“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life… and that is why I succeed.”
– Michael Jordan
Why is the quote important for this article? It’s important because, for the longest time in American basketball culture, there has been a stigma that if you play overseas, you’re no good and a failure. As of 2017, basketball has never been more popular across the globe and you can see it by the all-time high number of international players in the NBA. The NBA can only have so many talents in one league, that’s why it’s not surprising that an NBA player leaves an organization for another franchise overseas.
Once upon a time, this was looked upon as being too weak for the NBA, however, with more examples happening every season, it’ll become the norm. If teams in the Chinese Basketball Association have money to throw at NBA players, you can bet every penny you own that they’re thinking about making that move across the great pond.
Not every NBA player on this list has been successful overseas and many don’t live up to their talent, however, there are plenty of examples of players turning their careers around in international organizations. We all know the NBA will be at the top of the board when it comes to talent, but we shouldn’t discard other leagues. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago when Argentina beat the USA for the Gold Medal in the 2004 Olympics.
15. Rudy Fernandez
If you play NBA 2k17, then you may know commentator Brent Barry’s story about when he knew to retire. He basically said a young Rudy would fly past him and he knew he was too old for the game. Fernandez did have some skills in the NBA as a guard and became a key role player after being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 24th pick in the 2007 Draft.
His rookie year was his best as he would average 10.4 points per game. After four seasons, Fernandez would leave the NBA and return to Europe. He would sign with the Spanish club Real Madrid and hasn’t played for another team since. After leaving the NBA, Fernandez has earned numerous awards for his talents and he’s averaging 8.7 points and 3.4 assists in the 2016-17 season.
14. Josh Childress
Josh Childress had a lot of talent coming out of Stanford in 2004.The California native was drafted sixth overall in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. His first four years in the league would be very consistent, averaging over ten points and five assists per game. He was a great role player and could have developed into a starter, but Childress shocked the world and left the NBA to play basketball in Greece for several years.
He would return and play four more seasons in the league before leaving once again. After playing for the Sydney Kings in Australia and the Texas Legends of in the development league, Childress signed with Japan’s SAN-EN NeoPhoenix of the B League in 2016. Childress could make basketball a popular sport in Japan, which is still an untapped market.
13. Andrés Nocioni
The Argentinian was never drafted by an NBA team, however, after he helped his country win the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, he was quickly picked up by the Chicago Bulls. Each season he would get better, but he would decline in his seventh season in the league. He would play his last two years with the Philadelphia 76ers before leaving the NBA for good in 2012.
Today, Nocioni plays for the Spanish club Real Madrid. Although he doesn’t put up the best statistics, he has found a lot of success, helping his club win the 2015 EuroLeague and becoming the Final Four MVP. He only averages 4.2 points per game but that doesn’t take away from the amount of success he’s had overseas throughout his basketball career.
12. Hakim Warrick
With the 19th pick in the 2005 NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzles selected Syracuse star Hakim Warrick. His legacy may end up being Carmelo Anthony’s teammate on Syracuse when they won the National Championship but that hasn’t stopped him from hustling overseas. After ten seasons in the NBA, Warrick would average 9.4 points and four rebounds per game. He would leave the NBA in 2013 and play in Turkey, China, and Australia before settling on Greece in 2016.
After playing for Olympiacos of the Greek League for six games, Warrick would sign with Leones de Ponce of the Baloncesto Superior Nacional league. Warrick averages 19.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and plays with former NBA guard Carlos Arroyo. The league is still in the early stages of the season, but Warrick already seems like a player not to mess with.
11. Jason Thompson
Jason Thompson’s rookie year was very productive as he averaged 11.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game for the Sacramento Kings. The franchise probably thought they had one of the steals of the 2008 Draft when they picked Thompson 12th overall, however, the power forward would never become a dominant player for the team. He would hover around the same stats for five seasons before declining.
After ending his NBA career with the Toronto Raptors last year, Thompson went through the “Silk Road” and ended up in China. He signed with the Shandong Golden Stars and has been a beast for them ever since. He averages 19.7 points and 14.3 rebounds per game, but the team is in the middle of the pack when it comes to the standings.
10. Sebastian Telfair
The Brooklyn native had a lot of buzz surrounding him when he was drafted 13th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2004 Draft. During those days, high school stars could enter the NBA and, sadly, Telfair became another teenager that was all hype. During his NBA tenure, the point guard would never average over ten points and just 3.5 assists per game for his career. His flashy game in high school never translated to the NBA and he would leave the league in 2015.
Since then, Telfair has played for three teams in China, the most recent is the Fujian Sturgeons of the Chinese Basketball Association. Telfair’s game hasn’t gotten better as he only averages four points and 1.5 assists per game. Maybe he thought he would have instant success like his cousin, who’s first on this list.
9. Steve Blake
As a standout at the University of Maryland, Steve Blake showed the world how talented he was in all aspects of the basketball game. He could call the plays, play defense, and score at will as a hybrid guard. The Washington Wizards picked him in the second round of the 2003 Draft and he would quietly become a good backup guard in the NBA throughout his career.
