Each NBA team can have a maximum of 15 players, meaning that a maximum of 450 players are in the League at any one time. It is definitely hard work to get to the world’s premier basketball league, and players take a variety of routes to the top.
The Great International Hope
Symbolic player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
The international prospect was once a man of mystery. Names like Bodiroga, Schmidt, Petrovic and Sabonis were whispered with reverence within basketball circles, yet they were unfamiliar to the casual fans. Some of these legends never made it to the League while the short-lived NBA careers of others only added to the mystique. With the success of pioneers such as Dirk Nowitzki however, foreign prospects are rarely still mysterious or ‘unknowns’, as NBA teams spread their scouting networks all over the globe.
For the true born-and-bred international hooper, their basketball journeys often take a different route from their American counterparts. Although the hoop dreams similarly start on the school yards and playgrounds, their paths quickly diverge. Due to the lack of a dominant basketball culture, promising youths tend to develop their talents within club teams rather than on the asphalt.
Although these youth club sides resemble travelling AAU teams, the main difference arises from their professional status. Many international prospects sign their first professional contract at a young age, instead of simply playing for their schools. Ricky Rubio, for instance, made his professional debut in the prestigious Spanish Liga ACB at only 14 years old.
Playing alongside seasoned professionals who have carved out a living by dropping buckets, they may not always possess out-and-out scoring instincts and athleticism, but often compensate for it with versatility and an understanding of the game. This can be seen in the all-rounded play of stars like Nowitzki and Pau Gasol, who have proven their championship pedigree and paved the way for their successors.
Today, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis are leading the charge for international players as ‘unicorns’ of the game, proudly perpetuating the trend of position-less, multi-skilled basketball talents. Their top-tier play has elevated expectations for up-and-coming stars such as 2018 draftee Luka Doncic and Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura, who will relish the challenge of demonstrating that basketball is a global game.