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06-06-2006, 05:32 AM
Growing wave of foreign aid

Nowitzki is newest crossover star chasing dream floated by Hakeem

By CHUCK CARLTON / The Dallas Morning News

For the longest time, no one thought that players from over there could change the way the game is played over here.

Basketball was the American game even if its inventor, James Naismith, was Canadian. Occasionally, international players arrived, but they usually filled supporting roles.

Then an unbelievably athletic 7-footer named Akeem (later Hakeem) Olajuwon arrived at the University of Houston via Nigeria 25 years ago, and basketball became an international game. It's continued, with 44 international players representing 25 countries or territories in the 2006 NBA playoffs.

More significantly, Dirk Nowitzki has propelled the Mavericks into the Finals, the first European-born and trained player to get a team this far as its unquestioned best player.

He can join Olajuwon and Tim Duncan as foreign-born players to lead a team to a title. Unlike Olajuwon and Duncan, Nowitzki made the jump to the NBA without playing college basketball.

Here's a look at Olajuwon, Duncan and several other foreign-born players who factored into the NBA Finals:


Hakeem Olajuwon

Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria

College: University of Houston

NBA titles: Two, with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and '95

Career: Nobody took advantage of Michael Jordan's first retirement like Olajuwon and the Rockets. The Dream put together a dream season in 1994, being named the NBA's regular-season MVP, playoff MVP and defensive player of the year. At the end, he bested college nemesis Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in the Finals. The next season, Olajuwon carried the sixth-seeded Rockets to the Finals, averaging 33 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the playoffs. The finishing touch was a sweep of Orlando and a young Shaquille O'Neal.

Legacy: Pretty much every African center since Olajuwon, including the Mavericks' DJ Mbenga and DeSagana Diop, owes him a debt for opening the door.

Tim Duncan

Hometown: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

College: Wake Forest

NBA titles: Three, with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, 2003 and 2005

Career: Duncan had the advantage of coming to a very good team coming off one very bad season. David Robinson initially provided another big body inside, allowing Duncan to play power forward. The Spurs won the title in the strike-shortened 1999 season and proved it was no fluke four years later. Duncan totaled 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks in a clinching Game 6 against New Jersey in 2003. In 2005, Duncan won playoff MVP honors for the third time. If Olajuwon was noted for his athleticism, Duncan will always be the Big Fundamental, doing everything well except shooting free throws.

Legacy: San Antonio has embraced international players like no other franchise, with the Mavericks close behind.


They played a key role on title teams:

Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, San Antonio: Ginobili (Argentina) and Parker (France) were San Antonio's best players behind Duncan in 2003 and 2005. Ginobili established himself as one of the best players in the world with his playoff performance and by leading Argentina to an Olympic gold medal.

Bill Wennington and Luc Longley, Chicago: Canada's Wennington and Australia's Longley each earned championship rings in 1996, '97 and '98, courtesy of one Michael Jordan.

Toni Kukoc, Chicago: Unlike the Bulls' centers, Croatia's Kukoc was a solid third option on the three championship teams. The left-handed forward's biggest problem was living up to the hype that greeted his entry into the league. He has put together a good, not great, career.

Mychal Thompson, LA Lakers: The Bahamas native and No. 1 pick in 1978 brought inside muscle to Showtime in 1987 and '88.

Rick Fox, LA Lakers: Born in Canada and raised in the Bahamas, Fox was known as much for his showbiz career as winning titles in 2000 and 2001. His male-model looks helped him land roles on TV shows such as Oz Off screen, he also was married to actress/singer Vanessa Williams.


Four talented foreign-born centers, including Patrick Ewing, got their teams to the Finals but couldn't secure a ring:

Patrick Ewing, New York Knicks: The Jamaican-born Ewing lost in the Finals to Houston in 1994 and San Antonio in 1999 but otherwise had a sterling career.

Rik Smits, Indiana: The 7-4 Dunking Dutchman battled foot problems and got steamrolled by Shaq in 2000.

Vlade Divac, LA Lakers: Even though Divac scored 27 points in Game 4 of the 1991 Finals, the Lakers fell to Chicago in five. The Yugoslavia native, one of the most clever centers in NBA history, also would be a key component of several successful Sacramento teams.

Dikembe Mutombo, Philadelphia and New Jersey: It took Mutombo, who was born in Zaire, 10 seasons to reach the Finals in 2001. He wasn't able to put the 76ers or Nets over the top.

06-06-2006, 10:13 AM
Ugh, I really wish peple would stop calling Duncan an international player...

He's from the Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory. He's American...