Ricky Rubio Of The Habsburg Empire: Picturing The NBA's Europe Through Geopolitical History

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Saturday in Vienna, the remains of Otto von Habsburg — would-be Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, (presumably non-apostolic) King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, and Galicia, Lodomeria, and Illyria, and so on, had all those jobs not been downsized when he was two years old — were entombed, in two separate portions. The 98-year-old Otto died on July 4, an important day for people who care about republican government and the like.

Three days before his death, NBA owners, in a paroxysm of monarchical self-destruction unseen since the run-up to the First World War, locked out the league's players. A week before that, the same owners had spent their annual draft plucking unpronounceable, diacritic-laden boys — is that one Motiejūnas, Mirotić, or Mačvan? — from the Habsburgs' old stomping grounds.


Now, led by Nets point guard Deron Williams, the players are threatening to leave en masse for Europe — by which they mean Turkey, or specifically the former Constantinople, whose Sultans (or their wives) fought the Habsburgs (or their jaws) for 400 years. Williams, it's said, has masterfully put the screws to his boss, Mikhail Prokhorov, who maybe wants to be prime minister of the successor to the empire that finally united Turk and Austrian in their WW1 suicide pact. (Everything was paid for by the Germans, of course.) What is Europe?

The late Otto has been toasted as an early proponent of European integration, which is a nice way of saying the last diehard for his own restoration. But it's hard to stay mad at a guy who outlived both Franz Ferdinand, his uncle taken out by Serb nationalists, and Franz Ferdinand, of "Take Me Out." Austria and Hungary were playing soccer, Otto was once told. "Against whom?" he asked.


ESPN's draft-night "talent" was, of course, painfully geopolitically correct, describing people as Latvian or Croatian or Serbian as if nations were real things! (Those last two weren't even separate "languages" till the 1990s.) In Europe, anyway, nationhood seems mostly to be a way of preserving USA Basketball's dull hegemony over the global game. Imagine a Habsburg Dream Team that could call on the Gasols and Bieberish PG Ricky Rubio of Spain (and with them, Ginóbili, etc. from the Spanish Empire), #6 pick Jan Veselý of Bohemia, Dirk Nowitzki of Würzburg (a prince-bishopric under the Holy Roman Empire), and so long as we're being ahistorical, Croatians (Dalmatians?) Toni Kukoč, Dražen Petrović, and Dino Radja.

Imagine no more! Here are the imperial loyalties of your 2011 NBA class, through the ages, along with other notable draftees from recent years. Caveats: Remarkably there were two Lithuanians and two Montenegrins selected this year; only the highest drafted of each is shown (sorry Motiejūnas and Mirotić). In general, things are based on birthplace — thus, Tony Parker is Belgian, not French. Where necessary, hometowns are noted in parentheses; otherwise who'd know where Marcin Gortat went in the three partitions of Poland? Colors and patterns should broadly indicate successor states — the fuchsia thus means today's Serbia is the last vestige of Yugoslavia, Europe's last real basketball empire. These are all, of course, subject to the political biases and chromatic whims of the author.

Click the image below for a full-sized chart.


Jonathan Liu is a writer in Brooklyn.