Nearly 40 years ago, it was next to impossible to find a player in the NBA that wasn’t born in the United States as less than two percent of players were foreign. The league has expanded globally in popularity since then, which has brought in a lot of players from different countries. Advanced scouting in foreign countries with hopes of developing foreign players is key these days, and now more than a quarter of NBA players were born outside of the USA.
There are some countries that have had more representatives in the NBA than others, with countries like Canada, Serbia, France and Croatia producing a lot of talent. Then there are those countries that have only produced one or two in league history, making you wonder just how they were found in the first place.
Let’s take a look at some of those players that come from weird countries. When we say weird, we’re not calling the actual country weird, we’re just saying that it’s weird to see an NBA player come from these countries that you don’t associate with basketball. While these aren’t all big names, it’s still interesting to see where some NBA players have called home.
15 Garth Joseph - Dominica
Our list begins with the only player to ever come from the country of Dominica; Garth Joseph. While a lot of the countries on the list have somewhat large populations, Dominica has a population of just around 72,000. However, Joseph was more than seven feet tall and 300 pounds, so he was able to draw a lot of attention to his small country. After not going drafted in 1998, Joseph landed with random semi-pro teams before getting a chance with the Raptors in 2000.
14 Gheorghe Muresan - Romania
While there are some players on the list that you have likely never heard of, here’s a name that’s more familiar with a lot of NBA fans. Gheorghe Muresan was one of the biggest sensations in the league during the 1990s as he was alongside Manute Bol as one of the tallest players in NBA history, standing at 7’7”. You might also remember Muresan starring in the film “My Giant” with Billy Crystal or even Eminem’s hit debut video “My Name Is.”
13 Torgeir Bryn - Norway
While Norway has produced plenty of athletes in notable winter sports, that has certainly not been the case for basketball. Up until the 1989-1990 season, the country had never sent a player to the NBA, but that changed thanks to Torgeir Bryn (Second Right). Bryn was born in Oslo, and moved to the United States to play basketball, but would not go drafted during the 1989 NBA Draft.
12 Kornel David - Hungary
In Eastern Europe you can find the country of Hungary with a population that has nearly 10,000 million people. Out of those millions, Hungary has only sent one player to the NBA, and it was Kornel David. David did not get drafted when he was eligible in 1993 when he was playing for Budapest Honved. It would take six years before he finally got his chance, being signed by the Bulls for the 1999-00 season.
11 Alaa Abdelnaby - Egypt
You might remember Alaa Abdelnaby from his days at Duke during the late 1980s. Abdelnaby was born in Alexandria, Egypt and moved to the United States when he was a child before becoming a high school basketball sensation in New Jersey. Abdelnaby would eventually be drafted in the first round by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1990 to become the first (and still only) Egyptian in the NBA.
10 Hanno Mottola - Finland
When it comes to American sports and the Finland connection, it’s almost exclusively hockey that gets all of the athletes. There has been one basketball player to make their way from Finland to the NBA, however, and it’s Hanno Mottola. Born in Helsinki, Mottola would end up at the University of Utah on the 1998 Final Four team, and stayed for two more years afterward. In 2000, Mottola was drafted 40th overall by Atlanta.
9 Yuta Tabuse - Japan
One of the largest countries in the world with 127 million people, Japan certainly has the resources to develop a lot of professional athletes. However, it seems that most of them make it big in the United States thanks to baseball. Despite their rich history, Japan has produced just one NBA player; Yuta Tabuse. Tabuse would enter American college, but returned to Japan to start his professional career with Toyota Alvark.
8 Walter Tavares - Cape Verde
Cape Verde is a relatively new country that gained its independence from Portugal in 1975, and has an estimated 500,000 people living there. The African country has produced a total of just one NBA player, and it’s the young Walter Tavares. Tavares was drafted in 2014 after playing with Herbalife Gran Canaria and La Palma as the Atlanta Hawks selected him 43rd overall.
7 Petur Gudmundsson - Iceland
Petur Gudmundsson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland and would eventually become the first player from the country to make the NBA (and so far the only one). Gudmundsson, who stands 7’2”, moved to Mercer Island, Washington and stuck around the area for college when he went to the University of Washington. Gudmundsson was then drafted in the third round of the 1981 NBA Draft by the Trail Blazers after he was playing professionally in Iceland.
6 Ha Seung-Jin - South Korea
It might seem odd that South Korea has only produced one NBA player in league history, but that is the case as Ha Seung-Jin holds the honor. Seung-Jin attended Yonsei University in his native country where the 7’3” and 305 pound prospect drew some NBA scouts. Seung-Jin was drafted in 2004 by Portland and he would make his debut the following season with 19 appearances.
5 Hamed Haddadi - Iran
As you might have noticed throughout this list, a lot of the players that come from countries that have never produced an NBA player beforehand mostly get in on their massive height alone. Hamed Haddadi is certainly among those players, as he was clocked in at 7’2” and had been playing professionally in Iran before going undrafted in 2004. Haddadi would get his chance to play in the NBA starting in 2008 with the Memphis Grizzlies.
4 Alvin Jones - Luxembourg
While Alvin Jones isn’t a big name in basketball history, he still does have an interesting title. That’s because Jones is the only player to come from the country of Luxembourg and make it to the NBA. Luxembourg has just 576,000 residents, though Jones didn’t stick around as he would end up attending high school in Florida. Jones then attended Georgia Tech, where he would become the 56th overall pick in 2001 by the Philadelphia 76ers.
3 Steve Nash - South Africa
One of the best point guards of the past quarter century, Steve Nash is often associated with Canada where he spent most of his young life. However, it was actually South Africa where Nash was born to parents from Wales and England. The reason that not a lot of people know that Nash was actually from South Africa is because he moved to Canada before turning two years old.
2 Patrick Ewing - Jamaica
Almost all of the younger NBA fans out there know who Patrick Ewing is, but probably assume that he’s from the United States. After all, Ewing was one of the best college basketball players ever while he was at Georgetown, and became the top overall pick by the Knicks in 1985. However, Ewing is from Kingston, Jamaica. Ewing grew up in Jamaica for 11 years before heading to the United States and becoming a basketball star.
1 Steve Kerr - Lebanon
These days, we know Steve Kerr as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Before that, we knew him as a commentator on TNT. Then, it was a front office manager. You have to go back to 2003 to get to the end of his playing career that had lasted for 15 years. Kerr played for a total of six teams during his NBA career, though it was with the Bulls where he made his biggest impact where he won three NBA titles.
Kerr has American lineage, but was actually born in Beirut, Lebanon. His father had been an educator in the country and was the President at American University in Beirut. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 1984 while Kerr was playing in the United States when he learned that his father was killed by Jihadists at work. Kerr was playing his first year at Arizona at the time, where he would end up being the 50th overall pick in 1988 with the Phoenix Suns.
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