Throughout the 90s and 2000s, the NBA was dominated by players from North America, and there were exceptions to the rule. However, over the last decade, players from overseas have been making a big name for themselves. We are living through a golden era of European talent in basketball. It doesn't look like it will change anytime soon, with some of the next generations of European talent keen to eclipse their predecessors who have set the bar so monstrously high.
Victor Wembanyama is yet to play in the NBA. Still, he is set to overtake some other great European players, some of whom have defined their era - such as Giannis Antetokounmpo. Victor has had dozens of top scouts watch him play in the French league and French basketball tournaments. So, if you usually can find time to check your social media, or if you can check out the upcoming tournaments of your favorite poker game, then keep your eyes on basketball as well. There are so many iconic moments in this sport that you wouldn’t like to miss.
Like any legendary generation that explodes onto the scene, dig a little deeper, and you will often find that the foundations were set much earlier. Despite the All-Star Europeans that are the best in the world right now, we cannot overlook the great players who paved the way.
A decade ago, European players were not as revered or respected in the league. Moreover, few from the continent had risen to the game's top levels, so the underlying judgments focused on how they would generally underperform.
However, the first notable exception to that rule was Dirk Nowitzki. The towering German power forward made a name for himself primarily at the Dallas Mavericks, where he still holds an advisory role post-retirement. He was voted into the NBA 75th-year All-Star team, and despite all the immense European talent in the NBA currently, Dirk is still considered the most outstanding European NBA player of all time.
Dirk's most significant accomplishments included being the first European player to win the MVP award and spearheading the Mavericks to their only championship in 2011. He also broke new ground for European players to get more respect in the NBA and cleared the path for the new generation of talent. He was so influential that he often finds himself named as one of the top players who revolutionized basketball.
Despite all the praise aimed at the ethereal prodigy Victor Wembanyama, you would be forgiven if you thought he was the only Frenchman to cause waves in the NBA.
However, his fellow countrymen have been making people sit up and take notice for a decade. Evan Fournier and Rudy Gobert are two players who have been able to break into the NBA and further embolden the claim that European players are worth their salt. Wembanyama will likely go on to eclipse his compatriots, but that isn't to say that these players haven't made a mark of their own.
Not to be outshone by their fellow professionals in Western Europe, Eastern Europe has produced some magically gifted players on their own over the last few years. The most notable of these players are the formidable Luka Donic and the talismanic Nikola Jokic.
Jokic is a five-time All-Star who scooped up back-to-back MVP awards in 2021 and 2022.
However, Doncic is still only 24 and has 4 All-Star call-ups. He will likely go on to eclipse Jokic by the time his career is out, but they have paved the way for Eastern European players and strengthened the validity and reputation of European players.
Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves a section of his own. The authoritative Greek power forward is widely regarded as one of the greatest NBA players of this generation, period. He has joined an esteemed class alongside the true elite of the sport, having picked up his second MVP award before age 26. He became the only player, alongside LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to win two before turning 26.
He was named to the NBA 75th Anniversary team alongside Dirk Nowitzki and is regarded as arguably the best player in the league. His form this year has been frighteningly good and incredibly consistent.
As we have already touched on, Victor Wembanyama is considered the heir apparent. However, if the predictions of many analysts and ex-players are to be believed, we will witness the rise of a once-in-a-generation player like Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, or LeBron James. Being rated as a highly promising prospect can be daunting, and many players have been ranked very high in their youth but have yet to reach anywhere near the heights they were expected to.
However, Victor has incredible physical gifts, a gigantic frame and arm span, and dozens of top NBA scouts have stated he is one of the most extraordinary talents they have ever seen. It all appears to be pointing in the direction that he will be the future face of the NBA, and it will be interesting next season to see how his skills translate onto the court.