Phoenix Suns Around the World
Following the Phoenix Suns' trade that sent backup point guard Sebastian Telfair to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Hamed Haddadi and a second-round pick, I jokingly told my dad and a fellow Suns fans that the franchise is attempting to become the first in the NBA to have had a player (at one point or another) from every country on planet Earth.
Now, ideally Suns fans and management would prefer player personnel decisions to be predicated upon the player's value, rather than marking off each international Suns player's respective country on the map. Despite that, it’s interesting to take note of the variety of players in Suns history who hail from different countries.
Some have played a massive role in franchise history, such as two-time MVP Steve Nash (South Africa/Canada) and Sixth Man of the Year award winner Leandro Barbosa (Brazil). Others have simply notched meaningless minutes during a short stint in Phoenix.
Regardless of their overall role, the Suns franchise has seen an incredibly diverse group of players over the years.
Luis Scola (Argentina)
One of the current Suns on the list, Luis Scola is in his sixth NBA season and first in Phoenix. He has career averages of 14.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, in addition to an impressive career field-goal percentage of 50.5 percent.
Scola won a gold medal during the 2004 Olympic games in Athens with Argentina and a bronze medal during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
In addition to his Olympic medals, Scola was the Spanish Basketball League MVP in 2005 and 2007 prior to joining the NBA.
Despite Scola's multitude of career accolades, his stint with the Suns has been disappointing. Not only are the Suns experiencing one of their worst seasons ever, but Scola is also in the midst of a down year. His 6.3 rebounds per game and 46.8 percent shooting from the field are both career lows. Also, his 12.8 points per game is the lowest since his sophomore year in the NBA.
Luc Longley (Australia)
After Australian-born center Luc Longley won three championship rings with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls from 1996-1998, the 7’2” center was traded to the Phoenix Suns for a package that included Mark Bryant and a conditional first-round pick.
During two forgettable years in Phoenix, Longley averaged seven points and 5.1 rebounds combined over a two-year span, the highlight of which was fans chanting “Luuuuuuuuuuc” any time Longley checked into the game or did something noteworthy out on the court.
Ian Lockhart (Bahamas)
Ian Lockhart, a 6’8” forward born in the Bahamas, played just one game (two minutes) for the Phoenix Suns during the 1990-91 season.
He converted on his only NBA field-goal attempt and knocked down both of his free throws during those two minutes. By finishing with four points in just two minutes played, Lockhart’s points per 36 minutes stands at a ridiculous 72.
Lockhart never played in the NBA again, as he signed with Cholet in France the following year.
Leandro Barbosa (Brazil)
In one of the best trades in Phoenix Suns history, Leandro Barbosa (the 28th overall pick in the 2003 draft) was acquired from the San Antonio Spurs for a future protected first-round pick.
The “Brazilian Blur” carved a niche as a fan favorite in Phoenix during the run-and-gun era with Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and head coach Mike D’Antoni.
Barbosa won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award in 2007. He averaged 18.1 points, four assists and 2.7 rebounds per game despite coming off the bench in 62 of the 80 games he played during the 2006-07 season. He joined Eddie Johnson, Danny Manning and Rodney Rodgers on the list of Suns who have won the award.
Barbosa spent his first seven NBA seasons in Phoenix before getting traded to Toronto in exchange for Hedo Turkoglu, ironically one of the worst trades in Suns history. Barbosa played just over a season in Toronto before being traded to Indiana. He then signed with the Boston Celtics prior to the 2012-13 season.
Barbosa was seldom-used by the Celtics before Rajon Rondo went down for the season with an ACL tear. Unfortunately, Barbosa followed suit by tearing his own ACL. He was traded to the Washington Wizards prior to the deadline in exchange for Jordan Crawford.
Barbosa will always hold a special place in the hearts of Suns fans for his lightning-quick drives to the basket and that one magical season as the league’s best sixth man.
Georgi Glouchkov (Bulgaria)
In the 1985 NBA draft, the Phoenix Suns drafted Georgi Glouchkov in the seventh round, 148th overall. Of course, as you very well may know, the current NBA draft format only features two rounds. So, if Glouchkov didn’t come along in the 80’s, he probably wouldn’t have found his way to the NBA.
