A lot of people consider the NBA to be a North American game. Heck, somehow a man from Canada created it, but yet the United States dominates it. However that has slowly started to change and the balance of talent in the NBA has started to slowly slip away from the U.S., as players from Canada, Europe, and Asia start to catch up in talent and the world starts to take notice. Below is a list of the 20 greatest International NBA players of all time. Yes, there are a lot of noticeable absences from the list including: Marc Gasol (Spain), Andrew Wiggins (Canada), and Arvydas Sabonis (Lithuania), who are but just a few of the great players who have made an impact on the NBA game.
When you consider that both David Stern and more so Adam Silver are taking the NBA game to the international stages for both preseason and regular season games as well as being affiliated with offseason camps and tours, the NBA game is easily a global affair. Last season there were over 100 international players from 42 countries on NBA rosters. Next summer, R.J. Barrett is unquestionably the leading candidate for the first overall selection in the 2019 draft. Guess where he is from? You got it, another player from Canada will walk across the stage and shake Commissioner Silver's hand before anyone else. Are we missing someone from our list? Is someone ranked out of place? We welcome your feedback on our official list of the Top 20 Greatest International NBA Players.
We are putting an asterisk beside Timmy D, arguably the greatest power forward the game has seen, because of the whole debate about the title of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some consider them to be international, others don't. What isn't up for debate is Duncan's greatness. Nineteen seasons, five NBA titles, five MVPs (three Finals, two regular season), 15 All-Star appearances, Rookie Of The Year, an additional boatload of individual NBA and NCAA awards, and a guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame. When you throw in career averages of 19 ppg, 10 rpg, 3 apg and 2 bpg, there is little doubt that TD belongs on the NBA Mount Rushmore.
Petrovic was truly one of the great international players on this list. In fact, he was known far more for his success overseas than he was for his work in North America. In fact, you could hardly mention the word EuroLeague without seeing Petrovic's name somewhere. After dominating Europe for most of the '80s, Petrovic, who was drafted 60th overall (back when the Draft was seven rounds long), came over to join the Portland Trail Blazers roster for the 89-90 season.
While the Blazers would enjoy great team success, Petrovic struggled to get minutes off of the bench worthy of the greatness that he showed on the international stage. Halfway through his sophomore season, life would change for Petrovic as he would be traded to New Jersey, where he would immediately show America what made him such a great player. Unfortunately, a tragic car accident ended Petrovic's life far too early for the basketball world to truly appreciate his talents.
If you look up underrated in an NBA media guide from the 1990s, there is a good chance you will find the Dunkin' Dutchman attached to the description. A 12-year vet with a career spent entirely in Indiana, Smits was the Pacers workhorse big man that was often overlooked by man NBA fans. When you think of big men from that era, very few come up with the second overall pick from the 1988 draft. Although he would be acknowledged as part of the All-Rookie team and named to just one All-Star game, the 7'4" Smits was a very under-appreciated, yet very vital component to a Pacers squad that went to four straight Eastern Conference Finals and an NBA Final. Although he could have provided a better rebounding presence, Smits proved to be a great second or third option during the Pacers' heyday.
When the Utah Jazz selected the eighteen-year-old forward with the 24th pick in the 1999 draft, "AK47" entered the record books as the youngest European-born player to ever be drafted in the NBA. While he wouldn't join the NBA until 2001, Kirilenko proved to be well worth the wait. Whether he was coming off the bench or part of the starting five, the 6'9" "do it all" would regularly fill the basket, drop dimes, grab boards, take some cookies, and swat away the opposition all within the span of 48 minutes.
Unfortunately for Kirilenko, he would enter his prime a few years after John Stockton and Karl Malone retired, and those two were pieces that very well could have helped the Jazz plant their flag on the NBA mountaintop. With a 13-year career that spanned three teams, Kirilenko may be best remembered for his 2006 game against the Lakers in which he finished with 14 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks, and 6 steals.
The thing about Horford is that he isn't great at any one thing, but he does a lot of different things very well. After claiming back-to-back NCAA rings with the Florida Gators, Horford was selected third overall in the 2007 draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Following nine years in ATL, four of which he was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, Horford would swap a red jersey for Celtic green as he signed a multi-year deal with Boston. Once deemed undersized to battle the traditional big men of the NBA, at 6'10", Horford is now a prototypical modern-day centre who can mix it up in the paint or step out for a three-pointer. At 32-years-old with 11 years in the league, Horford is the wily vet on the young Celtics roster that is primed to challenge for a championship.
Some may think that adding the Greek Freak to this list is jumping the gun as he is only in his sixth year with the Milwaukee Bucks. However, when you consider that he is already a two-time All-Star, a two time All-NBA and recipient of the Most Improved award, being proactive isn't exactly a gamble on this one. Standing 6'11", Antetokounmpo has the skill set and physical means to play and defend all five positions on the court, a characteristic that is vital in today's game.
