European Players in the NBA

21st August 2019
European players have a growing presence in the best basketball league in the world. In our post today, let's see how far the players from the Old Continent have come.

The NBA is, without question, the most important basketball league in the world. When the league first began in the United States, home players filled the courts. But, over the years, Europeans have been joining the game, positioning themselves next to the best basketball players in the world. So in today’s post, let’s take a closer look at the European players in the NBA.

Before, the difference between FIBA and the NBA was so big that FIBA players could only dream of making it to the NBA. But dreams slowly became a possible reality over time.

The 80s marked a peak where US clubs began their search for European talent. Since then, the Old Continent has been filling up with scouts. Players such as Georgi Gluchkov and Fernando Martin would later pave the way for more players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, and Pau Gasol.

The first European players in the NBA

Georgi Glouchkov, the first European to ever play in the NBA

Yugoslavian Georgi Gluchkov was the first European ever to play in the NBA. He started his journey with the Phoenix Suns in 1985. Unfortunately, the then 25-year-old didn’t begin his first game with a victory, despite having scored seven points and securing seven rebounds against the Atlanta Hawks.

Glouchkov, who played as a power forward, was one of the strongest players in European basketball. He averaged 23 points and 19 rebounds in the Bulgarian league before heading off to play in the NBA.

His statistics paved the way to the American dream and he accomplished a grand feat for Yugoslavian basketball. And, in terms of skill level, his ascent to the NBA was similar to moving on to an entirely new galaxy.

NBA europeans georgi
Image: Diario AS

While the first European to play among the greats in the NBA had a promising start in his first season, his performance eventually crumbled. Glouchkov’s NBA career ended that same season and he returned to the FIBA.

Fernando Martin, the first Spaniard to play in the NBA

While Fernando Martin’s performance didn’t measure up to expectations either, he was the first Spaniard to play in the NBA; he played for the Portland Trail Blazers.

The 2.05-meter tall center had the privilege of blazing a new road for other Spanish players such as Pau and Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon. Martin debuted against the Seattle Supersonics on October 31st, 1986.

NBA europeans martin
Image: El Español

Martin, who once played for the Spanish basketball teams Club Estudiantes and Real Madrid, arrived at the NBA in 1986. Unfortunately, he died in a traffic accident at just 27-years old. His death shook an entire generation.

Petrovic and Divac, the first star players

When the Portland Trail Blazers took a shot with Drazen Petrovic in 1989, they gained a star 25-year-old player in European basketball. However, Petrovic’s beginnings in the NBA didn’t quite reflect the stardom he had back home. Instead, his first years were spent on the bench.

NBA europeans petrovic

Fortunately, after two years of sitting out, Petrovic decided to leave Portland and head on to New Jersey. There, the Croatian genius donned a Nets jersey and finally got to play on the court to demonstrate his talent. He would move on to become a star player and a core member of the team.

But a traffic accident on June 7th, 1993 would cut his course short, taking the life of one of the most admired players of all time.

Moving on, Yugoslavian, Vlade Divac was one of the most successful Europeans in basketball. To state the facts, the ex-Sacramento Kings player is one of only seven players in NBA history to have made at least 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, and 1,500 blocks. His records stand proudly among those of other players such as Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and Pau Gasol.

NBA europeans divan
Image: piratasdelbasket.net

European players in the NBA today

Today, European players stand by the name they made for themselves in the NBA. In fact, this year a total of 59 European players play in the NBA. It’s a long way from the times when the first European, Georgi Glouchkov, came to play in  1985.

In addition, with each year the FIBA gains in professionalism and closes the gap that separates them from the NBA. Promising player, Luka Doncic is the perfect example of how the world of Basketball is changing.

As you’ve read with us today, European players in the NBA didn’t have it easy. But thanks to players such as Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, and Ricky Rubio, Europe, can say that they have star players too.

  • Price, J., & Wolfers, J. (2010). Racial discrimination among NBA referees. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 125(4), 1859–1887. https://doi.org/10.1162/qjec.2010.125.4.1859