JOKIC AND VUCEVIC…AND DONCIC OF COURSE
Tell me, do you remember Hank Biasatti?
He was a major league baseball player, a first baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1949, who compiled career stats of an .083 BA with 2 Hits (both doubles) and 2 RBI.
Born in Italy and raised in Canada, he also was the NBA’s first international player in 1946, the year of the league’s inception.
Biasatti was invited to the inaugural training camp of the Toronto Huskies in preparation for the first season of the Basketball Association of America (BAA), the forerunner of the NBA.
He played six games for the Huskies, including the BAA’s first ever game on November 1, 1946.
He scored a total of 6 points.
Biasatti was given an outright release by the Huskies in December, after telling the team that baseball was his top priority, and that he’d be attending spring training with the Athletics.
The Boston Celtics selected him in the 1947 BAA Draft, but he never played for them.
The takeaway here is dual.
Hank Biasatti, to this day, is the only Canadian to play at the top professional level in both baseball and basketball.
And he is formally recognized by the NBA as the first international player in league history.
Fast forward to the seismic global impact of the NBA, circa the start of 2020-’21 season.
Among foreign players, excluding those born in the United States, Canada has produced the most, with 52.
From European nations, 37 have come from France.
From the Oceania countries, Australia has produced 25, New Zealand three.
From Africa — Nigeria and Senegal have produced 23 and 12 respectively.
From Latin American countries, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Argentina have checked in at 17, 15 and 12 players respectively.
Asian countries, China and Japan: 6 and 5.
Among Transcontinental countries Russia, Turkey and Georgia, the numbers are 13, 12 and ten players respectively.
In total, 84 players have come from the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia) and 53 from the former Soviet Union (Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine).
From Hank Biasatti to Giannis Antetokounmpo…
You’ve come a long way baby!!!
But it hasn’t always been easy.
Ask Serbia’s Darko Milicic.
Or Yi Jianlian of China.
Andrea Bargnani from Italy fared a bit better, but was not exactly the hardwood embodiment of the “Bel Paese.”
Vassilis Spanoulis of Greece was so dominant in Europe that Euro Kobe became his moniker.
Displaying his wares on NBA floors with the Houston Rockets, ideally as a potentially dangerous complement to Tracy McGrady, turned out to be a bust.
Said Spanoulis, “I was McGrady back home. Great. McGrady is McGrady here.”
Hasheem Thabeet of Tanzania was the #2 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, selected ahead of Steph Curry, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan.
He played for four teams in five seasons and retired with a 2.2 ppg. average.
The Czech Republic’s Jan Vesely was drafted sixth overall in 2011 ahead of Kemba Walker (#9); Klay Thompson (11); Kawhi Leonard (15); Nicola Vucevic (16); Tobias Harris (18); and Jimmy Butler (30).
Three years: 162 GP; 3.6 PPG; 3.5 RPG; 0.6 APG; 40.8% FT.
Frenchman Frederic Weis’ most memorable brush with international fame came in the 2000 Summer Olympics when Vince Carter of the US posterized him with a ferocious dunk, jumping completely over the 7’2” behemoth.
The French press dubbed it, “Le Dunk de la Mort.”
That’s when the first round pick (#15) in the 1999 draft — selected by the Knicks — remarked that he learned people could fly.
Weis never played an NBA game.
Several other international stars failed to make the grade.
Georgios Papagiannis, Greece: #13 pick by Sacramento in 2016.
Maciej Lampe, Poland.
Rafael Araujo, Brazil.
Bruno Caboclo, Brazil.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Georgia.
Saer Sene, Senegal.
And of course there were #1 overall selections Michael Olowokandi, Nigeria (1998) and Anthony Bennett, Canada (2013).
Olowokandi played 500 NBA games, impacting few of them, and Bennett only 151 through 2017.
At just 28, Bennett is still trying to claw his way back to the big-time, through the NBA G-League.
For each yin, there must be a yang.
In no particular order:
Dirk Nowitzki, Germany.
Steve Nash, South Africa/Canada.
Yao Ming, China.
Pau Gasol, Spain.
Tony Parker, France.
Hakeem Olajuwon, Nigeria.
Marc Gasol, Spain.
Toni Kukoc, Croatia.
Peja Stojakovic, Croatia.
Drazen Petrovic, Croatia.
Manu Ginobili, Argentina.
Arvydas Sabonis, Lithuania.
Vlade Divac, Serbia.
Goran Dragic, Slovenia.
Dikembe Mutombo, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Al Horford, Dominican Republic.
Detlef Schrempf, Germany.
Tim Duncan, St Croix, USVI.
Andrew Bogut, Australia.
Rik Smits, Netherlands.
Luol Deng, Sudan.
Kyrie Irving, Australia.
Dominique Wilkins, France.
Patrick Ewing, Jamaica.
These successful pioneers blazed the trail for today’s NBA foreign forces.
Between Giannis, Nikola x2= Jokic and Vucevic, Luka, Domantas (son of Arvydas), Kristaps, Joel, Ben, Rudy, Pascal, Buddy, Serge, Jamal, Shai, Tristan, Bojan, Jusuf, Deandre, Clint, Dennis, Danilo, Steven, Bogdan, Joe, Andrew, Jonas, Lauri, OG, Ricky, Kelly, Juan, Guillermo, Cory, R.J., Boban, Evan, Dario, Brandon, Patty, Bol, Enes, Aron, Matthew, Tacko, Moritz, Daniel, Nicolas, Frank, and Precious — to name but a few, and apologies to those omitted — the future is blindingly bright.
For the NBA and for kids around the world with the burning desire to play basketball at its highest level.
Women in the NBA.
[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in March 2021.]