVP in the Eurobasket 2013 final when France went on to win gold.
Wiggins was only the second Canadian to become the first overall pick in the NBA draft. The Cleveland Cavaliers then traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves and he went on to win the Rookie of the Year award in 2015. In short, he started as he meant to go on. The 24-year old has struggled with injuries but is starting to find form again.
In a 2015 win over the Sacramento Kings, he joined LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Tobias Harris as the only players 20 or younger to record at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in a game since 2000. He has only finished scoreless in a game once in his career.
First of all, Nowitzki is the only player to play for a single franchise for 21 seasons. He spent the entirety of his NBA with the Dallas Mavericks. Standing 7 feet tall, the German star is one of the greatest power forwards in the history of the game. Some even consider him to be the best European player in the history of the NBA.
What’s more, Nowitzki is a 14-time All-Star. He was also the first European player to appear in an All-Star game. Nowitzki was the 2007 NBA MVP. Then in 2011, he finally became a champion with the Mavericks. Just to sum up his brilliance, Nowitzki was the NBA Finals MVP that same year.
Born in Panama and raised in New York, Blackman was an extraordinary player. This four-time All-Star spent most of his career with the Dallas Mavericks but also played for the New York Knicks. After 13 years in the NBA, he moved to Europe for a few years, playing across the continent.
Blackman played 865 games for the Mavericks but never fouled out of a game. Finally, the Mavericks retired his No. 22 in recognition of his service to the team. When he retired he had career totals of 17,623 points, 3,278 rebounds, and 2,981 assists. To sum up, he was a brilliant player.
Ginobili is definitely the greatest Argentinian basketball star. However, it should come as no surprise that he was so good because he came from a family of basketball players. A four-time NBA champion, Ginobili played with the San Antonio Spurs for the entirety of his career. He was also a two-time All-Star.
Furthermore, the Argentine is one of just two players to win the EuroLeague title, an NBA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal. This made Argentina the first team other than the US to win gold in 16 years. In short, it was an unbelievable accomplishment.
Lithuanian basketball star Sabonis is one of the best European players of all-time. First of all, he won the Eurostar six times and the Mr. Europa Award twice. Furthermore, Sabonis won a gold medal for the Soviet Union at the 1998 Olympic Games. He’d also win bronze with Lithuania following the break-up of the Communist Bloc.
Sabonis spent just seven seasons in the NBA but still managed to make an impact. He didn’t play in the US until he was 30, spending the entire time with the Portland Trail Blazers. Although he didn’t win any major awards in the United States, his overall career makes him worthy of a place on this list.
After 14 seasons in the NBA, Diaw finally walked away with his head held high. In 2006, he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. But he would go on to further success eight years later when he won the NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs. This makes him one of the few foreign players on this list to win a ring.
The power forward started off his career in his native France before the Atlanta Hawks drafted him. Furthermore, he has represented France on the international stage, winning the EuroBasket title in 2013. During his championship-winning year, he led the series in total assists and was second in rebounds.
Schrempf was the first of only two German players to ever reach the NBA Finals. Although he didn’t win, losing out to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, he was still a great player. In short, he lasted for 16 seasons in the league. Also, he gained a lot of individual recognition in the NBA and with West Germany.
The German starred for the Indiana Pacers, the Seattle SuperSonics, and the Portland Trail Blazers. He was also a three-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year. Schrempf represented his country at the Olympic games and the EuroBasket Championships.
The Cleveland Cavaliers point guard is definitely Australia’s most successful basketball star. Dellavedova has won a single NBA championship with the Cavaliers. He averaged 3.9 points a game and 2.8 assists during the team’s playoff run. This was a special team. It wasn’t all about LeBron James.
Now 29, Dellavedova still has a few years left at the top of the game. He comes from a family of athletes as his two sisters also play basketball in the United States. Some have described his style of play as ‘dirty,’ but his teammates – including James – have come to his defense.
This Congolese giant is not just a brilliant basketball player. He’s also an amazing humanitarian. Mutombo is one of the greatest defensive players of all-time. He won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award a crazy four times. Furthermore, he was also an eight-time All-Star and is now a Hall of Famer.
The second-most prolific shot blocker in NBA history, Mutombo was a three-time leader in this area. He averaged a double-double for most of his career and is 12th all-time in career double-doubles. Furthermore, he’s a great person. Mutombo has made massive efforts to reduce polio in the Congo.
This Barcelonian is a tremendous talent. A two-time NBA Championship winner with the LA Lakers, Gasol’s individual ability translated to massive success. He’s also a six-time NBA All-Star. This definitely makes him one of the most accomplished athletes on this list.
Gasol is also highly successful on the international stage. A two-time Olympic silver medalist with the Spanish national team, he’s one of his countries greatest sports stars. The Spaniard is one of just three foreign players to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Now 39, he’s currently playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.
China’s Ming is a legendary figure in his homeland and the NBA. He helped to break down cultural barriers between the US and the Middle Kingdom. After starring for the Shanghai Sharks, Ming moved to the NBA. The Houston Rockets drafted him and he stayed in Texas for the remainder of his playing career.
Ming’s record is extraordinary. He’s an eight-time All-Star and the only player from outside the United States to lead the league in All-Star votes. Ming is also massive. At the time of his final season, he was the tallest player in the NBA, standing 7′ 6″ tall. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inducted him in 2016.
One of the best foreign players to play basketball, Olajuwon is also one of the most recognizable. Born in Nigeria, the former NBA star never even expected to play the sport. First of all, he played as a soccer goalkeeper in his hometown of Lagos. But he took to the court like a duck to water, spending 18 seasons in the NBA.
Olajuwon is a 12-time All-Star and a six-time All-NBA team pick. After Michael Jordan retired, ‘The Dream’ took advantage, winning back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. The Hall of Famer played in Houston for 17 seasons before moving to Toronto for a year. In short, he’s a true legend of the sport.
Nash is one of the best foreign-born players to play in the NBA and also to never win a championship. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nash had dual citizenship. Despite the empty space in his trophy cabinet, the Canadian was a phenomenal player. He lasted 19 years in the NBA, winning two MVP titles along the way.
The eight-time All-Star is one of the greatest point guards of all-time. His most successful period was with the Dallas Mavericks. However, he also played for the Phoenix Suns and the LA Lakers. He now works as a consultant for the Canadian national team and the Golden State Warriors.