In most sports, we as sports fans simply take it as natural that the world's best athletes come to the United States to play in arguably the best leagues in the world.
It only seems natural that these athletes—no matter if they play baseball, basketball or ice hockey—would want to compete against the top talent the world has to offer.
Until recently, however, it was inconceivable that players from the NBA, NHL and MLB players would leave North America during the prime of their careers and play somewhere else.
Yet, we have taken notice of a recent trend of players, particularly from the NBA and NHL, going to play in Europe. While it has historically been foreign-born players leaving to play elsewhere, the recent "defection" of players like Josh Childress and Bryan Berard has drawn extra attention.
Despite what appears to be a relatively new trend, U.S. players have been going overseas to play for quite sometime.
While some have played in North America for several seasons (Dominique Wilkins and Bob McAdoo come to mind), others go abroad simply to garner more playing time.
This slideshow presentation is a nod to those athletes who have found great success outside of the United States in team sports.
I am not claiming that any of these are definitively the best to play overseas in their respective sports, but highlighting some of the great U.S. players to play throughout the world.
In determining the list, I considered the following:
1. LONGEVITY. While some have relatively short careers in other countries, I did not take into account players who played only one season overseas.
This includes many NHL players who played in Europe during the lockout. I wanted to examine players who have spent a good portion of their career abroad.
Also, I mainly focused on players who remained in leagues abroad, rather than returning to the United States.
2. STATISTICS. I mainly rely on statistical evidence rather than simply being on a team that wins titles. Titles are impressive, and certainly elevated one player on this list, but production is what I took into account.
3. COMPETITION. While certainly most leagues overseas do not likely compare to those in the United States, I did try to avoid obscure leagues. J.R. Sakuragi [formerly J.R. Henderson; pictured above during his college days] has had quite a productive career in the Japanese Basketball League, but my take is that the European leagues are much more competitive.
4. CLUB-LEVEL PERFORMANCE. I looked solely at these athletes' performance at the club level and did not take into account international play.
5. GEOGRAPHY. I looked at leagues that did not have a constant presence in the United States. At one time, the Canadian Football League did field franchises in the United States. But that experiment ended and therefore it is not constant; so I did include the CFL. Furthermore, MLB, MLS, NBA and NHL have a constant presence in the United States. So, even though they have teams in Canada and U.S. players are on those teams, I did not count those leagues.
6. TEAM SPORTS. I focused only on teams sports. No individual sports such as tennis or golf were analyzed.
NOW...on with the list!
The first sport that comes to mind in terms of U.S. players going outside the country is soccer. While many players have gone abroad, most play in lower divisions, or do not get into many games.
Goalkeeper Brad Friedel was one of the first not only to play in the English Premier League, but also one of the first to play for a top club.
Although his time at Liverpool was somewhat lackluster, he has produced a stellar career with Blackburn Rovers and now with Aston Villa.
He appeared in 261 matches with the Rovers (most all-time for the club). He is also the Brett Favre of the EPL, as he holds the record for most consecutive appearances with 182 in a row.
Friedel also led the Rovers to a Carling Cup victory in 2002. Since 2001, he has tallied 106 victories at the club level, while making 1,228 saves. He also has one goal!
Tim Howard, goalkeeper for Everton, could overtake Friedel. But for now, I am giving the nod to The Wall with The Villa.
CAREER STATS ABROAD (since 2001-02)
We all know about Doug Flutie and Warren Moon and their accomplishments in the Canadian Football League. But fewer likely know much about what Damon Allen has done in Canada.
Consider the following: Damon Allen rushed for 11,920 yards in his career. That is 323 fewer yards than his brother Marcus Allen, who ran for 12,243 yards.
Yes, Marcus gained those yards in the NFL while Damon did it in the CFL. But, Marcus was a running back; Damon was a quarterback!!!
Damon has thrown for 72,327 yards over his 23-year career in the CFL. That is more than any professional football player has ever thrown in any league (or combination of leagues)!
He threw a total of 394 touchdowns and rushed for 93 more, finishing with a QB Rating of 83.8.
In terms of honors, he won four Grey Cups, including one in his third year when he filled in for injured Edmonton Eskimos starter Matt Dunigan.
In that 1987 Grey Cup game, Allen's performance earned him the MVP of the championship game.
In 1993, he followed this up with another Grey Cup for the Eskimos and another Grey Cup MVP for himself.
In 2000, he led one of the traditionally worst teams in the CFL—BC Lions—to a Grey Cup, Allen's third title.
Finally, in 2004, he led the most successful CFL team—Toronto Argonauts—to the team's 15th Grey Cup. Allen was once again named the Grey Cup MVP.
Despite his career numbers, he was only named the league's Most Outstanding Player once.
But in 1993 he also won the Eddie James Memorial Trophy, awarded to the West Division's top rusher; the second quarterback ever to win the award.
Allen retired in 2008.
