Throughout the history of the NBA, around 4,500 players have played in the league, of which approximately 500 were born outside the United States. Many come from nearby Canada, Mexico or the Dominican Republic, while others come from Europe, South America and the far-flung Africa and Australia.
All of them, without exception, arrived with all their potential looking to succeed in this difficult league, but only a few managed to do it. In recent years, the presence of foreigners in the league has increased notably, standing out in a convincing way and making a place for themselves among the best, due to their exceptional conditions, physical strength and talent. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 10 best foreign players in NBA history.
eleven Steve Nash (Canada)
Born February 7, 1974, in Johannesburg, South Africa. With an English father and a Welsh mother, from the age of two he lived in Regina, Canada, adopting this nationality. Later he would also obtain British citizenship from his parents from him. Steve Nash played between 1996 and 2014 with the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers, averaging 14.3 points, 8.5 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. He also won two consecutive MVP awards in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.
10 Dikembe Mutombo (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Picked fourth overall in the 1991 draft by the Denver Nuggets, this 7-2, 245-pound center, was born June 25, 1966, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, halfway across the African continent. Dikembe Mutombo was a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time rebounding champion and block champion in three straight campaigns. Mutombo scored 9.8 points per game, with 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game.
9 Yao Ming (Chinese)
Standing at 7’6″ and weighing 310 pounds, this center born in Shanghai-China, could not be absent from this list. Eight-time all-star and with career numbers of 19 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Yao Ming unfortunately could not leave more convincing total numbers because he was frequently injured, and this limited him to only 486 games in eight years of action, after which he decided to retire when he was just 30 years old.
8 Rudy Gobert (France)
Nowadays, the foreign kids that make life in the NBA, have stood out in an important way, as, for example, the center born in Saint-Quentin, France, Rudy Gobert. He has three all-star appearances, four All-NBA team appearances, he’s been named Defensive Player of the Year on three occasions, he is a rebounding champion and block champion.
Those accolades speak of his great talent to defend in this game, but he is also an exceptional shooter. In his nine-year career with the Utah Jazz, he averages 12.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.
7 Pau Gasol (Spain)
Pau Gasol’s 18 NBA seasons, in which he left the very outstanding numbers (17 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists and 1.6 blocks per game), say clearly what an effective player he was. And the fact is that this native of Barcelona-Spain, two-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, did not disappoint all the analysts who made him worthy of being the third pick in the 2001 draft. Rookie of the Year in 2001-02, Six-time all-star and a great player on and off the court.
6 Luka Doncic (Slovenia)
The third overall pick in the 2018 draft, Luka Doncić is another one of our standouts. We know he’s just 23 years old and has barely played for four seasons, but the Dallas Mavericks point guard has all the tools to become an NBA legend. Where will the Slovenian-born player go? If we take into account what he has done so far, the sky is the limit; he averages 26.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game.
5 Joel Embiid (Cameroon)
From Cameroon, Joel Embiid, the intimidating 7-0, 280-pound center of the Philadelphia 76ers, is undoubtedly one of the best foreign players in NBA history. In five seasons, he has averaged 11.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 blocks and 26 points per game. Joel Embiid is also the first foreign player ever to win the scoring title, recording 30.6 points per game in the 2021-22 season
4 Giannis Antetokoumpo (Greece)
Does anyone have any doubts about how intimidating, effective and powerful Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the paint? Maybe, how quick and smart he is at grabbing rebounds? We think not, and therefore it is impossible to take him out of this list.
Born in Athens, Greece, the 27-year-old power forward is writing his own history day by day. He has already been NBA champion, being Finals MVP, he has also won the MVP award two times, and he was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2019-20. 21.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game reflect his fantastic career.
3 Dirk Nowitzki (Germany)
Dirk Nowitzki was born on June 19, 1978, in Würzburg, Germany. He has played 1522 games, in which he averaged 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists, so there is no need to explain why he was chosen. Champion and MVP of the 2010-11 Finals with the Dallas Mavericks, MVP of the 2006-07 season, and 14 appearances in the all-Star game, speak of how outstanding and productive the German Race Car was throughout his 21-year career.
two Nikola Jokic (Serbia)
Every game, every week, every month, every year, this 27-year-old Serbian is looking better and better. Outperforming himself campaign after campaign, and as today he presents the following statistics: 19.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. Nikola Jokić grabs rebounds, assists, shoots from distance, he pretty much does it all. He has two years in a row winning the MVP award with ample reason to get it.
1 Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria)
Hakeem Olajuwon is, so far, for all the numbers he left, for his consistency, and for what he has achieved, the best foreign player in NBA history. 18 seasons in which he played 1238 games, recording 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.1 blocks per game, explain the place he undoubtedly occupies. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year, MVP in the 93-94 season, two-time Finals MVP, two-time rebounding champion and three-time block champion. Its worth mentioning that Olajuwon is the all-time leader in blocks (3,830), a record that will probably never be broken.