Foreign Relations: Suns Home to Many Firsts

By: Greg Esposito, Suns.com

Posted: February 28, 2013

Portland may be home to the Trail Blazers, but they’re not the only trail blazers in the NBA. In fact, Phoenix has been home to more than a few of them.

We’re not talking about Cliff Robinson, Brian Grant or the ones made by Chevrolet. No, the Suns franchise has had many players on its all-time roster, who broke the barrier of playing professional basketball for their home country.

In the mid ‘80s, Georgi Glouchkov, dubbed the “Banger from the Balkans,” became the first player from what was then the Eastern Bloc to play in the NBA. He was selected out of Bulgaria in the seventh round of the 1985 draft by the Suns. When he signed with the club on Sept. 25, 1985, the franchise made a big deal of the historic moment. They even sent out a press kit that included numerous things on his home country including a glossary of terms in his native language.

Glouchkov was excited for the challenge and being able to be the first to represent his country in the NBA.

"Georgi is very resolute, very keen on excelling," Bozhidar Takev, the assistant trainer who the Suns hired to help Glouchkov in his first month in the league, told Sports Illustrated in 1985. "In this way, he fits in your country, where there is so much competition."

In 1996 the Suns dipped into the foreign talent pool again for another first. They signed center Horatio Llamas who became the first player who was born in Mexico to ever play in the NBA. Although, Llamas did already have Arizona ties, having played at Pima Community College in Tucson and at Grand Canyon University in the Valley. Llamas’ arrival was even recognized with a Fastbreak magazine cover -- at the time the official publication of the team -- under the headline “El Primero.”

Llamas, to this day, looks at being the first from his homeland to make it into the NBA as a true privilege.

"Being from a small town in Sinaloa, Mexico, dreaming of getting to play in the NBA was unthinkable for most kids,” he told Suns.com this week. “To me, at age of 17, I knew that's what I wanted. To represent my country, Mexico, with all the bad stuff that had always been associated with it, was a huge privilege and a big responsibility. As the first Mexican-born player to get in the NBA, to be part of the Phoenix Suns was my dream come true. I will always be a Sun for life."

Yuta Tabuse joined the club -- both the Suns and foreign born firsts -- in 2004 when the point guard became the first player born in Japan to make it to the NBA. He made waves scoring seven points in his first game on November 3, 2004.

He took the challenge to heart for himself and his home country.

"Hopefully, the Japanese people are excited about my position right now," Tabuse told ESPN after his first practice in 2004. “It's good for me and good for the Japanese people."

Last week, a new name made the list. While Hamed Haddadi made his NBA debut with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008, he is still the first and only player born in Iran to make a roster in the league. It’s an honor the 27-year-old is very proud of.

“It’s my dream,” he said. “The people send me messages saying they’re proud of you. I’m proud to be a Persian playing in the NBA. It’s too tough to play basketball back at home. We have one gym. All teams practice there. I was happy to be here. It’s was a dream come true.

“I used to wake up at 6 a.m. to watch basketball and now I get to play in the league. I’m happy.”

Ultimately, being the first doesn’t always mean you’ll be the best there ever was. While the Glouchkovs, Llamas, Tabuses and Haddadis of the world may never be Hall of Famers in the NBA, they hold a very important spot in the hearts of their countrymen and in Suns history. They showed entire nations that anything is possible by blazing the trail to the NBA and that may just open the door to future foreign stars of the National Basketball Association.

Maybe even future Phoenix Suns.