Homenba

The 10 best foreign players in NBA history

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

February 11th, 2021

Basketball has become a global game, and over the past several decades, some of the best players from around the world have plied their trade in the NBA.

We’ve ranked the top 10 foreign players of all time, but with a few caveats. We've only considered their accomplishments stateside (sorry, Arvydas Sabonis), and neither Kobe Bryant (who was partly raised in Italy), or Tim Duncan (born in the Virgin Islands) were deemed eligible. This works to the benefit of some players and the detriment of others who may not have been able to enjoy full careers in the United States. It’s a fascinating study, and here’s the list!

10. Drazen Petrovic

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
15.4
2.3
2.4
1.3
0.2

Position: Shooting guard
NBA teams: Portland Trail Blazers, New Jersey Nets
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 1x All-NBA 

This one hurts. Petrovic was a dead-eye shooter far ahead of his time who had back-to-back seasons with more than 20 points per game before passing away in a car accident in Germany. His journey was profiled in the ESPN film Once Brothers, which prominently featured former teammate and friend…

9. Vlade Divac

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
11.8
8.2
3.1
1.1
1.4

Position: Center
NBA teams: Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Sacramento Kings
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 1x All-Star, All-Rookie Team

Born in Serbia, Divac was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989 and enjoyed a 16-year career in the league. He averaged a double-double three times, but is perhaps best known as the asset the Lakers traded to obtain Kobe Bryant before the 1996-97 season.

Article Image

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming. (Photo by Richard Clement/Icon Sportswire)

8. Yao Ming

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
19.0
9.2
1.6
0.4
1.9

Position: Center
NBA team: Houston Rockets
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 8x All-Star, 5x All-NBA 

When Ming was on the floor, he was a gigantic force, figuratively and literally. At 7’6”, he emerged as one of the top centers in basketball. However, injuries significantly reduced his playing time following the 2004-05 season, and he retired after playing just five games in 2010-11.

7. Manu Ginobili

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
13.3
3.5
3.8
1.3
0.3

Position: Shooting guard
NBA team: San Antonio Spurs
Accolades: 2x All-Star, 2x All-NBA, Sixth Man of the Year, 4x NBA Champion

The Argentinian lefty spent his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs. He was part of four championship teams, earned two All-Star selections, and was named the Sixth Man of the Year following the 2007-08 season.

Article Image

Hornets guard Speedy Claxton bottom gets pushed down by Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo. (Photo by Larry Smith/Icon Sportswire)

6. Dikembe Mutombo

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
9.8
10.3
1.0
0.4
2.8

Position: Center
NBA teams: Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA, 4x Defensive Player of the Year

Mutombo was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and rose to prominence as a center at Georgetown before enjoying an 18-year NBA career. He won four Defensive Player of the Year awards, made eight All-Star teams, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.

Article Image

Pau Gasol was a key piece the Lakers added at the 2008 NBA trade deadline, and he helped lead them to two championships. (Photo by Jeff Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

5. Pau Gasol

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
17.0
9.2
3.2
0.5
1.6

Position: Power forward
NBA teams: Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks
Accolades: 6x All-Star, 4x All-NBA, 2x NBA Champion

There was angst over the fifth and sixth spots on this list. Gasol made six All-Star teams to Mutombo’s eight and was never an All-Defensive Team selection. However, he was a consistent offensive force for most of his career and won two titles to Mutombo’s zero.

Article Image

San Antonio Spurs guards Tony Parker (9) and Manu Ginobili (20). (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

4. Tony Parker

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
15.5
2.7
5.6
0.8
0.1

Position: Point guard
NBA teams: San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets
Accolades: 6x All-Star, 4x All-NBA, NBA Finals MVP, 4x NBA Champion

The French point guard saw significant time immediately after arriving in San Antonio as a 19-year-old, and he developed into one of the best players in the league at his position. He made six All-Star teams, including three in a row in the early-2010’s.

Article Image

Standing (L-R) Phoenix Suns guard Leandro Barbosa (10), center Amare Stoudemire (1), guard Steve Nash (13), and forward Shawn Marion (31) wait for a fouls shot to be completed. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

3. Steve Nash

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
14.3
3.0
8.5
0.7
0.1

Position: Point guard
NBA teams: Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 8x All-Star, 7x All-NBA, 2x MVP

Born in South Africa and raised in Canada, Nash developed into a starter in Dallas before running point for the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns of the mid-2000’s. The two-time MVP made eight All-Star teams and led the league in assists five times. The only thing Nash didn’t do was win a championship.

Article Image

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki is guarded by New York Knicks forward Kenyon Martin. (Photo by Albert Pena/Icon Sportswire)

2. Dirk Nowitzki

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
20.7
7.5
2.4
0.8
0.8

Position: Power forward
NBA team: Dallas Mavericks
Accolades: 14x All-Star, 12x All-NBA, MVP, NBA Finals MVP, NBA Champion

Nash's lack of a championship is why his old Mavericks teammate edges his way into the top two. Nowitzki broke the mold as a power forward with legitimate perimeter shooting savvy and many different ways to stress a defense. He led Dallas to an upset over LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals, and he finished his career with 14 All-Star selections.

Article Image

Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers and Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets. (Photo by Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire)

1. Hakeem Olajuwon

PTSREBASTSTLBLK
21.8
11.1
2.5
1.2
1.5

Position: Center
NBA teams: Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 12x All-Star, 12x All-NBA, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, MVP, 2x NBA Champion

The Nigerian native Dream Shook his way to the top of our list by developing into not just one of the best foreign players of all-time, but one of the best players, period. Offensively, he averaged 20 or more points per game for the first 13 seasons of his career. Defensively, he led the league in blocks three times and rebounds twice. He won a pair of titles and took his rightful place in the Hall of Fame in 2008.

Loading...