NBA basketball has been an international game for a while. Nothing emphasizes that more than the recently announced 1st Team All-NBA, which had a record three international players on it to go along with Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard: Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) and Nikola Jokic (Serbia).
That makes 2020-21 the first time ever that an All-NBA 1st Team has been made up with a majority amount of international players.
The previous high for international players in a 1st Team All-NBA for any given season had been two out of the five, which took place on five separate occasions, in 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Those first three international 1st Team All-NBA duos from 2005, 2006 and 2007 were made up of the same two players each time, Steve Nash (Canada) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), who were battling back and forth for MVP awards at the time and who were two of the game’s best players at their peak.
The 2019 pair of international 1st Team All-NBAers were Antetokounmpo and Jokic while the 2020 tandem were Antetokounmpo and Doncic.
Now, the latter trio has all made the 1st Team All-NBA at the same time and made history in the process, history that could repeat itself going forward, considering the absurd levels all three men are performing at with little signs of slowing down.
If anything, all three of Doncic, Antetokounmpo and Jokic are continuing to improve, which is a scary thought for opponents.
2020-21 has shown us more than ever just how quickly the game of basketball has grown internationally, and at a fairly rapid pace, at that.
There hadn’t even been a non-American 1st Team All-NBA player until 1986-87, when Hakeem Olajuwon (Nigeria) made it. Olajuwon would go on to make 1st Team All-NBA an astonishing six times throughout his illustrious career.
After Olajuwon’s reign as lone international 1st Team All-NBAer, the next non-American players to receive that honor wouldn’t come for eight years in the form of Nash and Nowitzki, which didn’t happen until 2005. That 2005 class was also the first time we ever had multiple international players make a 1st Team All-NBA in the same season.
In total, just eight international players have ever been named to a 1st Team All NBA in their career.
And this year, three of them received the distinctive honor in the same season.
Might one day we see a 1st Team All-NBA made up entirely of international players?
It certainly seems possible at the rate we’re going at.