Glouchkov spent just one season in the NBA with the Suns during the 1985-86 season. As a rookie, Glouchkov played 49 games (16 starts) and averaged 4.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and shot 40.2 percent from the field.
The Bulgarian’s best game came on Nov. 20, 1985, when he recorded 12 points, 10 rebounds and two steals.
Steve Nash (Canada/South Africa)
As a two-time MVP award winner who spent a total of 10 seasons with the Phoenix Suns, it’s hard to argue that Steve Nash isn’t the best player in Suns franchise history.
Nash ranks first in franchise history in assists (7,852), three-point percentage (47 percent), three-pointers made (801) and free-throw percentage (93.8 percent).
He also ranks sixth all-time in Suns history in regular season minutes played (22,781) and seventh all-time in Suns history in regular season points scored (10,712).
Under head coach Mike D’Antoni, Nash was the engine that ran the run-and-gun Suns. He created the most exciting era of Phoenix Suns basketball and, although the Suns never won a championship with Nash (due to crooked refs, suspensions, injuries and running into great teams), the memories he left fans will last forever.
Nash was born in South Africa and grew up in Canada.
Gordan Giricek (Croatia)
Croatian-born guard Gordan Giricek played for three different NBA teams during the 2007-08 season, one of which was the Suns.
In 22 games for the Suns, Giricek averaged 8.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 38 percent from three-point range and 94.1 percent from the free-throw line.
Giricek didn’t have a huge role in Phoenix, but he did make the most of his minutes with solid shooting percentages.
Giricek’s best NBA stint came during the 2002-03 season when he started 27 games for the Orlando Magic. He averaged 14.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists during that stretch.
Giricek last played in the NBA for the Suns in 2008. He now plays overseas in Europe.
Boris Diaw/Mickael Pietrus (France)
The Phoenix Suns have had two players from France on the roster in recent years. While it’s worth noting that Mickael Pietrus deserves a spot on this list, Boris Diaw is the Frenchman who made a much bigger impact on the franchise.
The Suns acquired Diaw via a sign-and-trade that sent Joe Johnson to the Atlanta Hawks for Diaw and two future first-round picks. At the time, Diaw was a little-known, little-used “point guard” (he didn’t exactly have a set position due to his unique skill set) for the Hawks.
Diaw made an immediate impact with the Suns, proving that he was a great under-the-radar pickup. He went on to win the 2006 Most Improved Player award in his first year in Phoenix. He played 81 games (70 starts), averaging 13.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game during that season.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Georgia)
Nikoloz Tskitishvili became famous (or rather infamous) for all the wrong reasons. The seven-footer from the country of Georgia, who played more like a small forward, became a notorious NBA draft bust.
As a 19-year-old with loads of potential, he was drafted fifth overall in the 2002 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets. Tskitishvili was taken before players like Caron Butler, Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince and eventual Rookie of the Year award winner Amar’e Stoudemire.
He spent just three seasons in the NBA, shooting a paltry 30.4 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Tskitishvili played only 12 games for the Suns during the 2005-06 season, averaging 2.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
He never seemed comfortable at the NBA level and was out of the league before he turned 23. The former first-round pick now plays for Champville SC in Lebanon.
Iakovos "Jake" Tsakalidis (Greece)
Although Jake Tsakalidis was born in Soviet Georgia, he grew up in Greece and has dual citizenship between the two countries.
Tsakalidis was drafted 25th overall in the 2000 NBA draft (one of the weakest draft classes ever) by the Phoenix Suns. Although the big Greek had an NBA body at 7’2”, 285 pounds, he was never able to assert any dominance on the basketball court.
His best professional season in the NBA came during the 2001-02 season with Phoenix, when he averaged 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, both career highs.
Much like Tskitishvili, however, Tsakalidis’s career fizzled out. He was out of the NBA before his 28th birthday.
Tsakalidis had some bright moments for Phoenix, but really fans were just trying to figure out how you get the nickname “Jake” from a name like Iakovos.
Hamed Haddadi (Iran)
Hamed Haddadi is the first and only NBA basketball player who hails from Iran.
The 7’2” center declared himself eligible for the 2004 NBA draft, but eventually went undrafted. He later signed with the Memphis Grizzlies in August 2008.
It may be somewhat hard to believe because Haddadi hasn’t been in the NBA all that long, but the Iranian center is already 27 years old and will turn 28 in May.
