Basketball is now not only one of the most popular sports in North America, but all around the world. This is largely thanks to the globalization of the NBA, with games being broadcast in each corner of the world and the top talent coming to play in the best league in the world. This globalization of the entire sport has meant that many nations have caught up with the U.S.A, and although the States have dominated recent competitions, there are many countries that have fantastic basketball set-ups in their country that produce some top talent. This includes active players such as Pau and Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Serge Ibaka, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and a large percentage of the Spurs squad (Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Manu Ginobli, Tim Duncan, Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills).
In recent years it has not just been players coming to the States to play in the NBA, however. Nowadays, many NBA players decide to take their talents overseas to play in countries such as Italy, Spain, China and Greece. This can be beneficial for NBA players, as teams overseas have no salary cap and they can therefore earn more money. In addition, players that have struggled to play at a high level in the NBA can move overseas and they will suddenly be the star attraction, and this is particularly true for players that were once stars but struggled to return due to injury. Many of these players are also returning to their native country after achieving their goal of playing in the NBA, but they now seek more playing time as well as home comforts. There are also some players that have experimented by playing overseas and then returned to the NBA.
The NBA may be the greatest basketball league in the world, but the globalization of the sport has seen many former NBA players back their bags and take their talents overseas. In some cases, this has proven to be a fantastic move for them.
Here are the top 15 NBA players to play overseas (excluding those that played internationally only during the lockout shortened season).
15. Joey Dorsey
Joey Dorsey has been on quite a journey in his NBA career, and it has now come full circle. The forward/center started his career with the Rockets after being traded by the Blazers following his selection as the 33rd pick in the 2008 draft. Dorsey struggled to break into the team here and would be assigned to the D-League, and he was eventually moved on to the Kings who waived him. He was picked up by the Raptors where he made 43 appearances.
He then began his international adventure, signing with Spanish club Caja Laboral where he played for a year. The then played in Greece for Olympiacos where he won the 2011-12 Euroleague Championship and Greek League Championship. Dorsey then signed with Royal Hali Gazianstep in Turkey, before signing a deal in 2013 with Barcelona. Dorsey now finds himself back in Houston where he made 69 appearances this season largely due to the injury to Dwight Howard.
14. Carlos Arroyo
Puerto Rican PG Carlos Arroyo currently suits up for Cangrejos de Santurce in his native country, but he has also had two stints in the NBA as well as one in Europe. Although somewhat of a journeyman, Arroyo was at one point at very reliable starting PG in the NBA. He is widely respected internationally, and was a key player in Puerto Rico’s famous victory over team USA in the 2004 Olympic basketball tournament (a huge moment in the globalization of basketball).
13. Rudy Fernandez
Rudy Fernandez had established himself as quite the player prior to joining the NBA, as the Spaniard had won several tournaments with DKV Jovenut as well as the 2006 IBA Europe Young Player of the Year. This, and impressing at the 2008 Olympics (and particularly one memorable dunk against team USA), caught the attention of the NBA, and he was selected by the Suns with the 24th pick and traded to the Blazers. Here he became a fan favorite, and was even voted into the 2009 Dunk Contest. He would later move on to the Nuggets, but his season was cut short by an injury. Fernandez then announced that he would not be returning, and instead he signed a deal with Real Madrid. Here he remains and continues to impress.
12. Bostjan Nachbar
After playing in Italy as a youngster, Slovenian forward Bostjan Nachbar was picked by the Rockets with the 15th pick in the 2002 draft. Here he played for a few years but struggled to get minutes, seeing him move to the Hornets. Here he averaged around 20 minutes a game and chipped in around 8 PPG, but he would drop a career high 21 against his former team. Then, Bostjan Nachbar got his opportunity to shine as he became 6th man for the Nets. With his help off the bench, the Nets impressed all season and made it to the Eastern Conference semis where they fell to the Cavs. Nachbar would then return to Europe on one of Europe’s most expensive contracts. After impressing at a few teams, he now finds himself playing for Barcelona.
