Skip to main content

Inside the NBA’s Growing Roster of International Players


In recent years, there’s been a growing trend among NBA teams to sign international players. Today, top stars like Slovenia’s Luka Doncic and Cameroon’s Joel Embiid regularly shift their team’s NBA odds for the Mavericks and 76ers. In fact, pundits who provide analysis on the league regularly cover stars from Europe and Africa, who influence the picks and predictions they make all season long.

But the NBA’s uptick in international players is a relatively new development in the league. While Europe’s FIBA has been active for longer than the NBA, the majority of non-US-born stars came from Canada. Right now, the NBA has a record number of 18 Canadian players—but it’s important to keep in mind that the NBA is active in Canada via the Toronto Raptors.

Hank Biasatti, the first international player to land on an NBA roster during the league’s inaugural 1946-47 season, came from Canada. Since then, the range of international players has diversified greatly. This season, the NBA has 109 international players on its rosters, who come from 39 countries worldwide.

So, how did the NBA become one of the most internationally inclusive leagues in the world? Let’s take a closer look at the NBA’s presence abroad, led by commissioner Adam Silver.

Basketball Without Borders

While the NBA and FIBA typically operate independently of one another, the organizing bodies joined forces in 2001 to create a program called Basketball Without Borders (BWB). This program helps develop basketball interest and infrastructure abroad, as the sport experienced a boom following the 1992 Olympic Games.

While BWB is largely focused on promoting basketball as a sport, the program has also helped develop active NBA stars. In fact, Embiid was once a BWB participant in Cameroon. Deandre Ayton of the Bahamas, Rui Hachimura of Japan, and Pascal Siakam of Cameroon are further examples of former BWB players who are now signed with NBA teams.

Each year new countries are added to the list of the NBA’s talent pool. In fact, one of the Sacramento Kings’ two-way players, Neemias Queta, may soon become the NBA’s first Portuguese player.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Basketball Africa League

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is known for his daring initiatives. He created a VR League Pass for remote viewers during the 2020 Finals bubble. He’s also spearheaded the NBA’s Top Shot NFT Marketplace. But one of the biggest moves from the league has been to help support an intercontinental competition in Africa, called the Basketball Africa League (BAL).

Though the BAL’s inaugural season in 2020 was postponed for 2021, the subsequent tournaments have been a resounding success. The original FIBA-run Africa Basketball League had seen similar success but ultimately chose to hand over the reins to Silver’s NBA.

Today, the BAL is broadcasted worldwide, with TV partners in China, the Middle East, North America, as well as across Africa itself. Many rosters now have international players, including around a dozen US-born athletes.


The NBA in China

One of the NBA’s most trying pushes for international development has been in China. Since the early 2000s, the BWB project has had a keen interest in raising the profile of basketball in China. In 2004, the NBA began hosting games throughout the country, which acted as promotional tours for the league.

But Silver’s motivations weren’t squarely placed on athletics. In fact, basketball was already showing signs of growing popularity in China. The idea was to promote the NBA’s extensive merchandising sector, which includes jersey, hat, and shoe sales. Through exhibition matches, the NBA found success in fostering interest in the sport and wider basketball culture.

However, Silver’s early pushes were stunted in recent years. The NBA is known as one of the most socially conscious leagues in the world. Players and teams (in the NBA and WNBA) regularly boycott and/or walk off the court based on social justice concerns in the US.

Unsurprisingly, Chinese officials and NBA players, and staff haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on international affairs. This has led to ongoing tensions between the nation and the NBA, which hit major roadblocks in recent years. However, since Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the US, tweeted his condolences about Kobe Bryant’s passing in 2020, tensions have begun to lift. 


Draymond Green had a huge blunt station at his wedding

No wonder LeBron, Curry, Tatum, and numerous other NBA stars had such a great time at Draymond's wedding.


Skip Bayless takes a dig at Bronny James' monster dunk: "Your dad would have done it better!"

It seems like Skip is planting seeds to hate on the next generation of LeBron James and his family.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Channing Frye

“Everyone loves this conversation, but stop it, because the things that you judge it by is never the same.” — Channing Frye hates the GOAT debate

Frye explains why Shaquille O'Neal's percieved value has depreciated over time because of the GOAT conversation.

Michigan State Spartans center Anthony Ianni and forward Draymond Green

Why ex-teammate Anthony Ianni calls his friendship with Draymond Green a blessing in disguise

A great story explaining why Draymond is beloved by teammates, despite his abrasive character.

Golden State Warriors head coach Keith Smart instructs point guard Stephen Curry

“He didn't believe that much in Steph and would bench him a lot” — Jeremy Lin opens up about the rocky relationship between Steph Curry and his former coach Keith Smart

During Steph's second year in the league, he was often yelled at, benched during the 4th quarter, and reprimanded by his former coach, Keith Smart.

Paul Westhead, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers

“When you try to reign in a 22-year-old elite athlete from pushing himself to be his best, you’re going to get conflict.” — Kareem weighs in on the Magic vs. Westhead issue

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar walked down memory lane and shared his take on the issue between Magic Johnson and Paul Westhead back in the day.