With Dirk Nowitzki representing the German flag all the way to the upcoming NBA finals, it only makes sense to look at some other European players who have made good careers in the Association over the past 20 years. While very few Americans liked any of these players, it’s hard to deny their productivity over the course of their NBA careers.
The late Petrovic, who was killed in a car accident at age 28, was one of the first European born players to make the jump overseas, opening the way for many after him, particularly those from his native Yugoslavia. After balling in his native country and in Spain, Petrovic came to the NBA after being drafted by the Blazers. After not getting much PT in his two-plus seasons with Portland, the 6’5″ shooting guard was traded to New Jersey, where found a niche with a Nets team that also featured Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson. Drazen averaged 20-plus points per game in his final two seasons in the league, and now has his jersey retired.
In case you needed another reason to hate communist Russia, you can also point the finger at them for destroying the health of what could have been one of the greatest big men to ever play basketball. Sabonis was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1986, but wasn’t allowed to play in the states until after the Cold War. The seven-foot-three native Lithuanian helped the Soviet Union to the Gold Medal in 1988, the last Olympiad before the US used the ‘Dream Team.’
From 1985 through the Olympics, however, it is said that Sabonis was pressed into playing by the Russians despite numerous leg injuries. The result was, by the time he got to the NBA in 1995, he was a shell of his former self, looking like he was running up and down the court with cinder blocks on his feet. Despite the injuries, Sabonis was productive in his seven year stint with the Blazers despite limited minutes. He also was an eight-time European player of the Year.
Radja, a native Croatian, was drafted by the Celtics in 1989, but played in his mother land, then Italy, before coming to Boston in 1993. After twice winning silver medals in the Olympics, Radja had a solid three-and-a-half year tenure with the C’s, averaging 16.7 points per game and 8.7 boards during his career from ’93-’97. The Celtics teams he was on weren’t really worth his family traveling overseas to see, however, as they went to the playoffs just once.
The king of all floppers, Divac was the first ever foreign born draft pick of the Lakers in 1989. Divac may boast the longest career of any Eurpoean player, staying in the league for 16 years with the Lakers, Hornets, and Kings. The seven footer averaged double digit point totals in 12 seasons and double digit rebounds three times. The Lakers came out smelling like a rose with the native Yugoslavian, getting six productive years out of him before trading him to the Hornets for the rights to some rookie named Kobe Bryant.
Called the ‘Crotian Sensation,’ Kukoc was a good friend of the aforementioned Radja, and rode Jordan’s coat tails for three titles with the Chicago Bulls from ’96-’98. The 6’11” Kukoc was drafted by the Bulls in 1990, but didn’t join the team until ’93 after winning three Euroleague titles. Kukoc was solid with the Bulls, once winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. After the Bulls dynasty was broken up, Kukoc remained productive while getting dealt to the 76ers, Hawks, and Bucks in a matter of four years.
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