11. Andray Blatche
Born in Syracuse, Andray Blatche made the jump to the pros from high school. He played for the Wizards from 2005 to 2012, and showed glimpses of his potential but was ultimately on a struggling and undisciplined team. He would then sign with the Nets, and here he became a key player who often started due to Lopez’s foot injury. His scoring ability, size and rebounding made him a handful for any team, but in 2014 he opted out of his contract and signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. Here he has dominated, averaging a whopping 31.1 PPG, 14.6 RPG, 5.1 APG and 2.8 SPG. With a stat line like this, it is understandable why talented players who remain on the fringe of NBA teams make the jump overseas.
10. Sean May
Sean May was a key part of the 2005 title winning Tar Heels team and won the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament. He was then selected with the 13th pick by the Bobcats, but his rookie season was cut short by an injury. He unfortunately struggled to return from this injury and labored his way through two more years with Charlotte before playing for the Kings where he averaged less than 10 MPG. With it seeming unlikely he would become a key player in the NBA, May took his talents overseas and has played in Turkey, Croatia, Italy and now France. Injuries remain an issue for May, who once looked like a promising prospect in the NBA.
9. Nenad Krstic
The seven-foot Serbian center Nenad Krstic has flip flopped between the NBA and international leagues, but he has proven himself to be a valuable and skilled player throughout his career. He first impressed at Partizan Belgrade, where his success was noticed by the NBA and he was the 24th pick in the 2002 draft. In his rookie campaign with the Nets, Krstic impressed with 10 PPG and 5.3 RPG. He continued to impress and develop his skills, becoming a handful for any team because of his size and shooting ability. He briefly played in Russia before returning to the NBA, where he played for Oklahoma and Boston. He then signed for CSKA Moscow where he shone for a few years before signing with Turkish team Anadolu Efes.
8. Ricky Davis
Selected by the Hornets in the first round of the 1998 draft, Ricky Davis played for 12 seasons in the NBA and was a hugely popular player at one stage in his career and even averaged over 20 PPG one season. Davis was best known for his remarkable athleticism and dunking ability, seeing him often attempt crowd pleasing dunks during games. This did not make him a coach’s favorite, and this (plus a disciplinary problem) ultimately saw him jump from team to team (he played for six teams during his NBA career). After playing for the Clippers in 2009-10, Davis opted to play in Europe and signed for Turk Telekom in Turkey. He went on to play in China, France and Puerto Rico, before joining the NBA D-League. He is currently a free agent at 35 years old.
7. Andres Nocioni
Another player to play overseas before reaching the NBA, Andres Nocioni played in his home nation of Argentina as well as Spain before being picked up by the Bulls. Here he found a home, playing in all but one game in his rookie season and chipping in 8.3 PPG and 4.8 RPG in 23.4 MPG. The physical, defensive style of the Bulls perfectly suited Nocioni and his production and importance increased with each year. He was named the Bulls’ Player of the Year in 2006, and in the playoffs that year he put up 22.8 PPG and 9.6 RPG. He was later traded to the Kings and then the 76ers, and the lockout shortened season saw him return to Argentina. After being waived by the 76ers, he signed with his former team Caja Laboral. He now plays for Real Madrid.
6. Sasha Vujacic
Sasha Vujacic’s basketball career would begin in the Italian league, but he would go on to enjoy a huge amount of success in the NBA. Between 2004 and 2010, the Slovenian point guard played for the Los Angeles Lakers and won two rings playing alongside Kobe Bryant. He then moved on to the Nets before making the leap overseas. He returned briefly on a 10 day contract for the Clippers, but now plays for Istanbul BB in the Turkish league. His shooting ability and experience as an NBA champion make him a valuable asset for any team.
5. Jordan Farmar
After playing for UCLA, Jordan Farmar was selected by the Lakers in the 2006 draft. Here he played for four years and won two championships, along with Sasha Vujacic, and his shooting ability off the bench was a key weapon for the Lakers. He then moved onto the Nets for two years, but due to the lockout he signed a one-year deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Following this he was waived by the Hawks and would sign to play with Anadolu Efes. The Lakers would come knocking again though in 2013, and this season he scored a career high 30 points. He then played with the Clippers but failed to gel with the team, and this saw him once again seek playing time overseas.