Haddadi has averaged just 6.1 minutes per game over a five-year NBA career. He’s still a raw basketball talent, but his numbers per 36 minutes (a misleading stat in limited action) have been very impressive. Per 36 minutes of action during the 2010-11 season in Memphis, Haddadi averaged 16.1 points and 14.6 rebounds per game.
He hasn’t had ample time in the NBA to show his talent, but he has been productive in very limited minutes.
Only time will tell if he gets court time in a Suns uniform moving forward.
Pat Burke (Ireland)
Diehard Phoenix Suns fans will undoubtedly remember the Pat Burke era.
The 6’11” lefty from Ireland made his NBA debut in 2002 with the Orlando Magic and joined the Phoenix Suns for two seasons from 2005-2007.
Burke was a solid player in his own right, but he played on two of the best Suns teams in the past decade under head coach Mike D’Antoni, who is notorious for using limited playing rotations.
The seldom-used big man became frustrated with the amount of playing time he received in Phoenix. He didn’t do himself any favors by jacking up three-pointers at the fans’ rabid requests.
Stefano Rusconi (Italy)
The Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Italian-born basketball player Stefano Rusconi in the second round (52nd overall) in the 1990 NBA draft. His NBA rights were traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1991.
Rusconi was the Italian League MVP in 1995 and he joined the Suns for the 1995-96 season. He played just seven total games in the NBA, all for Phoenix. In them, Rusconi scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds and added 10 personal fouls.
If you would like to read more about the Suns' acquisition of Rusconi, read this article by Jeramie McPeek, published October 1995.
Sidenote: "Stefano Rusconi" has to be the most Italian name of all-time. It's phenomenal.
Yuta Tabuse (Japan)
Yuta Tabuse, a 5’9” point guard, is the first and only player from Japan to make it to the NBA.
Although his stint with the Phoenix Suns was very brief, he became a fan favorite for his underdog status and modest demeanor.
In four NBA games for Phoenix, Tabuse made all four of his free throw attempts and the only three-point shot he ever attempted.
After being waived by the Suns, Tabuse held stints in the NBA’s Development League in an attempt to get back to the pros.
Tabuse is known as the “Michael Jordan of Japan,” according to an Associated Press article by Jaymes Song.
In addition to that flattering nickname, Tabuse received nothing but praise from his D-League coaches, teammates and fans.
While playing for the Albuquerque Thunderbirds of the D-League, Tabuse’s head coach at the time (former NBA player Michael Cooper) said, "He automatically changes the game because of his quickness and distributing the ball. He's the best fundamental player I've been around in a long time."
For more on Tabuse’s time in the D-League, read this article by Jeremy Fowler.
Tabuse currently plays for Link Tochigi Brex of the Japanese professional basketball league.
Horacio Llamas (Mexico)
In 1996, Horacio Llamas became the first Mexican ever to participate in an NBA game. The only other Mexican-born basketball player to play in the NBA is Eduardo Najera, who played for a variety of NBA teams.
Llamas played two years at Pima Community College in Tucson before choosing to play at Grand Canyon University, an NCAA Division II school. While at Grand Canyon University, Llamas earned NCAA Division II Player of the Year honors.
Although Llamas never put up big numbers for the Suns and lasted just two seasons, his historical distinction of becoming the first Mexican to play in the NBA can’t be taken away from him.
Sean Marks (New Zealand)
Sean Marks was truly one of the NBA’s all-around nice guys. He never complained to the media about playing time and proved to be a great teammate over an 11-year NBA career.
In what is becoming a recurring theme, Marks became the first native New Zealander to play in the NBA.
On April 16, 2008, Marks recorded a double-double for the Suns with 16 points and 13 rebounds.
He now works for the San Antonio Spurs organization.
Ruben Garces (Panama)
During the year 2000, Ruben Garces became only the second NBA player ever from Panama, joining Rolando Blackman, who played from 1981-1994.
His best game occurred on December 28, 2000, when he grabbed 11 rebounds (six of them on the offensive end) for the Phoenix Suns.
Garces played just 13 total NBA games (all of them during the 2000-01 season). He played 10 of those games for Phoenix and three for the Golden State Warriors.
Marcin Gortat/Maciej Lampe (Poland)
As the third current Suns player on the list so far, Marcin Gortat has established himself as one of the Suns' best players.
