Globalization is based on the NBA, the best basketball league, which this season will speak more languages than ever. Although the muscle of the championship continues to be sustained by a huge base of American players, the percentage of foreigners has been increasing and this year it will be 22.5%. With two weeks to go until the market closes, of the 568 players registered, 128 are not from the United States, the highest number in the history of the competition. These are divided into 42 different nationalities, also a record.
This situation responds to a strategy promoted 30 years ago, when the NBA only had 23 foreign players in the 1991-92 season. At the end of this, the NBA allowed its professionals to compete for the first time with the US national team. This is how the Dream Team was born that swept the Barcelona Olympic Games with the help of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson or Larry Bird. That legendary team restored the wounded national pride after the defeats in the semifinals of the 1988 Games against the USSR and in the 1990 World Cup against Yugoslavia. But in addition to raising the American flag to the top, the NBA sought to expand its business, popularizing basketball worldwide and penetrating more and more countries. “We think we have a great American product.
Since then, the numbers have skyrocketed. Until 1991, 68 foreign players had been selected in the draft, the NBA selection process, and only three in the top three: Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon, Jamaican Patrick Ewing (who also had a US passport and was part of the Dream Team) and the Dutchman Rik Smits. However, since 1992 there have been 438 foreigners chosen in the draft, 20 among the first positions, including Pau Gasol, Luka Doncic or Tim Duncan.
This year, all teams will have at least two foreigners. The team that accumulates the most is the Toronto Raptors, with eight. The most represented non-American nationality in the NBA is, once again, the Canadian. The neighboring country of the United States has 23 players in the competition. But in recent years, the weight of Europe has grown exponentially. This season, Europeans will represent half of the foreigners (63 of 128, 49.2%). This represents 11% of the total number of players, the highest figure in history. Of the different nationalities, the ones with the most members are France (11) and Germany (7).
Behind are Spain and Serbia, each with five players. Ricky Rubio, Santi Aldama, Usman Garuba, Juancho and Willy Hernangómez will represent Spanish basketball in the best league in the world. The Spanish record is 10 in the 2016-17 season. Serge Ibaka, born in Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo, does not count in the NBA database as Spanish despite being a national and international with the national team.
The globalization of basketball, for which the NBA bears part of the responsibility, and the ability to attract promising players from every corner of the planet are key today. Scouts track possible talent from Argentina to Japan to take them to the university league or to one of the academies, such as Overtime, founded by NBA stars, including Kevin Durant or Pau Gasol. And, from there, to the draft, there is but one step for the most talented. “There was a time when we had the soft label. Not anymore. Today the European in the NBA has removed that label. He is a player who is often dominant, competitive, even stars, franchise players, ”said Gasol this summer in an interview.
The clearest sign of this step forward for the European player in the NBA is, as Pau says, that they are no longer companions of the American franchise player, but instead claim command of the team for themselves. In 2007, Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki became the first European player named MVP. It seemed like an unrepeatable milestone, but in recent years it has become a custom. The Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Serbian Nikola Jokic have followed in the footsteps of the legendary 41 of the Mavericks, being awarded the best player award for the last four years. In the latest Power Ranking published by the NBA, both return to the top positions to win the award again, followed by the Slovenian Luka Doncic and the Cameroonian Joel Embiid.
Since 2014, every team that has been crowned NBA champion has had at least one European on the roster. In the 21st century, only five times has a franchise featuring only North American players won: the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000 and 2001, the Miami Heat in 2006 and 2013, and the Boston Celtics in 2008.