There has been an influx of international players entering the NBA in the last couple of decades — Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is nicknamed “The Greek Freak,” won the MVP award this season. Now, one of the most prolific owners in the league has admitted that he prefers international players to those who were born in the United States.
That owner is Mark Cuban, who has never been shy about expressing his opinion about controversial topics — even if it doesn’t make the NBA happy. Here are the reasons why Cuban prefers players from outside America, according to an interview he gave to Eurohoops.net.
The rise of international superstars in the NBA
The influx of international players entering the NBA is associated with the league’s attempt to globalize the game of basketball and make it more popular around the world. The beginning of the sport’s globalization can be traced back to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona when professional basketball players were first allowed to compete for their country in the Olympics.
The American “Dream Team” that included the likes of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Magic Johnson. Since then, the number of international players in the league has grown significantly.
From 21 players from 15 countries in the 1990-91 season to 108 players from 42 countries at the start of the 2018-19 season. In addition to Antetokounmpo, some of the other Europeans who have made a name for themselves in the last 20 years include Dirk Nowitzki, Rudy Gobert, Danilo Gallinari, Kristaps Porzingis, Marc and Pau Gasol, and Ricky Rubio.
Mark Cuban compares American players to international players
Answering a question about Luka Doncic having experience outside of the NBA, Mark Cuban said that Europeans like Doncic “actually learn to play the game. If you look at the basketball education of kids starting at 11 years old in Europe and particularly Slovenia which is basketball oriented.”
He then compared that to American kids playing the sport. To this point, he said if he sent out youngsters to Slovenia to get an education “seven years before they are McDonald’s All-Americans,” then “the league would be a thousand times better.”
In Europe, according to Cuban, “they just learn how to play basketball,” while American kids “learn how to dunk and put together mixtapes.” Mark Cuban is, in essence, saying young basketball players in America are more concerned with learning how to market themselves and become stars than they are with learning how to play the game.
Mark Cuban, of course, has experience with European players on the Mavericks — most notably Nowitzki, the 2006-07 MVP, who the Mavs selected with the ninth overall pick in the 1998 draft. He went on to play for the Mavs for 21 seasons before announcing his retirement earlier this year.
Does Mark Cuban have a point?
So the question is whether Mark Cuban is right regarding what he is saying the difference is between players born in America and elsewhere in the world.
He has a point about American kids learning to market themselves as stars early on. Look at LeBron James, who first appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior in 2002, with the headline of “The Chosen One.” He also took on the “King James” nickname at a young age.
Basketball prodigies in America also play for AAU teams, who often consider winning to be more important than developing the young players. Because the teams recruit players from all over the country, it is hard to get the group together for practices, limiting the time the kids are able to dedicate to learning how best to play the game.