Early in the first quarter of a Dec. 21, 2007 matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers, Dirk Nowitzki became the highest scoring German-born player in NBA history. Nowitzki took a pass from Devin Harris 16 feet from the basket with 6:35 on the clock and nailed the jumper, giving him 15,763 career points – two more than former Sonic and Pacer standout Detlef Schrempf.
Three-and-a-half years later, Nowitzki passed Schrempf in another important marker of greatness: NBA championships. If it wasn’t already abundantly clear who was the greatest German baller of all time, Nowitzki cast aside any doubt last Sunday.
But how does Dirk stack up against players from all over the world? Is he the best player born outside of the States to ever win an NBA championship? To find out, let’s break down the Top 10 NBA players born outside the United States with a championship ring (or whatever the hell Mark Cuban decides to buy the Mavs).
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10. Steve Kerr
The most accurate three-point shooter in NBA history, Steve Kerr earned five championships during his 15-year career. Born in Lebanon, Kerr spent a large portion of his childhood in the Middle East. Kerr entered the NBA in 1988 and eventually found a home in Chicago where he played an important reserve role for the Bulls during their dynasty. Kerr hit over 700 treys in his career, but he always be best remembered a mid-range jumper he knocked down in 1997:
9. Peja Stojakovic
Peja makes this list because of his standout seasons with the Kings, but ranks near the bottom because of his abysmal showing last week. Out of all the players on this list, Stojakovic is the least deserving of his championship, scoring just two total points during the Mavs 4-2 series victory over the Heat. But despite the Serbian’s poor shooting and embarrassing defensive performance during the playoffs, Stojakovic should be remembered for his glory days with Sacramento. A three-time All-Star, Peja finished tied for second behind Tracy McGrady in scoring during the 2003-04 season, averaging 24.2 points per game. He also had a few memorable performances at the Three-Point Contest:
8. Mehmet Okur
Okur became the first Turkish-born player to win an NBA title with Detroit in 2004 and was rewarded for his contributions to the Pistons with a $50-million deal with Utah. Okur put up big numbers with the Jazz during the 2005-2006 season, averaging 18 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. In 2007, Okur was selected to his first and only All-Star appearance, where he got to show off his skills as a perimeter defender against Shaq:
7. Toni Kukoc
Some other guy might have helped him out a little bit, but Kukoc managed to take home three NBA championships during his 13-year career. During the 1995-1996 season, the Croatian forward chipped in with 13.1 points per game as the Bulls finished with a 72-10 record. Kukoc had his greatest individual campaign during the 1998-1999 season, taking over for the retired Michael Jordan as the Bulls’ leading scorer. But Kukoc will perhaps be best remembered for this moment from his rookie year:
6. Manu Ginobili
You may notice a trend among the final six names on this list starting with Manu Ginobili. The Argentine was the steal of the 1999 NBA draft, getting picked up by the San Antonio Spurs with the 57th overall pick. But Ginobili certainly hasn’t played like a second-round pick during his nine years in the league, averaging 14.3 points per game throughout his career. The 2008 NBA Sixth Man of the Year and two-time All-Star won championships with the Spurs in 2003, 2005 and 2007. In addition to bringing three trophies to San Antonio, Ginobili is also known for bringing the Euro step to the NBA:
5. Tony Parker
Like Ginobili, Parker captured three titles with the Spurs. The French point guard was drafted by the Spurs with the 28th overall pick in the 2001 draft and made an immediate contribution. Parker dropped 9.2 points per game as a rookie and has finished in double figures every year since. He has claimed three titles since he arrived in the league, putting the team on his back in 2007 during the Spurs’ 4-0 series sweep of the Cavs. Parker dropped 24.5 points per game on 56.8 percent shooting during the series (see below), becoming the first European-born player to claim an NBA Finals MVP award.
4. Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol suffered through six full seasons with the Grizzlies, never making it out of the first round of the playoffs. The Spanish import escaped to Los Angeles during the 2007-08 season where he teamed up with Kobe for a pair of championships in ’09 and ’10. The 2002 Rookie of the Year and four-time All-Star has averaged at least 14 points and seven rebounds in each of his 10 seasons in the league. Gasol played a crucial role in both Lakers’ championships, dropping 19.6 points and 11.1 boards during Los Angeles’ playoff run in 2010 while also putting together some pretty spectacular highlights:
3. Dirk Nowitzki
The newest addition to this list, Nowitzki wowed NBA fans this past week with his ability to make one-footed fadeaway jumpers look like layups. The German native carried the Mavericks to its first title in franchise history, averaging 26 points per game during the Mavs 4-2 victory over the Heat. The 2007 MVP and 10-time All-Star, Dirk has dropped 22,792 career points, ranking him 23rd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
2. Tim Duncan
The last of the Spurs’ international trio to make the list, Duncan has established himself as one of the greatest forwards in NBA history. In his 14 seasons in the league, The Big Fundamental has put together an impressive resume: 13-time All-Star, four-time NBA champion, and two-time MVP. A native of the Virgin Islands, Duncan is one of just 37 players in NBA history to drop over 20,000 career points. Check out some of Duncan’s top fundamental plays from his career.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon
The top spot on this list is reserved for The Dream. Born in Nigeria, Olajuwon dominated the NBA for over 15 years. He captured back-to-back championships with the Rockets in 1994 and 1995, leading Houston in scoring and rebounding for the majority of his career. Olajuwon was named an All-Star on 12 occasions and took home the MVP award in 1994. Here is a look at some of the top plays from Hakeem’s career:
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