After the sudden burst of popularity for basketball on the worldwide stage following the inaugural Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, the NBA realized the global appeal of the game of basketball and began focusing on developing talent from overseas. Suddenly, foreign-born players were moving up the draft board. They were no longer just draft-and-stash lottery tickets, but legit prospects who, in many cases, were able to come to the U.S. and make an immediate impact. During the 2016 NBA Draft, almost half of the 30 players selected in the first round (14) were born outside the U.S. and eight of those players played internationally.
The NBA is a better, more diverse, ambassador to the basketball-loving world now because of this. But it’s more than that: the game and the competition is stronger. To put it plainly and absent hyperbole: the best in the world come to play in the NBA and some of those players become the best in the NBA.
In celebration of this fact as we head toward the preseason, we decided to take a closer look at the fruits of this revolution and make our picks for the 10 best foreign-born players in NBA history.
Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)
Hakeem Olajuwon is a Hall of Famer with a closet full of trophies from his time in the NBA, including two championship rings. “The Dream” had incredible agility and a terrific basketball IQ and his career statistics show just how much of a force he was, averaging 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He’s also the originator of the “Dream Shake,” a series of low-post spin moves that enabled him to dominate for the whole of his career. Dream’s even made an impact on today’s game by tutoring Kobe Bryant, while also working with LeBron James, Dwight Howard and more on their own low-post strategy.