Blake would be a journeyman in the NBA, playing for eight different teams during his career. In October of 2016, he would sign with the Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League in Australia. It was short-lived as he would only play nine games with the Kings. Blake hasn’t retired from basketball yet, so there’s a good chance he can land overseas with some other team this year.
8. Chase Budinger
He’s not the flashiest player on the list, but Chase Budinger was a legit role player for any NBA team he was pm. He would be drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round with the 44th pick and quickly was involved in the rotation, averaging 8.9 points per game. His production level was even for the next four seasons, but would begin to show signs of digression.
Like many players in his situation, his path to playing overseas may be the best option for his career. After eight seasons in the NBA, Budinger would sign with Liga ACB’s Spanish club Baskonia. He averages a meager 5.2 points and four rebounds per game for the 2016-2017 season and comes off the bench. Budinger joins former NBA players Shane Larkin, Rodrigue Beaubois, Pablo Prigioni, and the fourth member of this list.
7. Jimmer Fredette
Jimmer Fredette was absolute lights out as a member of BYU Cougars during his collegiate years. During his senior year, he would be awarded the 2011 National Player of the Year award and would become a pop culture sensation. NBA fans with the knowledge of the game know that a player’s skills in college don’t necessarily transfer over to the big leagues. Fredette was drafted with the tenth overall pick by the Sacramento Kings but would only play three seasons for them.
He would bounce around several other teams in the NBA before signing with the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2016. Fredette is once again absolutely crushing his competition, averaging a whopping 36.4 points per game in the league. The shooting guard is only 27 years old and could come back to the NBA sooner than you think.
6. Carlos Boozer
Not much was expected of Carlos Boozer when he was drafted 34th overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002. Even though he was a Duke standout, his projection as an NBA player was mid-tier at best. Boozer would quietly work at his game and with the addition of LeBron James a season later, the former Blue Devil would become a household name. In a strange twist and controversy, Boozer would leave the Cavaliers and sign with the Utah Jazz.
The broken trust between Boozer and the team may have cost the franchise a championship sooner than 2016. He would become a two-time All-Star before leaving the NBA in 2015. In 2016, Boozer would sign with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. The Tigers have benefited from Boozer who leads the team in rebounds with 10.7 per game.
5. Andray Blatche
Andray Blatche has become an absolute beast playing for the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. He signed with the Flying Tigers in 2014 and hasn’t looked back, becoming one of the most well-known stars of the league. This season, Blatche has averaged 24 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game for a team that is at the top of the standings.
Not bad for a second round draft pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Before Blatche became a Flying Tiger in China, he was a Washington Wizard and Brooklyn Net. For his NBA career, he would average 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Blatche is a shining example of how basketball players can still make a living and have success outside the NBA.
4. Andrea Bargnani
There was a lot of hype surrounding the 7’0” center from Italy when he was selected first overall in the 2006 NBA Draft. History will tell us that Bargnani was one of the biggest busts in the NBA Draft. It took him five seasons to average over 20 points per game and his rebounding skills were non-existent for a big man.
His game was that of a stretch big man and it did not suit well for the style that’s being played in the NBA. Nevertheless, he would receive a pretty sweet contract and end up on both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets before leaving the NBA in 2016. Once considered a franchise player, Bargnani now plays for the Spanish Club, Baskonia, in the Liga ABC.
3. Josh Smith
Josh Smith had the talent to be an all-time great in the NBA. He could move the ball like a point guard even though he’s 6’9” and could score inside or out. With his offensive skills came a great game on the defensive side and the team that drafted him, the Atlanta Hawks, couldn’t have been more pleased with his progress. Somewhere along the way, Smith fell in love with the deep three ball, even though he wasn’t a traditional three-point shooter.
It got so bad that his career crumbled once he left the Hawks in 2013. With the size of his contract and his skills teetering off, his marketability was dropping like the stock market crash of 1929. Smith would jump to China and sign with the Sichuan Blue Whales. His love for three-ball wouldn’t change, as you can see in the picture.
2. Amar’e Stoudemire
Amar’e Stoudemire’s above the rim style definitely propelled him to become an All-Star caliber player in the NBA and gave us some of the greatest moments of the last decade. His aggressive style may have gained him more fans, however, in the long run, it shortened his career due to extensive knee injuries. For every earth-shattering dunk he performed, the damage to his knees would escalate.
His last hope for an NBA title was with Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks, but they could never reach past the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. After retiring from the NBA in 2016, Stoudemire would sign a two-year contract with Hapoel Jerusalem, a team he co-owns in the Israeli Basketball Premier League. The move paid off as Stoudemire would help the team win the Israeli Basketball League Cup in October.
1. Stephon Marbury
Stephon Marbury always thought he could lead a franchise to a championship, little did anyone know, including himself, that he had to fly half way around the world to achieve his dreams. Of course the Chinese Basketball Association isn’t the NBA, however, Marbury has made the best of his career in the league. The All-Star has collected three championships for the Beijing Ducks and has become a hero to many in China.
He was drafted in 1996 and left the NBA in 2009 to play in China. At the time, many criticized the Brooklyn native because of his past controversies off the court and his ball hog mentality. Marbury has transformed himself in China and is arguably the greatest foreign player in the league. His great story isn’t done, as Marbury is looking to earn a fourth championship for his franchise.
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