Basketball never stops. When professional leagues across the world go into hiatus, international basketball is usually not far away. Many from outside the U.S. have put themselves on the NBA map with their play in FIBA events, and conversely, many NBA players have added to their legacies while representing their countries.
From all over the globe, here are 20 times NBA players lit up the FIBA arena.
Dream Team (1992 Olympics)
The greatest sporting team ever assembled, the “best game” ever played and some of the greatest highlights witnessed on the international stage.
Oh, and the fashion peaked in Barcelona too:
Vince Carter (2000 Olympics)
As a consequence of a turbulent offseason, Vince Carter arrived in Australia an angry young man.
Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Rodriguez and Jorge Garbajosa (2006 World Championships)On their way to the title, Spain were given a terrific assist by Greece who knocked out Team USA in the semis. For their troubles, the Greeks were vanquished 70-47 by a rampant La Roja in the Gold Medal game.
Despite their incredible victory over a USA squad featuring LeBron, Wade, Bosh, CP3, Melo and Dwight, Greece were heavy underdogs for the final. The Greek roster contained no NBA players and found itself overmatched by Spain’s seven.
Spain’s ‘Golden Generation’ won their first world championship and earned the team a new nickname in the process: La ÑBA.
Yao Ming (2008 Olympics)
The weight of expectation from a population of 1.3 billion people is quite the burden to shoulder. Yao Ming did it on one good foot.
Having had surgery on his troublesome left foot in March 2008, Yao underwent a rushed rehabilitation to ensure that he was back on the court by August to suit up for host nation China.
Yao averaged 19 ppg, 8 rpg and 1.5 bpg for the tournament, but was physically and mentally exhausted as he hobbled from the court following China’s last game (a heavy loss to Lithuania).
The physical sacrifice that Yao made to represent his country, with distinction, left a lasting impression.
Kobe Bryant (2008 Olympics)
One thing the U.S. is good at is naming things.
In the wake of the disastrous 2004 campaign, 2008 Redeem Team had one job, as suggested by their title.
Led by King James and a surprisingly rejuvenated Dwyane Wade, the US powered through the preliminary rounds en route to a showdown with defending world champions Spain.
In a hard fought contest for gold, it wasn’t the young guns who closed out the tournament.
Luis Scola (2010 World Championships)
Without Ginobili, Argentina weren’t expected to seriously contend for the medal rounds in Turkey 2010, and then Scola lost his mind.
27ppg is impressive in any format – within FIBA rules (40 minute games) – and at the top level of international competition? It’s incredible.
The jewel of Scola’s crown was the 37 he hung on Argentina’s fierce rivals, Brazil, in the Round of 16.
Kevin Durant (2010 World Championships)
Unfortunately for Luis’ MVP shot (no, he didn’t win), and anyone who tried to guard him, Kevin Durant happened.
Heading into the 2010 World Championships, the basketball world knew KD was good, but they didn’t realize how good. The 25 a night he’d put up for OKC the season prior had sent his stock rising, yet there were still questions: was he a leader? Could he do it when it mattered? Was he a “numbers on a bad team guy” only (OKC were 23-59 that year)?
Three weeks later, all had been answered. Durant earned the MVP honours and hit big shot after big shot for Team USA. If you watch the tape closely, you can literally see his career taking off.
Andrew Wiggins (2015 FIBA Marchand Continental Cup)
Andrew Wiggins’ took his NBA perfected aerobatics to the FIBA floor just this week – throwing down this thunderous dunk all over Puerto Rico.
The current iteration of Team Canada is potentially the most talented group the country has ever produced. Alongside Wiggins are fellow #1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, lottery selections Nik Stauskas and Kelly Olynyk, and 1st rounders Tyler Ennis, Corey Joseph and Andrew Nicholson.
None of the players listed above are older than 25, so if you’re not convinced this dunk or Canada belong on this list just yet, call it a placeholder for the future.
Patty Mills (2015 Oceania Championships)
The best superheroes aren’t simply a composite of their powers. There’s no point being faster than the speed of sound or able to lift buildings with your mind if you don’t have timing. Patty Mills, Australian sporting superhero, has timing in spades.
Initially left out of the Olympic qualifier with New Zealand, Patty arrived not-a-moment too late to lead the Boomers to a 12 point Game 1 victory. For a sold-out arena in Melbourne, watching the Boomers secure safe passage to Rio wasn’t their only motivation. They came to see their returning NBA stars perform, live in the green and gold, like they do on TV. Patty obliged.
BONUS ROUND: Should you need more evidence, please see Patty’s game winner from London 2012 (shot with remarkable quality from what appears to be a handycam).
Andrew Gaze (1994 World Championships)
Long before Mills, the man who donned the cape and mask for the Boomers was, of course, Andrew Gaze. Fresh off his first NBA stint with the Bullets and 21 a game in the last major international meet (Barcelona ’92), Gaze arrived for the ’94 tournament with an X on his back.
