Basketball has become a global game over the past two decades as the NBA grows in popularity all over the world. Football is currently the top sport in the United States. Basketball is catching up to it in the United States, but it’s already a bigger deal worldwide. We are seeing more foreign players make the jump from their country to the United States in hopes of becoming the next big Superstar. Dirk Nowitzki and Hakeem Olajuwon are two of the best examples of well-known foreign players reaching legendary status in the NBA world.
However, many other players both currently in the league and retired are not as known for their backgrounds. The average fan usually assumes most NBA players are from the United States considering it’s true that the overwhelming percentage of talents are born in the United States. We’ll take a look at the names that are surprisingly from other countries before moving over at some point in their journey to becoming Superstars in one of the United States’ biggest sports. Everyone has a different story and these guys have backgrounds in other places. These are fifteen NBA stars that you likely thought were American but were actually born in another country.
15. Andrew Wiggins – Canada
Andrew Wiggins is currently one of the top young players in the league. Most pundits expect Wiggins to become a top tier shooting guard and part of the talented Minnesota core as they look to contend for a title in the next few years. There’s no doubt he’s the future of the NBA. Wiggins is actually from Canada as he was born in Toronto and raised in Ontario.
The family of Wiggins moved to the United States with him when realizing he had the potential to join the NBA in high school. Wiggins went to college at Kansas and put himself in the position to get drafted. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected him with the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft but would get traded to the Timberwolves before his rookie season. Wiggins now represents Canada as one of their best talents in the NBA. He’s even played for the Canadian national team.
14. Goran Dragic – Slovenia
The NBA career of Goran Dragic saw him slowly improve through the years to become a top guard. Dragic tied a career high with 20.3 points per game last season with the Miami Heat. The journey of Dragic to the NBA was different than most of his peers. Dragic is from Slovenia and no one expected him to ever make it all the way to the NBA.
The early career of Dragic would take place in Slovenia and Spain before joining the Phoenix Suns in 2008. Dragic looked to be a solid role player until his sixth year in the league when he took a huge jump into a very good starting point guard. Slovenian fans love Dragic for not only representing them in the NBA but always being their best player on the national team.
13. Tristan Thompson – Canada
Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson has become one of the most important pieces to the team. While he may not have the great numbers of LeBron James and Kevin Love, Thompson does a lot of the grunt work that goes unnoticed. Diehard fans see him going after every loose ball leaving it all on the floor. Thompson is not from the United States as he was born in Toronto, Canada.
Similar to other top Canadian prospects, Thompson moved to the United States during his high school years to get a better chance at the NBA. Thompson attended Texas University before declaring for the NBA Draft and getting selected fourth overall in 2011. Sadly for his Canadian fans, Thompson’s work helped eliminate the Toronto Raptors over the past two post-seasons.
12. Steve Kerr – Lebanon
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr had a very good NBA career making clutch shots for some of the greatest teams of all time. Between his success as a player and now as a coach, Kerr knows how to win. The early life of Kerr saw him born in Beirut, Lebanon. Kerr’s father was American but worked primarily in the Middle East.
Lebanon and other Middle East countries would be Steve’s home for his childhood. When moving to the United States, Kerr became a superb shooter on the basketball court. Everyone naturally assumes Kerr is from America considering his upbringing and family background. However, he’s among the rare NBA stars to come from Lebanon. Kerr truly has one of the most unique background stories in the history of the league.
11. Kelly Olynyk – Canada
Kelly Olynyk is a controversial figure in the NBA right now due to being questioned for “dirty” plays on the basketball court. The entire career of Olynyk up to this point has been spent with the Boston Celtics until now. Olynyk has signed with the Miami Heat as he hopes to take his career to the next level as he signed the best contract of his career.
The background of Olynyk saw him born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Olynyk is one of the few Canadian basketball players that never went to high school or prep school in the United States. The move took place when playing college for Gonzaga and the rest is history. Olynyk contributed a lot to the success of Boston in the playoffs but hopes to find his new role in Miami.
10. Ricky Rubio – Spain
The passing ability of Ricky Rubio is arguably the best in the NBA today. Rubio struggles to keep up with his point guard peers when it comes to shooting and scoring consistently. Unfortunately for him, the league has changed and All-Star point guards need to score. Rubio is a throwback point guard that best serves as someone that facilitates the ball with minimal scoring.
The background of Rubio see’s the player born and raised in Spain. Rubio played in EuroLeague to get his profile up before getting drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Rubio has established his presence as a capable point guard, but he’ll never be one of the best with the position being stronger than ever.
9. Nicolas Batum – France
Nicolas Batum is one of the more underrated talents in the NBA right now. No one thinks twice about Batum, but he contributes at just about every facet of the game for the Charlotte Hornets. Batum made his name on the Portland Trail Blazers before moving to a bigger role in Charlotte. The life of Batum started in France born in Lisieux.
Batum became a hot prospect in France as a youngster before playing professionally in his home country. NBA scouts took note of his potential as Portland saw him join their roster in 2008. Batum has contributed every year since joining the league. If he played for a contender or in a bigger market, Batum would likely be a bigger name to the average fan.