The Polish Hammer or Polish Machine, depending upon your preference, had a great year for Phoenix when he played beside future Hall of Famer Steve Nash. He averaged 15.4 points and 10 rebounds per game (both career highs) during the 2011-12 season with Nash.
Despite that success, Gortat has regressed this season without Nash feeding him on the pick-and-roll. Gortat did have a phenomenal start on the defensive end, notching 26 blocked shots in the season’s first six games. However, his 11.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game are down considerably from a season ago.
As for Maciej Lampe, also from Poland, my dad and I nicknaming him “Magic Lamp” was the highlight of his stint in Phoenix for me, although there was nothing "magic" about his game.
Robert Archibald (Scotland)
Robert Archibald, a 6’11” power forward/center who played in college at the University of Illinois, was drafted in the second round of the 2002 NBA draft by the Memphis Grizzlies.
Archibald only played 44 NBA games from 2002-2004, only one of which was in a Suns uniform.
In that one game for Phoenix, Archibald scored two points, grabbed one rebound and one steal in four minutes of play.
Zarko Cabarkapa (Serbia/Montenegro)
In the 2003 NBA draft, the Phoenix Suns drafted Zarko Cabarkapa in the first round, 17th overall.
The lanky swingman showed some promise for the Suns initially, but that was before he attempted a dunk during a blowout game.
With less than three minutes remaining and the Suns leading the Dallas Mavericks by 24 points, Cabarkapa drove to the basket and leaped to the rim. In mid-flight, notorious NBA thug Danny Fortson shoved Cabarkapa to the ground with two hands. Cabarkapa hit the floor hard, breaking his wrist.
Fortson was suspended for three games without pay following the incident, but the damage had already been done. Cabarkapa was never the same after the injury and he was out of the league before his 25th birthday.
Goran Dragic (Slovenia)
Even during the Steve Nash era in Phoenix, backup point guard Goran Dragic was looked at as Nash’s heir.
The highlight of Dragic’s early career in a Suns uniform was a masterful game against the San Antonio Spurs in the 2010 postseason.
In Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, “The Dragon” erupted for 23 fourth-quarter points (26 points overall) to hold off the rival Spurs.
The Phoenix Suns went on to sweep the series from San Antonio, 4-0.
Despite that stellar performance, Suns management decided to trade Dragic along with a first-round pick to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Aaron Brooks the following year. This was certainly one of the worst trades in Suns history, as Dragic blossomed in Houston, while Brooks left to play in China during the lockout-shortened year.
The Suns did manage to get Dragic back via free agency last summer, but even his presence hasn’t been able to create a winning atmosphere with Nash out of the picture.
Hedo Turkoglu (Turkey)
The Phoenix Suns acquired Hedo Turkoglu (and his grisly contract) from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for fan favorite Leandro Barbosa. Although Turkoglu had some good years in the past with the Orlando Magic, his time spent both in Toronto and Phoenix was mediocre at best.
Turkoglu played 25 games for Phoenix (16 starts) during the 2010-11 season. He averaged 9.5 points and four rebounds per game with the Suns before he was traded back to Orlando in a six-player deal that netted the Suns Marcin Gortat.
The Suns were able to flip Turkoglu shortly after attaining him via trade and they did land Gortat as a result. Other than that, Turkoglu’s contributions in a Suns uniform were largely forgettable.
Charles Barkley (United States)
Technically speaking, this list isn’t complete without including a representative from the United States.
There’s any number of players who could be argued as candidates for this spot. Amar’e Stoudemire could be here for winning the Rookie of the Year award. Bo Outlaw could be here for being one of the nicest NBA personalities in existence. Jared Dudley could take this spot for being the longest tenured Sun on the current roster.
With that said, the choice is easy. Sir Charles Barkley is the greatest American to play for the Phoenix Suns.
Aside from Steve Nash, Barkley is the only Suns player to have won a league MVP award. He led the Suns to the NBA finals in 1993, where they eventually lost to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
The Suns haven’t been to the NBA Finals since, but Barkley continues to proudly represent the Suns franchise by calling it like it is.
It’s fair to say we may never see another member of the Suns family win an Emmy.
Feel free to talk about the Suns and the NBA with me on Twitter: @BenLebo