Since its creation in 1946, the NBA has been made up of mostly American players. But, throughout the history of the NBA, foreign players such as Yao Ming from China, Hakeem Olajuwon from Nigeria, and Manu Ginóbili from Argentina have shined in the spotlight of the most competitive basketball league in the world. While these players are all-time greats, they were frequently outshined by American players such as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James.
Prior to 2019, only Canadian Steve Nash (2005, 2006), German Dirk Nowitzki (2007), and Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) were awarded the MVP trophy. Though foreign athletes have historically struggled to be recognized as the number one player in the NBA, this is starting to change.
The last four MVPs have been foreign players: Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece won the award in 2019 and 2020, Nikola Jokić from Serbia won in 2021 and 2022, and Joel Embiid from Cameroon won in 2023. Additionally, Luka Dončić from Slovenia and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from Canada both made the 2023 All NBA First team.
This rise of foreign players is no coincidence. In recent years, basketball has become increasingly popular globally. In Europe, an increase in media coverage of the Euroleague and LNB Pro A has been especially influential in growing basketball’s fanbase. Europe is also home to the most promising foreign prospect the NBA has ever seen.
Victor Wembanyama, the projected number one overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft, is from France. Wembanyama has been able to showcase his skills by playing on the Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 team. He also competed against the U.S.A. U19 team in the FIBA World Cup.
Wembanyama is no ordinary prospect. As a 7-foot-2 center, he is compared to Kevin Durant and is currently regarded as one of the best, if not the greatest, prospects of all time, even ahead of LeBron James. Richard Jefferson, retired NBA player and now ESPN analyst, had high praise for Wembanyama.
When comparing Victor to LeBron as a prospect, Jefferson said, “Victor Wembanyama would go higher than LeBron if they were in the same draft class.”
Globalization is changing the world of basketball for the better and we are all witness to it.