Thirty years after the Dream Team introduced the NBA to the world at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the league has transformed into something that the late David Stern would be proud of. Basketball has truly become an international game.
As the All-NBA Teams were announced earlier this week, many may have overlooked how the teams were composed, as a shift is taking place that’s become the norm over the last few years.
Of the 15 players that were voted to the team, five of them were born outside of the United States: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Luka Dončić (Slovenia), Nikola Jokić (Serbia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), and Pascal Siakam (Cameroon). In 2021, the NBA featured at least 109 International players from at least 39 countries.
In fact, the last time the All-NBA Team only featured players born in the United States was the 2015-2016 season which included the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, DeAndre Jordan, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond, Klay Thompson, and Kyle Lowry.
The 2018-2019 season also included five international players on the All-NBA Team, as six members made it in back-to-back seasons between 2020 and 2021. With Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons both being born in Australia, it has given the international players slots on the team that some fans may have mistakenly thought were born here.
When Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro was named Sixth Man of the Year earlier this month, it meant that he was the first American-born white player to win an award in a decade since Houston’s Ryan Anderson won Most Improved Player in 2012. An American-born white player hasn’t won MVP (Larry Bird) since 1986, captured Rookie of the Year (Mike Miller) since 2001, or been named Defensive Player of the Year (Mark Eaton) since 95.
International stars have taken over so much that the last four MVP trophies have been awarded to players who weren’t born in America, as Jokić and Antetokounmpo have each won it twice. And with the addition of Embiid and Dončić, four of the five top vote-getters for the award this season were all international players.
In terms of individual awards, there hasn’t been an American-born player to win MVP since James Harden won it in 2018. Three international players have won Rookie of the Year since 2015 in Andrew Wiggins (Canada), Simmons, and Dončić. Between Marc Gasol (Spain), Rudy Gobert (France), and Antetokounmpo, Defensive Player of the Year has been won five times by an international player since 2013. That’s the same number of non-Americans that have won Most Improved Player since 2006, which includes Boris Diaw (France), Hedo Türkoğlu (Turkey), Goran Dragić (Slovenia), Antetokounmpo, and Siakam.
At the 1992 Summer Games, Charles Barkley infamously said, “All I know about Angola is Angola’s in trouble,” during an Olympics in which teams were lining up to take pictures with Barkley and his teammates. That isn’t the case anymore as international stars are winning the same awards that Barkley used to.