The NBA has become an increasingly international game, with foreign playing styles being frequently adopted and players from all over the globe finding their way into the top league in the world. In David Blatt, the league has its first coach to make the leap from coaching in Europe to coaching in the NBA. In the San Antonio Spurs, the league has one of the most foreign-born (and successful) rosters, with the Spurs featuring nine international players on its roster.
In total, the NBA has over 100 players who were born abroad, its greatest total in the history of the league. That number will likely continue to increase, as there are a host of players overseas who will be joining NBA rosters in the coming years. There has been such an influx of foreign-born talent that the NBA was able to change the Rising Stars Challenge into a U.S. vs. the World format for the 2015 All-Star weekend.
While the bulk of foreign-born players began their careers overseas before joining the NBA via the draft, others came to the pros through more traditional means. A number of these players competed in collegiate basketball in the states, which has made it less likely that a player’s status as a foreign-born player is fairly well known. What follow are the top 10 NBAers that you may be surprised to learn are actually foreign-born players.
10. Jerome Jordan – Jamaica
Jordan has had to bounce around quite a bit in between NBA stints with the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, having played on the international circuit in the Phillipines and Italy along with some time spent with various teams in the NBA Developmental League. A 7-foot center out of the University of Tulsa, Jordan is actually a product of Jamaica and did not even begin playing basketball until he reached the age of 16. He played on Jamaica’s gold-winning FIBA CBC Championship team back in 2006, and he currently has carved out on a minor role on a disappointing Brooklyn Nets team. Through 36 games with the Nets in 2015, Jordan is averaging 3.4 PPG and 2.6 RPG in just under 10 minutes per game.
9. Matthew Dellavedova – Australia
Dellavedova was a relative unknown when the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him as an undrafted free agent out of St. Mary’s College of California. Despite his lack of professional experience, Dellavedova found himself playing an important role on a Cavs team with exceptionally high expectations after the arrivals of LeBron James and Kevin Love in the summer of 2014. Born in Australia, Dellavedova has played for the Australian National Team on several occasions, including the 2012 London Olympics. Though he has seen his minutes fall recently, Dellavedova is averaging 4.2 PPG and 2.7 APG in over 20 minutes per game for a team that looks more and more poised to make a deep run in the 2015 playoffs.
8. Kelly Olynyk – Canada
Olynyk had a solid collegiate career at Gonzaga before being traded for by the Boston Celtics in the 2013 NBA Draft. The Celtics gave up the draft rights to Lucas Nogueira along with future second-rounders for the rights the Canadian-born Olynyk, a power forward. Born in Toronto, Ontario, Olynyk actually played his high school basketball in Kamloops, British Columbia, and his father, Ken Olynyk, was the coach of the University of Toronto and the Canadian Men’s Junior National Team for many years. The coach’s son has fared well in his first two professional seasons with the Celtics, as he has averaged 9.6 PPG and 5.3 RPG while showing some solid shooting range in his brief career with Boston.
7. Patty Mills – Australia
The 26-year-old Mills turned out to be a key playoff component for the San Antonio Spurs in recent years, and the point guard is having another fine season in 2015 with the most international-heavy roster in the NBA. Averaging 8.9 PPG and shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line, Mills is just the second aboriginal Australian player in NBA history. Like Dellavedova, Mills played for St. Mary’s College of California before making the NBA, and excelled in international play with the Australian National Team. This was particularly the case at the 2012 London Olympics, where Mills averaged over 21 PPG to lead the Australians in scoring.
6. Steven Adams – New Zealand
While Adams’ relatively recent forearm tattoo – a Polynesian design inspired by Adams’ Tongan roots – may be a giveaway in terms of his status as an international player, the story of the native New Zealander is intriguing nonetheless. After a single season at the University of Pittsburgh, Adams was drafted 12th overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder and has thrived in an expanding role over his first two professional seasons. Through 50 games in 2015, Adams is scoring 7.4 PPG, grabbing 7 RPG, and blocking 1.2 shots per game, and is considered a solid interior defender for OKC. Also of note is the size of Adams’ family, as he is one of 18 siblings and half-siblings. The large family is also, well, large: The men all average a height of 6’9”, while the women average 6’0”.