8. Rick Fox – Canada
Former NBA star Rick Fox still loves the game in his role as a broadcaster. The NBA career of Fox saw him play thirteen seasons on the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Fox was a part of the dominant three-peat Lakers squad winning titles from 2000 through 2002. The background of Fox saw him born in Canada before his family moved to the Bahamas.
Fox’s father was Bahamian and moved back there to raise his family. Once it appeared Fox could be NBA bound, he moved to Indiana in his high school years. The basketball skills continued to improve and Fox fulfilled his potential of getting to the NBA. Between his accomplishments on a dynasty and his charming personality, Fox is one of the few able to continue his basketball life in broadcasting.
7. Rudy Gobert – France
Rudy Gobert has become one of the premiere centers in the NBA today as a member of the Utah Jazz. The combination of Gordon Hayward and Gobert led the Jazz to a 51 win season and back into the playoffs. Without Hayward, Gobert will have a tough task getting Utah to similar success going forward. Jazz fans are up for the challenge with the center as the face of the franchise.
Gobert’s journey to the NBA saw him born and raised in France. The talent and potential of Gobert were both too good for NBA teams to pass up. The Jazz acquired him in the 2013 NBA Draft night with a first round pick of the Denver Nuggets. Gobert proved he was ready for the jump quickly becoming a top star at his position within four years. The French national team featured Gobert representing his country in the 2016 Olympics.
6. Steven Adams – New Zealand
Another talented center born outside of the United States is Steven Adams. The Oklahoma City Thunder selected Adams with the twelfth pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. Most people assume Adams is from the United States until hearing him speak. The accent of Adams is a nice reminder that the center is from New Zealand. Adams is the youngest of 17 siblings and half-siblings.
All of the Adams kids apparently had great athletic talent. Steven is the biggest name as he found his way to the NBA for a highly lucrative career. Adams made the move to the United States for a college stint at Pittsburgh. It was enough to get him noticed by NBA scouts. Adams is living the dream as a highly paid star playing alongside MVP Russell Westbrook. Not bad for a kid from New Zealand moving to the United States for his career.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Greece
Giannis Antetokounmpo is now one of the top stars in the NBA with his stock growing every single season. The ascension of Antetokounmpo saw him improve from just a talented young player into someone that can realistically win MVP honors. Antetokounmpo was born and raised in Greece making it a tougher process for him to get to the NBA compared to his peers.
Greece is not known as a basketball hot spot, but Antetokounmpo’s talent was too much to deny. At just 22 years old, Antetokounmpo is already on pace to become one of the faces of the NBA. Giannis clearly is going to get better given his experience just grows against better talent. The scariest thing about Antetokounmpo’s upside is that he’s still filling into his body. Antetokounmpo has a chance to actually become the best player in the league if he continues his progression.
4. Reggie Jackson – Italy
The NBA career of Reggie Jackson has seen its ups and downs through six seasons. Jackson’s journey all over the world at a young age is quite a different path from the rest of the NBA stars. His father was stationed at Aviano Air Base leading to Reggie being born in Italy. Jackson’s family moved to England for a few years before settling in the United States when he was five.
An upbringing in the United States helped him move towards his passion of basketball. Jackson showed promise in his high school and college days earning him a spot in the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Jackson late in the first round. Jackson would get traded to the Detroit Pistons and he’s now struggling to elevate his game into a Superstar position.
3. Steve Nash – Canada
Steve Nash will go down as an all-time great point guard. The incredible passer and shooter won two MVP Awards in back to back seasons with the Phoenix Suns. Nash helped usher the league into its current incarnation of fast paced offenses playing a more exciting style. The background of Nash saw multiple stops before moving to the United States.
Nash was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and his family moved to Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada when he was just a one-year-old. The early passions of Nash were soccer and hockey but he found his greatest skill in the world of basketball. Nash moved to the United States in California when he attended Santa Clara University. The gifts of Nash made him the perfect point guard. We were lucky enough to see him become a legendary star in the NBA.
2. Al Horford – Dominican Republic
Al Horford may very well be the starting center of an NBA Championship contender if the Boston Celtics are as good as pundits expect. The career of Horford has seen him hold down the fort as a top tier center for the majority of his ten years in the NBA. Horford was born in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic where he would spend the majority of his childhood.
The family of Horford moved to the United States in Michigan when he was fourteen years old. Horford’s basketball talent came from his father Tito, who played three years in the NBA. Al has taken the family legacy to a new level with his numerous All-Star appearances. Things will only improve for his reputation if he can contribute to a Celtics title.
1. Kyrie Irving – Australia
The most discussed name in the NBA right now is Kyrie Irving. Following his request to get traded away from the Cleveland Cavaliers and leave LeBron James, Irving was dealt to the Boston Celtics. Irving is one of the top point guards in the league after contributing to the Cavaliers making the past three NBA Finals and winning one NBA Championship thanks in part to his game-winner.
A lesser known fact about Irving is that he was originally born in Melbourne, Australia. The family of Kyrie moved to the United States when he was just two years old. Irving has a dual citizenship in the United States and Australia both. New Jersey is viewed as the home of Irving since he grew up in West Orange. Australians still love Kyrie and claim him as their own.
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