CAREER STATS ABROAD
-5158 completions on 9138 attempts (56.2 completion percentage)
-72,327 passing yards [World record]
-83.8 QB Rating
-11,920 rushing yards
-93 rushing touchdowns
-6.75 yards per carry
David Livingston, born in Massachusetts, played at Boston College. After spending one-half season in the minors, Livingston went to Europe, where he has been ever since.
Livingston ended up in the Eredivisie in the Netherlands almost on accident (a visa delay kept him from going to Finland) He won three league titles in Holland with Tilburg Trappers.
In 360 games from 1985 until 1995, Livingston scored 463 goals and 466 assists (930 points). He then moved to the Swedish HockeyAllsvensk (second tier league) for one season before going to Austrian Hockey League for four seasons.
After a lackluster season in England, he did not play for four seasons.
Livingston played in one game in the Netherlands in 2004-05 before resurrecting his career in Norway (29 goals and 30 assists in 33 games). He was 45 at the end of the 2007-08 season.
For his career, Livingston totaled 584 goals and 623 assists in 613 career games. That means he averaged nearly two points a game during his European tenure. He also won the 1994-95 Dutch League MVP; the same season he was the league's top scorer.
Livingston carries a Dutch passport, and has played on the Dutch National Team since 1991, most recently playing for them in 2006.
CAREER STATS ABROAD (through 2007-08 season, excludes playoffs)
-613 games played
-584 goals scored
-654 penalty minutes
Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes is probably best known by baseball fans as the first (and I believe only) National League batter to open the season with three home runs.
After opening the 1994 season with a bang, he went out with a whimper and vanished off of the North American baseball radar, save a blip in 2006.
But he did not completely vanish, as he re-emerged in the Nippon Professional Baseball league with the Kintetsu Buffaloes.
There, Rhodes blossomed and became one of most feared hitters in the Pacific League (and the NPB). For his career in Japan, he is batting .284 with 453 home runs and 1239 RBIs.
He holds the record for most home runs and RBIs in a career by a foreigner. He has led the Pacific League in home runs three times and while with the Yomiuri Giants in 2004 he was tied for the Central League lead in home runs.
Furthermore, Rhodes tied the NPB league single-season home run record, with 55 in 2001. He is tied with Alex Cabrera and Japanese great Sadaharu Oh for that home run record.
Rhodes is still playing in Japan, returning to the Buffaloes in 2007. Now playing in his 13th season in Japan, he has played in more seasons in the NPB league than any other foreigner.
Because he has played for more than 10 seasons, he also qualifies as a "Japanese" free agent and no longer counts towards a team's "foreigner cap."
The fans of the Orix Buffaloes, as they are known as now, also have a song they sing for Rhodes!
Oh yeah, he also holds the NPB record for ejections!
CAREER STATS ABROAD
-1622 games played
-0.285 batting average
-1059 runs scored (through 2008)
-453 home runs
-3423 total bases
-87 stolen bases
-38 hits by pitch
Basketball players have been going to Europe to play long before Josh Childress, Earl Boykins, and Jannero Pargo.
Both Bob McAdoo and Dominique Wilkins spent most of the ends of their respective careers in Europe. Anthony Parker, currently with the Toronto Raptors, made his name in Europe. All three were big time contributors in Europe, with McAdoo and Parker landing on the Euroleague's list of the 50 greatest contributors [to the league].
However, none of those can match the success of shooting guard Marcus Brown.
Brown's first foray into European basketball was with Pau-Orthez in the French league. All he did there was help guide his team to the league title while also collecting the league's MVP.
After a brief stay with the Detroit Pistons, he returned to Europe during the 1999-2000 season, this time with French club CSP Limoges. There, he helped the club pull off the hat trick, winning the French National Championship, the French National Cup and the Korac Cup Championship. Once again, he was named the French League MVP, as well as the French Championship MVP.
Brown's resume would continue to grow, as he would lead teams to national championships and/or cups in Turkey (four total), Russia (three total), Spain (once), Lithuania (twice) and most recently in Israel (once). Also, while with Zalgiris in the Lithuanian League, he helped his team to the Baltic League Championship (2007-08).
Brown's individual accomplishments include two MVPs in the Turkish League (2001-02 and 2002-03), two in the Russian League (2003-04 and 2004-05), and one in the Lithuanian League Finals (2007-08). He also made the All-Euroleague First Team once (2003-04) and the Second Team twice (2002-03 and 2004-05).
Nine different MVP trophies to go along with 16 different titles. All while averaging 15.4 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor (and 43 percent on three-pointers)! He also holds the records for the most career points in the Euroleague (2508 points).
The only reason that Marcus Brown did not make the list of the 50 Greatest Contributors of all-time is because, according to Euroleague, he was still active. He was, however, a nominee for the list.
He is currently with Israeli juggernaut Maccabi Tel Aviv.
CAREER STATS ABROAD(through 2007-08 seasons)
-241 games played
-3707 points (15.4 (average)
-447 three-pointers made
-140 games played
-2312 points (16.5 average)
-256 three-pointers made (39.3 % shooting)