Although the Bucks haven't been able to advance out of the first round of the playoffs, Giannis has done his part in helping the team reach the post season in three of the past five years. During the 2016-17 season, Antetokounmpo became the first player in NBA history to be featured among the top 20 in points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals. Should he remain on this path, there is no doubt that we will see The Alphabet higher up on this list in a short amount of time.
By the time Peja joined the 2010-11 NBA Champions Dallas Mavericks, his third team that season and fifth of his career, he was far from his All-Star level playing days as a Sacramento King. Two years after the Kings drafted Stojakovic in 1996, he would make his debut with the team, coming off of the bench for his first two years. Jumping into a starting role, Peja would become one of the best scorers in the league, averaging 40% from downtown and putting up double-digit scoring for 12 of his 14 years in the league. Playing alongside Chris Webber, Jason Williams and Vlade Divac, Peja played the role of a long-range sniper for a Kings team that fell short of a championship banner. A three-time All-Star, Stojakovic would help the Yugoslavian national team to a handful of international medals during his career.
He made the All-Star team only once and although he stood over seven feet tall, he only twice averaged more than ten rebounds and never averaged more than 16 points a game. So what made Divac great? His versatility was the key to his success. Divac, who learned from two of the game's greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, found a way to impact the game across the stat sheet by chipping in a little bit of everything. Along with being one of the best passing big men in the game, facilitating the offence from the post, Divac was also a presence on the defensive end of the court.
Trivia buffs will know his name as the piece the Lakers traded away to get Kobe Bryant, but Sacramento fans will cherish Divac for his time with the run-and-gun Kings of the late '90s/early 2000s as the team that provided an entertaining brand of basketball and their rivalry with their California cousins.
Schrempf may have been born in Germany, but his roots are firmly planted in the Northwest as he grew up playing high school, university and most of his pro career in the top left corner of the US. With his signature brush cut rivaled only by Chris Mullin, "Det" would start his career in Dallas before moving to the Indiana Pacers for five seasons. It wasn't until he joined the Sonics that Schrempf would become a starter, with his Swiss Army knife style of play helping the Seattle club reach the 1996 NBA Finals. A three-time All-Star and a two-time Sixth Man of The Year, Schrempf would finish a 16-year career with averages of 13.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 3.4 apg.
The Waiter is probably more famous for hitting a single buzzer-beater during a Scottie Pippen pouting session than he was for his three NBA Championships. If Kukoc were to play today, he would be the prototypical forward and possibly a greater star than he was during his time with the Chicago Bulls. Standing 6'11", Kukoc's ability to handle the rock and play multiple positions allowed him to fill the stat sheet while playing the role of a sixth man for the majority of his career. Imagine if he was a full-time starter. With a resume that is filled with both NBA and International success, it is interesting to note that the FIBA Hall Of Fame opened its doors to Kukoc, while the Naismith Hall of Fame has not.
Whether you remember Mt. Mutombo for his finger wag, his Geico commercials or that infamous urban legend about what he supposedly shouted at a club, he unquestionably deserves a place among the greatest international NBA basketball players of all-time. While pretty much all of the others on this list have some impact on the game offensively, Mutombo made his calling card on the other end of the floor. However, don't think that the four-time Defensive Player of the Year was completely useless on the offensive side of the court.
During the first ten years (split between Denver, Atlanta, and Philadelphia) of his 18-year career, he averaged a double-double. Throw in at least two blocks a game and countless redirected shots and the Hall of Fame Congo native can also arguably be placed on a list of the greatest big men of all-time.
He may have grown up in New Jersey, but Uncle Drew was born in Australia and therefore holds citizenship in both the Land Down Under and the United States. At the age of 25, Irving has already been able to add an NBA Championship, Rookie Of The Year, and five All-Star games to his resume. Currently one of, if not the best ball handlers in the league, Irving has people talking about him as much off the court as they do about him on the court. It was heavily reported that he wanted out of Cleveland in order to stand in his own spotlight, one that found him with the Boston Celtics and now after rumors of his leaving to form a superteam in New York, Irving has stated he wants to plant roots in Beantown. Judging by how close the Celtics were to making the Finals last year with their superstar on the bench, a healthy Irving may help add to the plethora of green banners already hanging in the rafters.
The remaining piece of the San Antonio Spurs "Big Three", finally stepped away from the game just a few weeks ago, ending what is sure to be a Hall of Fame career. Yes, Tony Parker is still active, but he left the Alamo earlier this summer to sign in Charlotte. Over the course of his 16 years playing for Gregg Popovich, Ginobili never once averaged 20 points a season and was only twice was named to an All-Star team, but yet he undoubtedly is one of the focal points of four NBA Championship teams. A star player who shined brighter on the International stage more than he did a NBA court, Ginobili's unique ability to impact a game in a variety of ways made him one of the most valuable teammates in the game, regardless of the absence of personal accolades.
