I recently had a discussion within a focus group, and discovered that Patrick Ewing was not born in America. This shocked me. Disbelieving, I immediately wiki-ed it, and found out that he indeed was born in Kingston Jamaica. One of my boyhood heroes—the Hoya Destroya—was not an American basketball product.
A few more quick searches yielded a list that has caused me to rethink much of what I believed about the state of US basketball.
The game is no longer just an American game. In the last decade alone, the number of European players has doubled. Africa had held steady, while South America has grown from no representation, to a 4 percent mark last year. Astounding.
What's more, we are no longer talking about foreign players that simply fill out the bottom halves of a teams roster. There are legitimate stars. Lots of them.
What started out as an effort to put together a list of these players for you, has grown into a challenge to field a competitive team. What I soon discovered may indeed shock you as well. I am having trouble keeping great players ON this 12 man roster.
What follows in the slide show below, is my attempt to field a competitive NBA roster. The criteria? The player had to be born outside the US or hold a non-US citizenship.
Our roster goes big (playing to our strengths). Included, we have three centers, three power forwards, two small forwards, two shooting guards, and two point guards.
Enjoy the list and feel free to include players you think I may have omitted in the comments.
You may be surprised how good this team really is.
Starter: Yao Ming (China): At 7 feet 6 inches tall, we've selected Ming to anchor our front court. The five-time All NBA center commands your attention (yes that's Andrew Bynum in the picture looking like the object of a focal lens trick next to Yao). Ming has post moves, can board, and is one of the better passing big men in the game. A can't miss pick that will make every other pick around him better.
Back-up: Marc Gasol (Spain). I mentioned we were going big, and our reserve center keeps the trend going. At 7'1" and 265 pounds, Marc had a breakout year in 2009-10. Improving upon both points (14.6), rebounds (9.4), and FG% (58 percent), Gasol looks to be a force in the NBA after just two seasons.
Reserve: Al Horford (Dominican)
Starter: Tim Duncan (Virgin Islands). There's only one place to start at PF. Still an 18 ppg 10 rebound performer, Tim has experience and championship pedigree. A former NBA MVP, and multiple title winner, Duncan knows how to win.
He's 34 years old, but we aren't building this team for the future. We want to win now and Duncan still gives us the best chance.
Back-ups: Dirk Nowitski (Germany). Pau Gasol (Spain). More length and even more experience. We like our front courts versatile, and the addition of Dirk and Pau provide just that. Dirk is capable of stepping out for the mid range shot, and there may not be a better passing PF in the league than the older Gasol brother.
At seven feet a piece, we've added our fourth seven-footer to the roster in the first five selections.
Starter: Luol Deng (Sudan): Deng has cemented himself as a forward to be reckoned with in the NBA, raising his averages from last year to 17.6 and 7.3.
Luol has worked hard on his perimeter game which is why we have included him on this club.
ESPN characterizes him as: "Isolations simply aren't Deng's strength, but he's a selfless player, a very underrated passer and, most of all, money on the pin-down and the cut-and-seal."
That's international basketball at it's finest.
Back-up: Danilo Gallinari (Italy): We opted for youth in our back-up small forward slot. At 6'10" and 225 pounds, Gallinari continues to give us size matchup advantages on the court.
In only his second season Danilo has averaged 15.0 ppg and five rebounds, while showing flashes of what the future holds (career-high 30 points and made eight three-pointers in an overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers).
Starter: Manu Ginobli (Argentina): Ginobli is exactly the kind of shooting guard we want on our team, as our sets will stress execution and the ability to knock down open shots. Manu's versatility has been on display for nearly a decade, succeeding not only in the physical NBA game, but also the set-play and jump-shooting oriented FIBA.
In 2007 John Hollinger of ESPN wrote: "Manu is one of the great draft heists of all time", ranking him as the sixth best international player in the history of the NBA. Heady, deceptively athletic, and tenacious. A great fit in our system.
Back-up: Raja Bell (Virgin Islands): When called upon, Bell will provide that defensive presence to lock-down an opposing teams athletic 2-guard or small forward. Earlier in his career, was dubbed "The Kobe Stopper" for his intense battles with the Lakers star.At 6'5", 215, Raja provides a physical defensive minded shooting guard who is capable of knocking down kick-outs.
Starter: Tony Parker (France): We had a hard time choosing between two players, but decided that Parkers youth won out.
Tony's pace and great field goal percentage make him an excellent fit on our international team. We aren't goping to ask Tony to score as much as he is capable of because we will try to take advantage of our great length down low, but Parker provides an excellent outlet and command of the break (as our big men can run).
Parker has been selected as an NBA All-Star three times, an All-NBA Third Team member once, and was the 2007 NBA Finals MVP. He has also won three championships and shares excellent chemistry with Tim Duncan (our starting power forward).
Our philosophy will not be to run and gun, as much as it will be to use Tony's great quickness on the defensive end.
It also doesn't hurt that we will get to see Eva Longoria on the sidelines.
Backup: Steve Nash (South Africa, Canada). Nash needs no introduction... but we will.
In addition to leading the Suns to the Western Conference Finals, Nash is a two time NBA MVP. HIs bid for a second straight (and third overall) award was narrowly missed after losing out to our international teams backup power forward Dirk Nowitski.
Ranking as one of the top players in league history for three-point shooting, free-throw shooting, total assists and assists per game, we feel confident in Steve's ability to lead the team from the bench (even at 37 years old).
The Wrap: Many names have been left off our 12 man rotation, but we feel that this lineup gives us a great chance to compete:
Yao Ming (China)
Marc Gasol (Spain)
Al Horford (Dominican)
Tim Duncan (Virgin Islands)
Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
Pau Gasol (Spain)
Luol Deng (Sudan, UK)
Danilo Gallinari (Italy)
Manu Ginobli (Argentina)
Raja Bell (Virgin Islands)
Tony Parker (France)
Steve Nash (S. Africa, Canada)