The game of basketball is an international affair, and has been so for quite some time now. It was no more apparent than at the 2004 Olympics when the United States failed to bring home the gold. The foreigners have invaded the Association and added some new flavors to the basketball soup.
I personally blame the influx of foreign ballers on Toni Kukoc. Before Kukoc broke into the league on Jordan’s Bulls, a foreign player was very alien to the Association and its many fans (sans Hakeem Olajuwon). He would lie low for a few years until his Airness’ retirement after the ’93 championship. He would then take center stage, playing Robin to Scottie Pippen’s Batman. That was until the playoffs however, when Jedi Phil Jackson designed a play at the end of a game where Kukoc, not Pippen, would take the game winning shot. Instead of complying, Pippen remained seated on the bench while Kukoc subsequently took and made said shot and won the game for the Bulls. Toni would stay on the Bulls until after they won their second Three-peat, when he would leave to bounce around the league until his retirement.
He opened the floodgates to the NBA for all European/South American/Australian players who were highly skilled but softer than marshmallows. Their game is not like the rough and tough NBA that many Americans had grown used to and become complacent with. They actively look to draw the charge, act like they were just hit by a truck, and shoot from the 3-point line. They have changed the entire way that the game is now played. Dirk Nowitzki, Hedo Turkoglu, Anderson Varejao, Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, and Peja Stojakavic have all made their mark on the Association with varying degrees of success. They have brought a certain soccer flavor to the Association. There is a lot more flopping by all players hoping to draw the charge, and the complaints have grown exponentially since the incursion of foreigners began.
However, not all imports are as successful as these select few. GM’s are always searching for the next player who defies categories and draws interest from audiences thousands of miles away. So, with a lottery pick burning a hole in their pockets, they will use and waste it on a player that they heard was a “can’t miss” prospect who will revolutionize the game. Darko Milicic is the most infamous example, as the soon to be champion Detroit Pistons passed on Carmelo Anthony, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh for the hybrid forward. Other players have also never lived up to the hype, Andrew Bogut and Andrea Bargnani may have long and sturdy careers ahead of them, but being picked first overall implies some sort of major production.
These players shine against slightly inferior competition overseas on some raggedy video camera, the near half empty high school gymnasiums exploding into raucous applause at the sight of a slam or long 3-point shot. They have set the stage for up-and-comers like Ricky Rubio or Christian Eyenga to set the Association on fire with their foreign talents.