x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Now more than ever, NBA has an international flair

More and more NBA teams are turning to international players, giving it a 'league of nations' look.

Peja Stojakovic of Serbia is one of the many internationals performing in the play-offs, along with his teammate, Dirk Nowitzki, of Germany.
Peja Stojakovic of Serbia is one of the many internationals performing in the play-offs, along with his teammate, Dirk Nowitzki, of Germany.

As attention is inexorably drawn to the final four teams in the NBA play-offs, the presence of international players in key roles becomes ever more apparent.

Every team among the conference finalists has at least two international players, and the Dallas Mavericks have four, including the man who clearly has been the best player in the play-offs so far, Dirk Nowitzki, of Germany.

He led the Mavericks to a stunning, four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging 25.3 points per game in the shockingly short series.

He was hardly the only non-American to play a key role for the Mavs. Peja Stojakovic, the Serbian sniper, shot up the Lakers from behind the arc, making 52.4 per cent of three-point attempts.

Jose Juan Barea, the Dallas guard, infuriated the Lakers with his lightning dashes to the rim. He is an American citizen, but was born in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

Back-ups Ian Mahinmi and Rodrigue Beaubois, are both French. The Mavericks were waiting last night to see who their Western Conference finalist would be, the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Memphis Grizzlies.

Oklahoma boasts the Republic of Congo's Serge Ibaka, Switzerland's Thabo Sefolosha and Nazr Mohammed, whose father was a Ghana immigrant to the US. Memphis had Spain's Marc Gasol, Iran's Hamed Haddadi and Greivis Vasquez, the first NBA player from Venezuela to be selected in the NBA draft.

This mini-United Nations continues in the East final, and if not quite as ubiquitous, still significant.

The Miami Heat have the Lithuania centre Zydrunas Ilgauskas (who was born in the USSR), as well as the Canadians Jamaal Magloire and Joel Anthony.

The Chicago Bulls boast the rising star Luol Deng, who was born in Sudan but is now a British citizen; Omer Asik of Turkey and Joakim Noah, who is his own multicultural experiment. He was born in New York, but his grandfather was a footballer in Cameroon, his father is Yannick Noah, the swashbuckling French tennis star, and his mother, Cecilia Rodhe, was Miss Sweden 1978.

This international flavour in the NBA is hardly new and, if anything, will continue to rise. Nearly one-third of the players expected to be named in the NBA draft next month could be internationals.

Enes Kanter of Turkey is being touted as the third overall pick. The Czech Jan Vesely, Congo's Bismack Biyombo and Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas could all be chosen in the first eight.

The NBA loves this; a league with the best players from all over the planet can be a money-making machine. The English Premier League could describe how it works.

This week in the play-offs

Players of the week

• LeBron James, Miami. The play-offs are for big-time players, which is what James was in the final two victories over the Celtics, averaging 34 points and 10.5 rebounds.

• Dwyane Wade, Miami. The other half of the one-two punch everyone feared. Wade averaged 31 points and 9.5 rebounds.

• Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas. The Lakers had no answer for him. He averaged 25.3 points and 9.3 rebounds and shot 57.3 per cent in the Dallas sweep.

Teams of the week

• Miami. The Heat looked all grown up in taking care of the Boston Celtics in five games.

• Chicago. The Bulls resembled the team with the NBA’s best record in brushing aside the Atlanta Hawks.

• Dallas. The Mavericks’ confidence swelled in completing the sweep of the Lakers.

Duds of the week

• Andrew Bynum, LA Lakers. Talk about sore loser. Bynum, above, hit Mavs guard Jose Juan Barea with a cheap foul and then ripped his jersey off when ejected.

• Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City. He was supposed to bring a tough inside presence, but in his last three games against Memphis he averaged five points and six rebounds.

• LA Lakers. What an inglorious end for the two-time defending champions, who were swept by the Mavs.

Games of the week

• Miami v Chicago, Wednesday and Sunday. In what should be the best series of the play-offs, the Bulls are at home on Wednesday before the series shifts to Miami for Game 3.