5. Jeff Taylor – Sweden
Taylor, a third-year pro with the Charlotte Hornets, played collegiately at Vanderbilt University and earned All-SEC honors in three consecutive seasons. After being drafted by the Hornets as the first pick of the second round in the 2012 NBA Draft, the native of Sweden has seen relatively limited action, averaging 19.9 minutes per game over the course of his career while putting up 6.4 PPG and 2 RPG. Taylor’s father also played in the NBA and then professionally in Sweden, which is how the younger Taylor came to live in Sweden for the first 17 years of his life. Taylor’s NBA career was recently marred by an arrest for several charges related to domestic violence, leading to a 24-game suspension earlier in the 2014-15 season.
4. Andrew Wiggins – Canada
Wiggins’ standout performance in the Rising Stars game during All-Star Weekend may have highlighted his status as a Canadian-born player, as the rookie is likely the most talented Canadian to enter the league since Steve Nash back in 1996. Wiggins also possesses what may be the best nationality-related nickname in the entire NBA: Maple Jordan. The top pick of the 2014 NBA Draft was exchanged as a part of the Kevin Love-to-Cleveland trade, and it is looking more and more like the Timberwolves will have gotten the better player in the deal with the Canadian-born Wiggins. Wiggins’ father also played in the NBA, and his mother was an Olympic sprinter, so it is not at all surprising that the small forward is blessed with freakish athletic ability. In his rookie season, the Minnesota star has averaged 15.2 PPG and 4.3 RPG over 53 games.
3. Tim Duncan – Virgin Islands
Without getting into the semantics of whether or not Duncan should be considered an international player given his eligibility for the U.S. National Team, the NBA considers him as such given the fact that the Virgin Islands are considered a territory. The fact that he has represented the U.S. in the Olympics is all the more reason why it is sometimes forgotten that Duncan is not a U.S.-born talent. With the long and prosperous career that Duncan has had — five MVP Awards (2 regular season MVPs and 3 NBA Finals MVPs), 15 All-Star Game appearances and five NBA Championships — it is easy to overlook that he originally hailed from a very small island in the Caribbean. Initially a swimmer, Duncan turned to basketball after starting high school due to the fact that Hurricane Hugo destroyed the island’s only Olympic-sized swimming pool. This twist of fate — and the fact that a fear of sharks kept him from training in the ocean — helped Duncan land a scholarship at Wake Forest and ultimately be selected as the top pick in the 1997 NBA Draft.
2. Al Horford – Dominican Republic
Though Horford attended high school and college in the United States, he is actually from a country known for producing some of the best professional baseball players – the Dominican Republic. Horford’s collegiate career at Florida was exceptionally successful, as the Gators won two NCAA Championships during Horford’s time at the school. Now in his eighth year with the Atlanta Hawks, Horford is a part of the NBA’s biggest surprise team in the 2014-15 season, as the Hawks have taken the league by storm and currently sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. For his efforts this season, the Dominican-born Horford has earned his third trip to the NBA All-Star Game.
1. Kyrie Irving – Australia
Although Irving lived most of his life in the United States, the Cavs point guard was actually born in Melbourne, Australia in 1992 and, as a result, holds dual-citizenship in the U.S. and Australia. His father, Drederick, played professional basketball for the Bulleen Boomers, which is how Irving came to be born in Australia. The family moved when Irving was just two years old, and Irving has gone on to have a successful professional career of his own. After just one season at Duke, Irving was selected first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2011 NBA Draft. He has since been named to three consecutive All-Star teams and was also named the 2014 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year. Now playing alongside LeBron James and Kevin Love, Irving is the point guard for a team that has very real NBA title aspirations.
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