All he did was average 24 per contest, pacing all comers, and leaving one lingering question: “How did he not get another NBA deal until 1998?”
Manu Ginobili (2004 Olympics)
Going into the 2004 campaign, Team USA had not dropped a game at an Olympics since the establishment of the Dream Team.
But the global basketball landscape had changed significantly since 1992.
Argentina had become the first team to knock off a squad of NBA players at the ’02 World Championships. With Olympic gold now a realistic expectation, an almost unchanged squad was sent to Greece two years later.
Led by Manu Ginobili, the Argentinians defeated Team USA in the semis on their way to Olympic glory.
Manu’s brilliant performance in this game cemented his status as an elite international player and led to sweeping changes to the Team USA program.
Shaquille O’Neal (1994 FIBA World Championships)
Young Shaquille O’Neal had been tormenting the Association for two years prior to being unleashed on to international opponents.
At the ’94 World Champs, Shaq was simply unstoppable, to the extent where no one wanted to go anywhere near him:
The numbers don’t lie, he made 75% of all two point attempts. Seventy-Five.
Arvydas Sabonis (1986 FIBA World Championships & 1988 Olympics)
If only a prime Arvydas Sabonis was permitted to play in the NBA the year he was drafted.
Against David Robinson at the 1986 World Champs, he more than held his own against the future No. 1 pick and Hall of Famer:
Defeated by their Cold War foe that year, the Ruskies flipped the script two years later in Seoul.
The Soviets would defeat Robinson and the USA in the semis, and then topple Yugoslavia in the Final. Sabonis led the way with 20 and 15.
Toni Kukoc (1990 World Championships)
There’s hardly a weirder relationship in sports history than the one that existed between Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause and the dynastic team he assembled. The man who put the pieces – Phil, Scottie, Horace et al – around MJ is somehow hated by all of them.
Oddly, much of it stems from a Croatian basketball prodigy: Toni Kukoc.
As a 22 year old, Kukoc was the MVP of the 1990 World Champs, leading Yugoslavia to the Gold.
The above clip notwithstanding, footage of that tournament is very hard to come by, which may be how Krause was able to snag him with pick 29 in the 1990 draft.
By 1992, Michael and Scottie were so sick of hearing about Kukoc from Krause that they went out of their way to take him apart in Barcelona. Pippen, who believed Krause had short-changed him on his contract to save money for Kukoc, was particularly ruthless.
Sorry, Toni – you were just the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Drazon Petrovic (1986 World Championships)
Of course, the first player most associate with Croatian basketball is Drazen, who is shown below dropping 40+ on Holland.
Some record books list Drazen’s total that night as 45 while others say 47, making it hard to say definitively either way. Even if it was 45, it still stands as the second-most scored by an NBA player at a World Champs. Bettered only by…
Dirk Nowitzki (2006 World Championships)This crazy shot to force double OT was part of Dirk’s 47 against Angola in the 2006 World Champs. On its lonesome, it’s enough to get Dirk a spot as an NBA x FIBA legend, but it’s 1/100th of the story.
Dirk’s FIBA career is every bit as decorated as his NBA one. He’s led EuroBasket in scoring three times, making him one of only two players to do so. His 983 points are 3rd all time, and should he have a big tournament over the next month, he’s a chance to move to the top of the list. Standing between him and top spot is another active player….
Tony Parker (2013 EuroBasket)
Parker currently has 996 EuroBasket points to his name over the same time span. Much like Dirk, he’s been able to manage the hefty workload of NBA and international basketball and maintain an unbelievable standard. He’s every bit as important to France as he is to San Antonio and his 2013 EuroBasket performance stands up alongside anything he’s accomplished in the Association.
Parker led the tournament in scoring, was named MVP and led France to its first ever EuroBasket title. The highlight of highlights came against Spain in the Semi-Final where Parker was spectacular.
Andrew Gaze (1988 Olympic Warmup)
NBA champion Andrew Gaze represented Australia at five Olympic games and is the second highest points scorer (789) behind the great Oscar Schmidt (1093).
Prior to the ’88 Olympics, the Boomers faced the might of the Soviet Union in a five game exhibition series.
With the final game being played in his hometown of Melbourne, Gaze delivered a scintillating offensive performance including a game-tying contested three pointer at the end of regulation that sent the Glasshouse crowd into delirium.
Listen to Gazey discuss that very performance and the significance of playing the Soviets:
Carlos Arroyo (2004 Olympics)
In a sign of things to come, Team USA was defeated in their first game of the 2004 Olympics tournament by a spirited Puerto Rican team.
Most of the damage was done by flashy Utah Jazz guard Carlos Arroyo, who dropped:
Arroyo was named to the all-tournament team, having averaged 18 ppg on 50% shooting and 5 apg.
Shane Heal (1996 Olympic warmup)
It is difficult to describe the zone Shane Heal entered on that memorable day in Salt Lake City.
Maybe it’s best if the footage (and Hammer), does the talking.
He had his moments in the league too.