European Players Have Come a Long Way
The Arizona Republic
May. 12, 2002
The second-round playoff series being waged by Dallas and Sacramento has been hailed as a look at the future of the NBA because of the entertaining, up-tempo, score-more style that both teams play.
But it's also a showcase, a sort of coming-out party, for the many international players who are quickly becoming legitimate stars in the NBA.
The Mavericks include German Dirk Nowitzki, Canadian Steve Nash, Mexican Eduardo Najera, and Wang Zhizhi of China.
The Kings roster includes Serbian Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic from Yugoslavia, and Hedo Turkoglu from Turkey.
In fact, each of the eight remaining teams in the playoffs has at least one foreign-born player on its roster.
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And the influx continues.
For the first time in league history, the Rookie of the Year was an international player -- Pau Gasol, the talented forward of the Memphis Grizzlies who is from Spain.
And five international players were among the 10 named to the first and second All-Rookie teams.
Joining Gasol on the first team were Utah's Andrei Kirilenko of Russia and San Antonio's French point guard, Tony Parker.
The second team included Detroit center Zeljko Rebraca and Seattle's Vladimir Radmanovic, both from Yugoslavia.
And to think it all started in Phoenix.
The Suns made a guy named Georgi Glouchkov a seventh-round draft pick in 1985. A Bulgarian, Glouchkov was the first Eastern bloc player to play in the NBA.
That experiment failed. Glouchkov started out like the bruising, rebounding machine he had been Europe. But he became the incredible shrinking forward. The Suns suspected later that he might have been a steroid user.
Suns broadcaster Al McCoy interviews Bulgarian forward Georgi Glouchkov with the help of an interpreter early in the 1985-86 season.
But one of the biggest problems was that he also developed an insatiable appetite for American fast food.
Glouchkov was back in Europe the next year, but he opened the gates.
Among those who started looking there was Donnie Nelson, now a Dallas assistant coach. While working for his father, Don Nelson, who was then with the Golden State Warriors, the younger Nelson signed Sarunas Marciulionis, a guard who was a star of the old Soviet national team, in 1989.
About that time, Drazen Petrovic was emerging in Portland. He would become a star in New Jersey before an automobile accident killed him in 1993.
"Part of my success was on the heels of the supposed failure of Georgi," Donnie Nelson told the Houston Chronicle recently. "My international involvement started about 22 years ago.
"During those years, there was virtually no emphasis internationally, and there were a number of reasons for it. The thing that I heard most frequently was, 'Well, Georgi Glouchkov was the best player from over there, and he couldn't even make the NBA, so those guys just aren't good enough.'
"I heard that little battle cry for a long period of time."
But Nelson said the more he went to the Europe, the more he recognized that players not only could make it in the NBA, but flourish.
The trouble was getting through all the tangled red tape.
"If you're a general manager, the last thing you want to hear when your rear end is on the line while making a draft pick is 'high risk' " Nelson said. "There are not a lot of guys who are willing to roll the bones when it comes to a first-round pick."
How times have changed.
When the June 26 draft rolls around, remember the name of 18-year-old Nickoloz Tskitishvili. He's a 6-foot-11, 220-pound forward from the Republic of Georgia who is playing in Italy, and he is expected to make himself available for the draft.
Some already are calling him a cross between Nowitzki and Gasol.
You had better believe somebody will roll the bones on that.
COPYRIGHT 2002, AZCENTRAL.COM. Used with permission.