European basketball players gain popularity in NBA

Foreign basketball players preform exceptionally in the NBA, playing side-by-side with their childhood idols


Courtesy of CBS Sports & USA Today Sports

Left: Kristaps Porzingis is the first Latvian drafted in the NBA. Right: Frenchman Tony Parker has been playing in the US since 2001. He is a four-time Championship winner.

For many years, European basketball players have contributed their unique cultural backgrounds to the National Basketball Association (NBA) by bringing foreign talent to the team. Traveling overseas to show off and play for another country takes great courage, especially with basketball’s popularity in the United States. Newly drafted Europeans defy the odds of coming from small countries where basketball is unpopular and grow into the legends they grew up watching.

Veteran players such as Tony Parker and Dirk Nowitzki are known to be legends of the sport, dominating in the extremely competitive nature of the NBA. Coming from France and Germany, respectively, they have changed the platform of the NBA with their foreign backgrounds by adopting scarce play styles that tend to be hard to defend.

European players are selected for their special skills that make them stand out from the rest of the players in the NBA.

Dirk Nowitzki has been playing in the NBA for more than 17 years, winning the Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) in 2007, the Championship in 2011 and the Finals MVP also in 2011.

Serving as an important role model for many young European basketball players, Nowitzki punishes his opponents with an extremely accurate and elusive shot. Nowitzki has been credited by Kristaps Porzingis, an upcoming NBA player from Latvia for carving a path for many young talents from Europe by giving them someone to look up to.

“He’s one of the best of all time,” Porzingis said in an interview with ESPN. “Dirk’s just amazing. I want to be as great as a shooter as he is one day, hopefully.”

Nowitzki was coached by a well known German international basketball player, Holger Geschwindner. As a rookie, Dirk Nowitzki’s training with his coach consisted of long workouts focusing only on precise footwork, shooting and passing. This practice method grew Nowitzki into one of most precise shooters to play in the NBA. Being the fourth ever German NBA player, Nowitzki is ninth on the list of all-time NBA scorers.

Rookies look up to the veteran players originating from similar backgrounds as idols and role models.

“I’m just trying to walk in his footsteps. I would like to be as great as he is,” Porzingis said.

Hall of Famer Tony Parker has been respected by many fans of the NBA for his quickness, agility and mid-range shooting.

Parker has won the NBA Championship four times with the San Antonio Spurs, and won the MVP award for the 2007 Finals. Parker is known for his ruthlessness in the paint, and creating new ways to put the ball in the basket.

Tony Parker joined the Spurs’ summer camp before the 2001 NBA draft hoping to stand out and earn a spot in the draft. European players have trouble advertising their strengths overseas to the coaches of NBA teams and are forced to compile a highlight reel of their best games. The Spurs’ coach, Gregg Popovich, invited Parker to the summer camp to watch him face up against other NBA prospects.

At 6 feet 2 inches tall, Parker was initially pushed around by the bigger players, showing little strength as a player. He was then cut from the summer camp roster, not proving himself enough to the coach.

However, Parker was called back to play after Popovich watched his highlight reel from his European games. These videos saved Tony Parker’s career, allowing him to have the opportunity to become one of the legends of the sport.

Rookie Kristaps Porzingis was drafted fourth overall in the NBA draft this year, picked by the New York Knicks. Porzingis is the first NBA basketball player from Latvia. The Knicks were in need of a dependable big man, and at seven feet tall, Porzingis was deemed important enough for the Knicks’ first-round draft pick.

So far, Porzingis has made a sizeable contribution to the struggling team by taking advantage of his height. He averages 13.8 points and nine rebounds per game. Porzingis has been commonly heralded as “Godzingis” for his aggressive putback dunks over defenders. Mirroring the playstyle of the veteran seven-footer Nowitzki, Porzingis has a deadly outside shot where he forces defenders to challenge him inside and outside of the paint. Perhaps with the right coaching, Porzingis can follow Nowitzki’s path to the Hall of Fame.

Third year player from Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo, entered the 2013 NBA Draft at 18 years old coming from a Greek team called Filathlitikos.

Antetokounmpo was drafted 15th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, sharing the power forward rotation with Turkish player Irsan Ilyasova. Giannis Antetokounmpo stands out for his ability to move at the same level of agility as a point guard at 6-foot-2.

Using a combination of his wingspan and athleticism, Antetokounmpo is known as the “Greek Freak” for blocking his opponents and then finishing with an aggressive dunk at the other end of the floor.

European players continue to add to the diversity of the NBA, traveling overseas to compete in the sport they love.