There have been many notable international players from a wide variety of countries in NBA teams over the years, such as Argentina’s Manu Ginobili, Spain’s Pau Gasol, and Cameroon’s Joel Embiid. But who are the very best foreign players of all time? Here are our top-five.
Although Jamaican Patrick Ewing never won an NBA ring, he will always be known as one of basketball’s greatest players. Indeed, ESPN named him as the 16th greatest college player of all time. And during his eighteen years of playing for NBA teams, predominantly for the New York Knicks, Ewing was an eleven-time All-Star and named to seven All-NBA Teams. The center also won Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1992, and he has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
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Dikembe Mutombo, born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, played 18 seasons in the NBA from 1991 to 2009. He is widely regarded as one of the best shot blockers the game has ever seen. Mutombo won the award for NBA Defensive Player of the Year on four occasions, and he was an All-Star eight times. The Congolese center averaged a double-double throughout most of his career. He is also tied in second place for all-time career triple-doubles involving points, blocks, and rebounds. Off the court, Dikembe Mutombo is just as well-known for his extensive humanitarian work. In 2015, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Out of all African countries, Nigeria has produced the best players. But none have been as successful on the court as Hakeem Olajuwon. He undoubtedly holds the title as the NBA’s first international superstar. Born in Lagos, Olajuwon played center-position in the NBA for the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors, from 1984 to 2002. He led the Rockets to victory in both the 1994 and 1995 NBA championships. And in 1994, he accomplished something no other player has achieved. He won the regular-season MVP, Finals MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year Award in that single season. Nicknamed “The Dream” because of his effortless dunking, Olajuwon was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
Former professional player for the Houston Rockets, Yao Ming, was named to the All-NBA Team five times, and he is the only non-US player to lead the NBA in All-Star votes. And at the time of his final season in 2011, the Chinese center was the tallest active player in the NBA, standing at 7 foot, 6 inches. Yao is one of the most famous athletes in China, and while his professional career did not last long, no one from China has come close to his legacy as a basketball player. He is currently president of the Chinese Basketball Association. You may not know just how big basketball is in China. But, in fact, the number of basketball fans in China who regularly watch NBA games is more than twice the size of the entire US population!
Born in Greece to Nigerian parents, the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo is shaping up to be one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. The Milwaukee Bucks basketballer has incredible speed and ball-handling skills. He has surpassed LeBron James as the most efficient and active scorer, and he is the most self-sufficient dunker to be seen in NBA games for decades. During the 2016-2017 season, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in all five of the major statistical categories, and he became the first player to ever finish a regular season in the top 20 of all five statistics of points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and assists. In 2019, Antetokounmpo was named the NBA Most Valuable Player. He has achieved much already, but the young star is only just getting started.