By Lauren Brill
The NBA Global Top 10 highlights the play of the association's best international athletes.
This edition of the Global Top 10 revisits the 1990-1991 season, educating fans
about which Nigerian-born athlete led the league in blocks that year and which
Serbian-born center helped the Lakers reach the 1991 NBA Finals.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon Led the League in Blocks
Now seven years in the league, Hakeem Olajuwon, a native of Nigeria, has proved
he is more than worthy of his 1984 No. 1 overall pick. Despite missing 25 games
as result of an injury to his eyesocket, the Rockets' center averaged a double-double
with 21.2 points and 13.8 rebounds this season. Elected to the All-NBA Third
Team and the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, Olajuwon was one of the league's
fiercest defenders, leading the league in blocks with 3.9 rejections per contest.
Despite Olajuwon's aggressive defensive play, Houston finished this season with
a 52-30 regular season record only to be eliminated in the First Round of the
postseason by the Lakers.
2. Vlade Divac Helps Lakers to Finals
In just his sophomore in the league Vlade Divac has already made a huge impact
on the NBA and his L.A. Lakers team. Starting 81 of 82 games in the regular
season, the Serbian-born 7-1 center has averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds.
A threat on both ends of the court Divac finished fifth in the league in field
goal percentage, shooting 56.5 percent from the field and was 17th in the league
in blocked shots with 1.6 swats per game. As one of the league's most dominant
centers, Divac's tenacious play in the paint helped the Lakers travel all the
way to the NBA Finals, where Divac and the Lakers lost to Michael Jordan's Bulls
in five games.
3. Drazen Petrovic Improves in the Garden State
Unlike some of the other international players around the association who played
college ball in the states, Petrovic honed his skills overseas before entering
the NBA. Drafted 60th overall by the Trail Blazers in 1986 (Petro didn't begin
playing in the NBA until 1989), the Croatian native was shipped by Portland
to New Jersey on Jan. 23. After the trade, fans saw a drastic improvement in
Petrovic's play. His minutes increased from 7.4 per contest in Trail Blazers
uniform to 20.5 per game dressed in blue and red and his average in points improved
from 4.4 points per game in Portland to 12.6 points in the Garden State. Despite
teaming up with the Nets star Derrick Coleman, New Jersey ended this season
with a 26-56 record.
4. Detlef Schrempf: Sixth Man Award
Coming off the bench for the Pacers, German-born, Detlef Shrempf posted 16.2
points per contest and a team-high 7.9 rebounds per game this season. Known
for his three-point shot, the 6-9 forward hit 37.5 percent of his shots from
downtown. Shrempf helped his team to a 41-41 regular season record, good enough
to extend their season into the playoffs. Despite elimination in a competitive
First Round series with the Celtics, Shrempf received the Sixth Man Award for his season-long boost off the bench.
5. Toni Kukoc Chosen 29th in Draft
With the 29th pick in the 1990 NBA Draft the Chicago Bulls chose Toni Kukoc.
The 6-11 Croatian is currently playing basketball in Europe but intends to join
the Bulls in the near future. Despite the absence of the versatile Euroleague
star, the Bulls more than survived without him this season. Chicago claimed
the Championship with the help of world renowned Bull, and Finals MVP Michael
Jordan. Maybe Jordan and Pippen will run into Kukoc in the 1992 Barcelona Games?
6. Rik Smits Loses His Starting Spot
Bob Hill took over the Pacers head coaching position for Dick Versace this
year. In an effort to improve the team, Hill shook up the starting lineup, leaving
7-4 center Rik Smits out of the starting loop and replacing him with Greg Dreiling.
While the Dunking Dutchman's stats took a dip this season, Smits numbers could
still impress any ardent NBA fan. Plugged into the starting lineup for 38 games
and then coming off the bench for 38 games under Hill, the third-year pro compiled
averages of 10.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and a team-high 1.5 blocks in a mere 22.2
minutes per contest. In late January early February Smits sat out for five consecutive
games after having bone chips removed from his right elbow. On a more positive
note the Netherland native had eight rejections on Nov. 30 against the Bulls,
one block short of the franchise record, and a season-high 31 points on March
7 against the Nuggets. The Pacers battled the Celtics in the First Round of
the playoffs but lost the series 3-2. Coming off the bench for all five postseason
matchups, Smits will fight to regain his starting role next season.
7. Stefano Rusconi is Excited to Play in the NBA
Known as the "King of Slam Dunks" in Italy, the Cleveland Cavaliers
used their 25th pick this year to draft Stefano Rusconi. Traded to the Suns
for Serbia native Milos Babic, Phoenix is excited to have the rights to the
6-9 Italian star. Playing professional ball in Italy since age 17, the 22-year-old
center embraces his eventual transfer to the highly competitive NBA, "All
guys who play basketball dream of playing with the best players in the world,"
he said to a Suns.com reporter
. "Every player to me, when you play in the NBA, you are a superstar.
It doesn't matter if you play. If you are a part of the team, you are a superstar
and everybody that doesn't play in the NBA must watch everything. Everything."
While Rusconi continues to play overseas, he awaits the day that he can stop
watching and start playing as an NBA athlete.
8. Sarunas Marciulionis was the NBA's First Lithuanian
Drafted in 1987 by Golden State, Sarunas Marciulionis was the first NBA player
to hail from Lithuania. In his sophomore season in the league, Marciulionis,
a 1988 Olympic gold medalist, is making a name for himself in the NBA. Averaging
10.9 points and shooting 50 percent from the field, the talented lefty fell
just short of the Sixth Man Award. Despite losing the honor to fellow international
player Detlef Schrempf, the muscular shooting guard played an integral role
on the Warriors squad which finished the regular season with a 44-38 record.
Golden State's season ultimately ended in a 4-1 defeat to the Lakers in the
Conference Semifinals of the NBA playoffs.
9. Portland Could Have Used Arvydas Sabonis
The Portland Trail Blazers had an impressive 63-19 regular season record. Entering
the post season with the number one seed, Portland competed in the Western Conference
Finals losing the series to the L.A. Lakers, 4-2. The Trail Blazers starting
line up included "Clyde the Glide" Drexler and Terry Porter. Despite
the star studded cast, missing from the lineup was Lithuania native Arvydas
Sabonis. Drafted 24th by Portland in 1986, the 7-3 center has yet to dress in
black and red. As one of the world's best centers, Sabonis won a gold medal
in the 1988 Summer Olympics, representing the Soviet Union. Currently playing
for Forum Valladolid, a professional team in Spain, one can only wonder what
could have been if this big man was on the floor to battle the Lakers' Vlade
Divac in the Western Conference Finals. While no one can re-write history, everyone
can imagine what could have been.
10. Can You Imagine a "Dream Team"?
On April 7, 1989 a vote by FIBA decided "open competition," would
be permitted, allowing for professional athletes to represent the U.S. in international
competition. In preparation for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics the U.S will assemble
a team comprised of NBA superstars. We expect the roster to officially be announced
prior to the 1991-1992 season, allowing the world ample time to build their
excitement over what will be known as the "Dream Team." All legends
in the making, the squad will likely include Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael
Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl
Malone, Chris Mullin and David Robinson.