It used to be that international players were something to be gawked at; to be put under the magnifying glass when they were on the court.
Europeans were stereotyped as slow, plodding, flopping and robotic players and anytime they let a player score, the presumption was they were too soft for a hard league like the NBA. If they struggled as a rookie, they weren’t given the same latitude as an American-born player; they weren’t struggling because they were new, they were having problems adjusting as a European player.
But thanks to European players like Sarunas Marciulionis, Dino Radja and Drazen Petrovic (1980-90s) to Andrei Kirilenko, Vlade Divac, Hedo Turkoglu, Peja Stojakovic and Arvydas Sabonis (1990s-2000s) all the way to Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol (2000s-2010s), the NBA’s perspective and behavior toward Euro players have shifted.
Europeans Are Just “Players” Now
Times have changed. We at Interbasket have seen the shift in attitudes and perception over the last decade. The preconceived notions and stereotypes applied to European players are still there, but they’ve all but faded into the background. In today’s NBA, a European player isn’t seen as an outsider any longer; they’re just another player.
And that’s in large part thanks to the international players that paved the way. Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki is arguably the best European player ever to grace the NBA and at 38, he is still going strong with the Dallas Mavericks. He became their ‘franchise player’ in 2004 and is still seen as the face of the Texas club, having led them to their only NBA title to date in 2011 and having just surpassed 30,000 point milestone.
Standing at an imposing seven feet tall, the man who began life playing in the second tier of German basketball with DJK Wurzburg has made the All-Star team on 13 occasions and was the MVP in the Finals as the Mavericks lifted the trophy six years ago. He has not been able to inspire his charges this season however and the Mavs will miss out on the postseason.
Unlike Nowitzki, Pau Gasol has played for a number of teams in the USA and currently plies his trade with the San Antonio Spurs. The Spaniard has claimed two NBA titles to date, both during a seven-year spell with the Los Angeles Lakers, while the 36-year-old has also enjoyed time with the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls. He began his career playing for hometown club Barcelona but was drafted the Grizzlies in 2001, winning the Rookie of the Year Award.
The power forward, standing at seven feet tall, may well be in line for a third NBA title to his already accomplished resume as the Spurs are top of the Western Conference and already through to the NBA playoffs.
Whether they can make it all the way to the Finals in June only time will tell but these Free Super Tips promotions might help anyone wanting to take an early bet on their chances.
Frenchman Tony Parker may be known to some as the man who was married US actress Eva Longoria for a few years, but he is a superstar of the NBA, with four championships on his CV already. The Belgium-born point guard was MVP of the 2007 Finals and has been selected to the All-Star team on six occasions.
The 34-year-old kicked of his career with the now defunct Paris Basket Racing Club but has been with San Antonio since 2001 and, while his best days might now be behind him, he still has a presence on the court and is eyeing a fifth NBA crown this season.
Goran Dragic was quite a late starter in the NBA, having played for various European clubs prior to his switch stateside. Having spent time with Spanish outfit CB Murcia and KK Olimpija in his native Slovenia, the point guard signed for the Phoenix Suns in 2008, improving in subsequent seasons, and played in Arizona for four years before moving to the Houston Rockets.
A one-year spell in the Euroleague followed with Spanish club Saski Baskonia in 2011 before the 30-year-old retuned to the Sun Devils for a second stint. The Miami Heat came calling in 2015 after Dragic was named NBA Most Improved Player the previous year, but the Florida franchise will not be seen in this year’s play-offs after a mediocre campaign.
Frenchman Rudy Gobert is only 24 and has many years to develop into a top NBA centre and he is heading in the right direction. After featuring for Cholet Basket in France he joined Utah Jazz in 2013 and has remained at the club ever since.
On October 31, 2016, Gobert signed a four-year, $102 million contract extension with the Jazz and is clearly a player they rate highly, with outstanding defensive abilities as a rim protector and rebounder. Jazz look set to grace the pay-offs later this year and so Gobert will have a chance to shine on the biggest stage of all.
Next Up: The NBA’s Next European Wave of Stars
And this is not to mention the crop of promising stars hailing from Europe looking to receive the mantle from Nowitzki, Gasol and Parker. Former teammates Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Jusuf Nurkic (Bosnia) are European big men showing off their potential and learning the NBA game for the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trailblazers. And we all know about Kristaps Porzingis playing for the New York Knicks. The 7-3 wunderkind has had some bumps in the Big Apple trying to be consistent in a broken environment.
Then there’s Giannis Antetokounmpo of Greece and Evan Fournier of France. At just 22 years old, Antetokounmpo was selected to his first all-star game as he’s found confidence in his role as the Milwaukee Bucks core player. The long limbed point forward is averaging a career highs in points (23), assists (5.5) rebounds (8.5), blocks (1.9), and steals (1.8). If he can keep up those numbers, he’ll be the first NBA player ever to finish in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists steals and blocks.
Fournier has increased his scoring output in each of the five years he’s spent in Orlando — from 5 points to 17 points per game the 2016-17 season. Fournier’s teammate is the consistently underrated Nikola Vucevic (Montenegro), who continues to effectively toil underneath to the tune of averaging a double-double in four of the last five seasons.