Europeans In The NBA: The First Generation
With ESPN’s latest “30 for 30” piece focusing on the friendship of two of the first European NBA stars—Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic (R.I.P.)—and how the Yugoslavian civil war tore it apart, we thought it’d be a good time to take a look back at the careers of some of the pioneers of the European/NBA crossover. (Players must have been drafted before 1991.)
Detlef Schrempf (1986, 8th pick in the draft, drafted by the Dallas Mavericks)
Went to high school and college in the U.S. (Washington), so he’s not the first player who comes to mind when you think “Euro pioneer.” Played for the Mavericks, Indiana Pacers, Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trail Blazers. One of only two Germans (the other being Dirk Nowitzki) to play in the NBA Finals. Three-time NBA All-Star.
2010 COMPARISON: What Darko Milicic was meant to be when he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh
Drazen Petrovic (1986, 60th pick, Portland Trail Blazers)
His shot was money from anywhere inside halfcourt. Scored 112 points in a single game in the Euroleague. Also had a 45 point/25 assist Euroleague game. Led all NBA guards in field goal percentage (52%) in 1992–93. Died in a car accident in 1993.
2010 COMPARISON: Shorter, quicker Peja Stojakovic (with balls)
Vlade Divac (1989, 26th pick, Los Angeles Lakers)
Quite possibly the last NBA player to smoke regularly (we’re talking cigarettes here, not ah, we’ll leave that one alone). Bridges the gap between the Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant eras with the Los Angeles Lakers—he played his first two seasons with Magic and was traded for a rookie Kobe in 1996. Shaquille O’Neal’s arch-nemesis as a Sacramento King. NBA All-Star in 2001.
2010 COMPARISON: Pau Gasol. Same dirty beard and everything.
Dino Radja (1989, 40th pick, Boston Celtics)
If Hollywood needed a scruffy European bad guy, they should have knocked on Dino’s door. Joined the NBA the same year as fellow Euro star Toni Kukoc (1993) and they both made the All-Rookie second team. Winner of two Olympic silver medals, one with Yugoslavia (1988) and one with Croatia (1992).
2010 COMPARISON: Shorter, quicker Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Sarunas Marcilonis (1989, 127th, Golden State Warriors)
Was Manu Ginobili before Manu was Manu. Lefty slasher/shooter. Helped create the iconic Lithuanian tie dye t-shirts that were the must-have item of the 1992 Olympics.
2010 COMPARISON: Less explosive Manu Ginobili (yes, we know Manu is South American and not European, but their games are too compatible to ignore).
Toni Kukoc (1990, 29th, Chicago Bulls)
Leading up to (and during) the Bulls first threepeat, Chicago’s management chased Kukoc with so much enthusiasm Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen went out of their way to shut him down in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Had one of the coolest nicknames in basketball—“The Waiter”—and also one of the worst—“The Pink Panther.” Infamously hit a game-winning shot in the 1994 NBA Playoffs after Pippen refused to check back into the game in the final seconds. Three-time NBA Champion (the Bulls second threepeat).
2010 COMPARISON: Dirk Nowitzki (supersize the scoring, downsize the passing).
Honorable Mention: Arvydas Sabonis
Sabonis was drafted in 1986 but didn’t play in the NBA until 1995, when he was a shell of his former self. Before he tore his Achilles’ tendon, most people described him as a quicker Shaq who could shoot threes. Now that’s a scary thought.
Dishonroable Mention: Frederick Weis
Yeah, he’s part of the new generation of Euros, plus he never actually played in the NBA (he was drafted by the Knicks though, one pick ahead of Ron Artest in the 1999 NBA Draft—great pick guys), but we’re always looking for an excuse to run this picture of Vince Carter crowning the big Frenchman at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.