Spain is known for football but also has a huge basketball culture across the country. So unsurprisingly this popular sport has produced some Spanish basketball legends over the years. Some of them competing at the highest level, in the star-studded NBA. There are quite a few Spanish players with international careers in recent years.
International Spanish Basketball Stars
The following are some of the most well known Spanish players to have shone in the US so far.
In 1986, Fernando made the trip across the Atlantic to become the first Spaniard to play in the NBA. In fact, he was one of the very first Europeans to play here. At a time when it was thought that foreign players weren’t good enough to compete in the NBA. Fernando started his career with Estudiantes and Real Madrid in his homeland, while he was also successful in sports like swimming and table tennis.
He helped the national team to win silver in the 1984 Olympics and was regarded as one of the finest players of his generation. His move to the US didn’t work out particularly well. He only played with the Portland Trail Blazers one season before returning to Spain, where he sadly died in a traffic accident in 1989. However, he is still classed as one of the country’s best-ever players and was added to the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007.
Photo by Ines Álvarez Fdez on Unsplash
Possibly the finest Spanish player of all time, Pau is also regarded by many as being the best foreigner to grace the North American Basketball Association. He grew up in Barcelona and joined the NBA in the 2001 draft, when the Atlanta Hawks traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies.
In 2002, Pau become the first non-American to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Among his other achievements, he was an All-Star six times and made it into the All-Team selection four times, making him a favorite on some experts’ NBA sports betting strategy. Gasol won the World Cup in 2006 with Spain and the EuroBasket tournament 3 times.
Due to his legacy is quite surprising he doesn’t make TwinSpires Edge list of the best centers of all time. Nonetheless, the crowning glory came in 2009 and 2010, when he won the NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. He also played for the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, and Milwaukee Bucks before injuries forced him to quit. However, at the start of 2021 he has attracted a lot of interest with his stated desire to return to the NBA.
Pau’s younger brother has also enjoyed a terrific career in the world’s toughest basketball league. He joined in the 2007 draft, with the LA Lakers later trading his rights to the Memphis Grizzlies. Marc spent over a decade with the Grizzlies before joining the Toronto Raptors in 2019.
He won his first NBA championship here. So he and Pau became the first brothers to win this prestigious tournament. Marc’s consistently strong performances have seen him join the All-NBA team twice and become an All-Star on three occasions. In 2013 he won the title of the league’s best defensive player of the year in 2013.
Photo by Ramiro Pianarosa on Unsplash
Ricky made history in 2005, as the youngest debutant in the Spanish ACB league at the age of 14. In 2009, he joined the NBA when the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted him as the fifth pick, but ended up spending a couple of years with FC Barcelona before playing for the
Timberwolves. Once in the US as the tenth Spanish player here, he played in Minnesota for six seasons before joining the Utah Jazz and then the Phoenix Suns, racking up impressive statistics along the way. In 2020, he returned to the Timberwolves.
Other Spanish basketball players in the NBA that come to mind are Sergio Rodriguez, Serge Ibaka, and Nikola Mirotic. With Spanish basketball continually producing excellent players. We can expect to see more names added to the list of the current 17 players to have joined the American league before too long.