It's no secret that the NBA has gained – and is gaining even more – a worldwide level of notoriety, and the three aforementioned players have entered the 2013 NBA Draft in hopes of following 84 other international players (a record) that made opening night rosters this past season.
“Basketball is a game that has a very broad appeal,” International sports agent and attorney David Willig said. “I travel a lot and wherever I go I see people playing basketball. All around the world I see that.”
The Miami-based sports agent has been a licensed international attorney for 15 years and is certified by the international governing body of the sport, FIBA, and he said that the NBA's presence is growing around the world, but the passion for the game has been around longer than (NBA commissioner) David Stern.
“Certainly the NBA wants to spread its fame internationally,” Willig said. “But there actually (already) exists leagues in almost every country that you can think of.”
Willig cited France, which he said has “one of the best leagues in Europe,” and it has been in existence since the 1920s. Players such as Gobert, who is the tallest player in this year's draft (7-feet-2), said playing in the French pro league for the past three seasons has prepared him for the next step in his development.
“Basketball is getting better,” Gobert said of the sport in France. “It's a good level of basketball. I know in the USA the teams are at (a higher level), but it's getting better. There are some good players.”
Gobert recently joined Dieng (from French-speaking Senegal), Adams (New Zealand), Dennis Schroeder (Germany) and 27 other players from outside of the United States in declaring for this year's draft.
Of the 84 international players that started this past season on an NBA roster, there were 37 countries and/or territories represented. France had the most players with 10, while Canada (eight), Brazil and Spain (five each) weren't far behind in producing players.
No NBA team has taken more advantage of scouring the world for talent than the San Antonio Spurs, who are currently leading the Memphis Grizzlies (led by Spain's Marc Gasol) 1-0 in the Western Conference Finals.
The Spurs have eight international players on their roster, while Cleveland and Minnesota have five each.
“What we are finding nowadays is because the level of play in many countries has really risen,” Willig said, “that's why we have international players in the NBA now. The players in other countries have gotten better and they are good players. Years ago, a player that wasn't quite NBA-level, could still make it in Europe. Now, things are a lot more competitive.”
With the popularity of basketball and the NBA players, who can often be more popular abroad than at home, it's natural to wonder if the NBA will one day expand its reach into having teams around the globe. However, Willig isn't sold on that concept.
“There's not going to be an NBA Asian League,” Willig said. “There's already a China Basketball Association that is a very big Chinese league. There is the ASEAN Basketball League, which comprises several different countries: Vietnam, Philippines and Thailand among them.
“I think that the NBA can certainly have its impact, and can also enjoy the increasing popularity in these countries, but in terms of creating leagues there, I really don't see that happening.”Kelly Olynyk - 7-foot, center, Canada (Gonzaga)
Dennis Schroeder - 6-foot-2, point guard, Germany
Dario Saric - 6-foot-10, forward, Croatia
Rudy Gobert - 7-foot-2, center, France
Steven Adams - 7-foot, center, Pittsburgh (New Zealand)
Lucas Nogueira - 7-foot, forward, Brazil
Giannis Adetokoubo - 6-foot-9, forward, Greece
Gorgui Dieng - 6-foot-11, center, Louisville (Senegal)
Sergey Karasev - 6-foot-7, forward, Russia
Ricky Ledo - 6-foot-6, guard, Providence (Puerto Rico)
Mouhammadou Jaiteh - 6-foot-11, forward, France
Livio Jean-Charles - 6-foot-9, forward, France
Augusto Lima - 6-foot-9, forward, Brazil