When the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics won their NBA champioships in 2006 and 2008 respectively, they did so without one international player on their roster that entire season.
When I saw that, I thought to myself “In today’s NBA, what are the chances that a team could go throughout a season without on foreign-born player on their roster?”
The answer? Not likely, considering that the average NBA roster over the last five years, was 16% international, or roughly 3 out of 17 average roster spots per season, it’s odd an NBA team can go an entire season without one.
The first thing that came to mind was xenophobia or bias; that the team’s management just doesn’t look at international players with the same eye as with domestic players.
However, it could have been a variety of reasons outside of biased management and close-minded coaching staff.
Teams could be on the verge of success and want to maintain a stable roster, budgets for international scouting also effect the list, or it all could be possible that the foreign born players that went to camp just weren’t good enough.
We’ve taken all those possible reasons into consideration, but with international players hovering around 16% of NBA rosters the last five years, there is something to be said about teams that consistently have no more than 5% of their roster from outside the NBA.
In in some cases, such as the New York Knicks, they have gone three consecutive seasons without one international player suiting up.
How we did it
We looked at all the players for all 30 NBA teams the past five NBA seasons and added that up. If a player played three seasons for a team, that counted for 3 roster spots. We then looked at how many of those total roster spots were filled by international players. From there we determined international diversity.
Below you’ll find the list of the most Xenophobic NBA Teams; the five NBA teams with the least amount of international diversity over the last five NBA seasons.
5. Washington Wizards
Int’l players in last five years: 6/77
International Diversity Index: 7.79%
Winning Percentage: .475
Coming in fifth are the Washington Wizards at 7.79% of the their roster spots filled with international players.
The Wiz get somewhat of a pass as they, and the Utah Jazz, have had the least turnover in the league with just 77 roster spots available in the last five seasons (~15 roster spots per season) so their 7.79% is somewhat acceptable.
However, it doesn’t look good for international diversity in the nation’s capitol, as Darius Songaila, who played the last three seasons, and Oleksiy Pecherov, who warmed the bench for two straight seasons, were both traded away this summer.
The Wiz did sign Argentinian Fabricio Oberto, but he is the only international player on their current roster.
4. Miami Heat
Int’l players in last five years: 6/90
International Diversity Index: 6.67%
Winning Percentage: .533
Since bringing over Predrag Danilovic and having Wang Zhizhi on their roster for a couple seasons, the Miami Heat haven’t had a significant international player on their roster in the last five seasons.
They won the 2006 NBA Championship without one international player on their roster and in 2007-08, they ran through 22 players with just two international players.
Just this past season, Miami again had two international players on their squad, Frenchman Yakhouba Diawara and Canadian Joel Anthony.
During that same time, the Heat has had seven NBA draft picks, using only one of them on an international player. Since Pat Riley arrived at Heat president in 1995, there has been almost no interest in international players, drafted or otherwise.
“We’ve looked at a lot of European, foreign players. We have. We’ve looked at a lot of ’em,” Riley said. “We’ve just never decided to draft any.”
“There was one player that we had great interest in that we were late getting to, and that was (Andres) Nocioni. We liked him, but we were a little late on that.”
“I would gladly sign one or draft one, if they said to me, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Riley said of his scouting staff. “Over the years, that hasn’t been the case.”
3. Indiana Pacers
Int’l players in last five years: 4/85
International Diversity Index: 4.71%
Winning Percentage: .480
For a team that took a chance on Rik Smits of the Netherlands, you would think the Pacers would be a little more open to having foreign born players on their rosters.
However, in the last five seasons, the Pacers have had two seasons without one international player (2005 and 2009).
The Pacers have also held 8 draft picks, using only one of those picks on an international player – Aussie Nathan Jawai, who they immediately sent to the Toronto Raptors and Slovenian Erazem Lorbek who has yet to suit up for the Pacers.
Overall the Pacers have had just 3 international players (4 out of 85 roster spots); Peja Stojakovic (2005-06), Sarunas Jasikevicius (2005-07), Rasho Nesterovic (2008-09).
2. New York Knicks
Int’l players in last five years: 4/91
International Diversity Index: 4.40%
Winning Percentage: .360
Isiah Thomas has had a rough, rough last five years, so I don’t want to pile on, but it would be safe to say that the Knicks would have had the worst international diversity had Mike D’Antoni not replaced Zeke last year.
The Knicks had a league-high (low?) three straight seasons from 2005-2008, 49 roster slots, with not one international player on their roster with Isiah as President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach.
Up until last season, the Knicks have had one international player out of 68 roster spots from 2004-2008 and that was Bruno Sundov, and drafted not one international prospect.
Pretty sad for America’s melting pot.
That seems to be turning around as last season brought three international players in Danilo Gallinari, Cheikh Samb, and Mouhamed Sene.
Sene and Samb have since moved on, but by many accounts, Gallinari looks to be like a keeper. D’Antoni has the unenviable job of cleaning up the Knicks after Isiah’s era, as well as bringing up Knicks international diversity of just 4.4%.
1. Boston Celtics
Int’l players in last five years: 3/80
International Diversity Index: 3.75%
Winning Percentage: .575
The Boston Celtics are the most xenophobic team in the NBA the last five seasons. Out of 80 roster spots available the last five seasons, only three were occupied by international players.
Since 2006, the only international player they have had of any significance was Michael Olowakandi.
Yes, that would scare me off too, but with a 3.75% international diversity, and only 1 of 9 NBA draft picks from outside the country, there’s something going on in Bean Town.
In the past two NBA seasons, the C’s have had exactly zero international players on their roster. That’s two full seasons without one foreign-born player.
Say it ain’t so
Of the ten times an NBA team went an entire season without an international player, it happened with one of the above five teams.
The New York Knicks did it three times, the Celtics, Heat, and Pacers each twice, and the Wizards accomplished that feat once.
Not one of the other 25 teams had a season without at least one international player.
Another thing we noticed was that four of the five teams on the list have players or coaches, that had success in 1980s, in top positions during the duration in which we gathered our data.
It’s all speculation, but these successful players and coaches came up in a time when international NBA players were frowned upon for their robotic movements, lack of defense, and softness – could those past stereotypes have effected their team’s player movement?
The Indiana Pacers President of Basketball Operations is Larry Bird, the Miami Heat has Pat Riley as Team President, the New York Knicks had Isiah Thomas as President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach until 2008, and the Boston Celtics’ General Manager is Danny Ainge.
Whatever the reason, the consistent pattern these teams have shown in their lack of international talent year-after-year cannot, and should not be ignored.
Stay tuned tomorrow when Interbasket will list out the NBA teams with the most international diversity and the correlation between team success and international diversity. (329)