Yao Ming's NBA career was short lived, which impacts his place on this list. Had he remained healthy and been able to play more than eight seasons and 486 games, there are many that believe that the big man from China would have led Houston to a championship. Unfortunately, due to multiple lower-body injuries, ones that plague a man of Ming's size much more than the average player, the Rockets' Hall Of Fame centre only managed to play two full 82-game seasons. At 7'6" and roughly 300lbs, Ming was doing things on the basketball court that very few could imagine possible, as he possessed a light touch from distance and one the other hand had no problem banging with the big bodies in the paint.
There are two things that separate the "Human Highlight Film" from his '80s and '90s peers, one being a championship and the other is his absence from the 50 Greatest Players list. Unfortunately for Nique, he had to battle two of the greatest players ever, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, in order to advance in the Eastern Conference, something that the Atlanta Hawks failed to do during his 11-plus seasons with the team. Not only was Wilkins a shoo-in for a nightly spot on SportsCenter with a gravity-defying rim attack, but he was one of the best scorers in league history, averaging 20-plus points a game for 12 straight years, including two in which he hit for over 30 points per game. On the other hand, he would gather a number of individual awards over the course of his illustrious career, other than a gold medal at the FIBA World Championships, would escape him during his North American career.
Had the older of the Gasol brothers remained in Memphis, his place on this list may have been seen earlier. In 2001, the Grizzlies, who had just moved from Vancouver, were still a struggling franchise when they traded their star forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim to Atlanta for the third overall pick. While Gasol would lead the Grizzlies to the playoffs just two seasons later, they would be ousted in the first round for three straight years. In 2008, the controversial trade that welcomed Gasol to the Lakers (in exchange for what was deemed spare parts and the draft rights to brother Marc Gasol) helped launch Gasol into a mainstream name.
With back-to-back championships, one that should have included a Finals MVP award, Gasol would spend six and a half seasons in Hollywood before relocating to Chicago and eventually San Antonio where many assume that he will end his Hall of Fame career.
After 17 seasons wearing the black and silver of the San Antonio Spurs, it seems weird to see the four-time NBA Champion and six-time All-Star rocking the teal, white, and grey of the Charlotte Hornets. A typical Spurs diamond in the rough draft pick, Parker was selected 28th overall in 2001 and after a few games of coming off the bench, the 19-year-old point guard would etch his name into Coach Pop's starting lineup for nearly every game moving forward. Some may argue that Parker, while his personal stat line isn't as impressive as Steve Nash, that he should rank higher on this list due to the team success. However, if rings are your reason for ranking, then Boris Diaw should be on this list and that isn't going to happen.
There are a number of great players that finished their career without hoisting an NBA Championship banner; Stockton, Malone, Charles Barkley, and the great Knicks big man, Patrick Ewing. Most of the blame can be pointed towards Michael Jordan for that. Other than not winning the ultimate hoops prize, Ewing's career was filled with multiple team honors, including two Olympic gold medals and a NCAA championship. Throw in multiple All-Star awards, numerous All-NBA Team acknowledgments and countless Knicks records and it comes as no surprise that the Hoya Destroya is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Now serving as the head coach of his alma mater Georgetown, one of the game's best big men, who was known for his presence in the paint, has to find a way to guide a new age of big men to play a game that has evolved to outside the three-point line.
At first, the fans of the Phoenix Suns didn't even want Kid Canada, when the team drafted him with the 15th pick in the legendary 1996 rookie class, and then after returning from Dallas as a free agent, they didn't want to part with him. While he doesn't have the hardware that Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen possess, Nash is arguably the second best player from that draft, which included Allen Iverson (who changed the game in his own right). Sadly for fans around the world and honestly, who wasn't a Nash fan back in the day, injuries caught up with Nash when he joined the Los Angeles Lakers, and that was such a sad and unfortunate way for one of the game's greatest point guards to hang up his Nikes.
Entering his 21st season, one still has to wonder what the Milwaukee Bucks didn't see in Nowitzki that they saw in the late Michigan Wolverine big man (Robert Traylor) that they made the draft day swap for. Along with Kevin Garnett, the Diggler changed the way that power forwards played the game. The fact that the 40-year-old has started every game he played in for the Mavericks over the past five seasons, playing an average of 72 games a year over that period, gives credit to how much value Nowitzki has to the Dallas franchise and the NBA in general. If only Dirk's defensive talents matched that of his offensive skill set, he could go down as one of the greatest players of all-time. However, when you look at the Mavs record books, which is littered with Nowitzki's name all over it, as well as the NBA honors, very few people will hold that one fault against the sure fire Hall of Fame forward.
For 17 seasons, The Dream was the cornerstone of the Rockets franchise. Even during his final four seasons in Houston when he struggled with injuries and the team was far from a Western Conference contender and Steve Francis was the focal point of the offence, Olajuwon was still capable of putting on a dominant performance. Sandwiched between the two Chicago three-peats, Hakeem led the Rockets to back-to-back titles and captured back-to-back Finals MVP awards in the process. For those that question the greatness of Olajuwon, ask yourself why players like Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and LeBron James have sought out the Hall Of Famer for his tips and techniques, and why David Robinson is still recovering from a dizzy spell after matching up with the creator of the Dream Shake.