Basketball has always been a marginal sport in the United States on a social level, of minorities, created by a Canadian, the great James Naismith, and praised in the American streets by Central European, Irish and Italian Jewish immigrants, who due to racism towards foreigners and their limited economic means, could not access the golden disciplines of the country such as baseball or American football. Once segregation was lowered, the blacks took over, who led basketball to stardom and, now, after more than a hundred years of baskets, it seems that foreigners have returned to recover the prominence they once had on the courts.
The classic perception of the foreigner and, especially, the European in the NBA has been almost completely blurred. They are no longer those players with adaptation problems, good wrists and poor defensive capacity, definitively weirdos (“They smell like a dead donkey,” the Indiana Pacers star said in 2010, Danny Granger, about the players of the Old Continent). Quite the contrary, since in recent years the trend is that, on an individual level, foreigners are the ones who monopolize the great recognitions that the league grants annually.
For the fifth consecutive year, the NBA, which is already facing its final stretch with the Conference finals, has had a non-American MVP (best player). The Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo won it in 2019 and 2020, and the Serbian Nikola Jokic took over in the following two seasons. A string that has had continuity this season, because after the Hellene and the Balkan, the Cameroonian with a French passport Joel Embiid, star of the Philadelphia 76ers, took the award. To make matters worse, Europe has also tied up the award for best rookie, already in the hands of the Italian Paolo Banchero (born in the United States but committed to the transalpine team), and the trophy for most improved player, directly for the Finnish Utah Jazz Lauri Markkanen. The United States has consoled itself by celebrating that Malcom Brogdon (Boston Celtics) and Jaren Jackson Júnior (Memphis Grizzlies) have won the awards for best sixth man and best defender, respectively.
They have not only excelled in metals, because during the 22-23 regular season, one of the best in recent memory, they have excelled in both continuity and brilliance. The two top scorers in the league have been the aforementioned Embiid (33.1 points per game) and the Slovenian Luka Doncic (32.4), and six of the highest scores in a match are by athletes with a non-US passport: Doncic (60 and 51), Embiid (59 and 53), Antetokounmpo (55) and Pascal Siakam (52). ), the painters of these works of art.
Where they have had the most impact, however, is in the rebounding statistics, in which the dominance has been almost absolute in a list made up of one American (Anthony Davis), seven Europeans (the Lithuanians Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas, the Serbian Jokic, the Montenegrin Nikola Vucevic, the French Rudy Gobert, the Swiss Clint Capela and the Greek Antetokounmpo), a Franco-African (Embiid) and a New Zealander (Steven Adams). A statistical bias that is explained by the fact that this campaign has been the most global in the 76-year history of the NBA, with 128 players (22.5% of the total) from 42 different nations.
The benches, an exception
Despite everything, there is a hole in this fairy tale, and it is in the benches. There have only been three coaches in all of history who were not born in the United States or did not have a passport from the North American country. Jay Triano, a Canadian from Ontario, led the Toronto Raptors for three years (from 2008 to 2011) and one as an interim for the Phoenix Suns (season 17-18); the legendary base Steve Nash, born in South Africa but with Canadian ID, coached the Brooklyn Nets (2020-2022); and finally, Serbian Stefan Kokoskov became the first European to be named NBA head coach in 2018, also being hired by the Suns. He only lasted a year in office.
A kind of veto that has lasted until today and has caused uneasiness, as in the case of the Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo. After being champion of the Raptors in 2019 as an assistant coach, he decided to pack his bags in 2021 due to the lack of opportunities and return to his native Italy to train Virtus Bologna, given the non-existence of offers to lead an NBA franchise (although Rumors have emerged in recent days linking the coach to the Canadian bench for next season). An asterisk in an NBA that with each passing year is more swallowed up by non-natives.
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