The Toronto Raptors have often been described as the most culturally diverse team in the NBA, and that has been the case ever since the franchise was born. However, there have been numerous players and management figures down the years that have had links with the United Kingdom. These are three of the players that have connections with the United Kingdom.
It is difficult to start anywhere else when you’re talking about Britain and the Toronto Raptors than a player that has been an important role on the court for the current side. OG Anunoby was born in London in July 1997, before moving to the States to go to university at Jefferson City. He went to college at Indiana, before he was picked up at 23rd overall by the Raptors in 2017.
Since then, he has gone on to win the NBA Championship with the Raptors and was a vital player for the franchise throughout the previous season. Last season was his best in the NBA, as he averaged 10.6 points per game in the regular season and 10.5 points per game in the playoffs. Anunoby emerged as a man that could handle responsibility in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals as he scored a buzzer-beater to get Toronto back into the series.
A player that needs no introduction is Hakeem Olajuwon. He was called ‘The Dream’ during his playing career, as he excelled at dunking. Olajuwon was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but played college ball in Houston. It almost seemed like a no brainer when he was drafted first overall by the Houston Rockets in the 1984 draft, and he became a pivotal part of the franchise throughout his 17-year stay. Olajuwon would go on to win the NBA Championship on two consecutive occasions with the Rockets in 1994 and 1995 and was named as the MVP in both of the finals.
He was also named as the NBA MVP in 1994 and was a 12-time NBA All-Star throughout his career. He led the league in terms of rebounds and blocks on numerous occasions, and such was his impact, that the number 34 jersey was retired by the Rockets. Olajuwon ended his career with one year with the Raptors, before ending his NBA career in 2002. Since retiring, he has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and FIBA Hall of Fame. However, his legacy has continued in the United Kingdom, as he formed a side in Birmingham called the COB Rockets.
It isn’t just players that have connections with the United Kingdom. The reigning NBA Coach of the Year also perfected his craft during a stint in the United Kingdom, as he coached the Birmingham Bullets, Manchester Giants and London Towers. In total, he spent eleven years in Europe and won the BBL Championship on two occasions; once with the Birmingham Bullets and once with the Manchester Giants. Nurse would get success in North America in the D-League with Iowa Energy, before becoming the Raptors assistant coach under Dwane Casey in 2013.
He was promoted to head coach in 2018, and it’s fair to say that his first season in charge couldn’t have gone better. Nurse would play a pivotal role as the Raptors won a first NBA Championship, and was praised for his excellent coaching ability in his second season as the Raptors fell in the playoffs after losing 2019 MVP, Kawhi Leonard. He remains a pivotal figure for the long-term plans of the Raptors after he was awarded a new multi-year deal.