He signed with Turkish side Darussafaka Dogus in 2015, but at 28 years old it is possible that he may one day return to the NBA for a team looking for a veteran that has won the title.
4. Andrei Kirilenko
Russian forward Andrei Kirilenko has enjoyed a great deal of success in the NBA, and his unique skill set made him an NBA All-Star and All-NBA Defensive First Team player. After playing for CSKA Moscow when he was younger, Kirilenko became the youngest European player to be drafted when he was selected by the Jazz with the 24th pick in the 1999 draft.
He would join the Jazz two years later, and here he played for 10 years and performed at his best. He would become the leader of the team and his ability to do everything on the court made him a valuable weapon.
He would eventually become unsettled here and played the remainder of the 2011 season in Russia where he was named the Euroleague MVP. He then returned to the NBA and played for the Timberwolves and Nets, but injuries and personal problems stopped him from recapturing his previous form. He now has returned to CSKA Moscow and is unlikely to be seen in the NBA again.
3. Ron Artest/Metta World Peace/ The Panda’s Friend
Having provided the NBA with enough entertainment, Ron Artest has gone on to stun, amaze and shock both China and Italy. Artest proved himself as an elite defender and capable scorer in the NBA, which helped him to a ring with the Lakers in 2010, an all-star selection in 2004 and Defensive Player of the Year award also in 2004. He is of course more famous for many incidents and strange quotes, including his role in the Malice in the Palace, applying for a job at Circuit City so he could get a discount, requesting time off to promote his rap album, several scraps with other players and his bizarre name change to Metta World Peace.
After being waived by the Knicks in 2014, World Peace signed with the Sichuan Blue Whales in the CBA and here he changed his name to The Panda’s Friend and played in shoes with soft toy bear heads attached. In March of 2015, he signed with Italian team Pallacanestro Cantu and recently made headlines for picking up five fouls in one quarter and then getting ejected for fighting. The world eagerly awaits to see what he’ll do next.
2. Tracy McGrady
Although T-Mac is widely considered to be one of the best players of his generation, his name will always bring up questions of “what if?” as his career was littered with injuries. He twice led the league in scoring, he is a 7x All-Star and became a fan favourite for his silky smooth yet deadly ability. He bounced around the league in the later stages of his NBA career, but it is in Orlando and Houston where he flourished. An elite scorer, he is perhaps best remembered for his jaw dropping 13 points in the last 35 seconds of a game against the Spurs to give Houston an unlikely victory.
Injuries took their toll throughout his career, but in 2012 T-Mac decided to take his talents abroad to the Qingdao Eagles. He was already hugely popular in China due to his pairing with Yao Ming in Houston, and here he became a star and averaged 25 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 5.1 APG. He signed with the Spurs towards the end of the 2013 campaign, and has since retired but would still consider playing overseas. SLAM Magazine once listed McGrady as the 75th best player of all time.
1. Stephon Marbury
Out of all the players to pack their bags and play overseas, it is Stephon Marbury who has benefited the most and he has taken to China like a duck to water. This is fitting, as the former All-Star now plays for the Beijing Ducks and has become a huge star both on and off the court. This is good to see, as Starbury was supposed to be the next great player to emerge from NYC, and although he was a star for a few seasons, his career ultimately took a nose dive whilst playing for his hometown Knicks. He impressed and dazzled crowds with his abilities in Minnesota (paired with Kevin Garnett), the Nets and Suns, but much of his career with the Knicks was overshadowed by feuds with Larry Brown and then Isiah Thomas. He then signed for the Celtics but it was clear his career was floundering, which is when he decided to move to China.
In his first season with the Shanxi Zhongyu Dragons he averaged 23 PPG, 9.5 APG and 2.6 SPG, and would then sign for the Ducks in 2011. He led the team to their first CBA championship that season. This resulted in his very own statue being erected in Beijing, and he has since led them to two more CBA championships. He continues to put up huge numbers and it appears he has now found peace in China after a turbulent NBA career.
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