The National Basketball Association, better known by its acronym, NBA, is a men’s professional basketball league in North America, comprising of 29 United States-based teams and one Canadian-based team.
The NBA, despite only featuring North American teams, employs players from all over the world as interest in the sport of basketball has soared over the past few decades. The NBA actively searches and recruits players, either directly or indirectly, to its league. This trend can be seen through the composition of teams in the NBA this 2017-18 season which had a record 108 international players from a record 42 countries and territories on opening-night rosters.
Note that these statistics do not account for American players who are originally from elsewhere, children of immigrants.
A significant portion of international players in the NBA are from Africa, following in the footsteps of past greats who went to the NBA to make their mark and have left its teams wanting to find the next great player out of the continent.
African countries have also caught the buzz as the continent now has its own international basketball tournament where scouts from the prestigious North American league come to look for players. Those who have made it to the NBA have gone ahead to prove that they are not just good but very good at the game.
Here is a list of the best African Basketball stars in the NBA.
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5 Best African Basketball Stars
1. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, regarded as the most talented center in NBA history and the best African player to play in the NBA, is number one on the best African basketball stars list.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1963, Hakeem had never played the game of basketball until he arrived in the United States in 1980. He, however, went on to become one of the top centers to ever play the game. He played in the NBA for 18 years, winning double NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 and was named NBA Finals MVP both times. He was also a 12-time NBA All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, an Olympic gold medalist, among many other accolades. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.
Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen.
2. Steve Nash
Steve Nash is one of those people who can be claimed by many countries to be one of their own having grown up in British Columbia, Canada and is the child of a Welsh mother and English father. He, however, makes this list because he was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1974.
Steve played as a point guard for nineteen seasons in the NBA. He played for teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks but is best known for his time with the Phoenix Suns where he won back to back MVP titles. He is also a member of the prestigious 50-40-90 club after averaging 50+ percent in field goals, 40+ percent from the 3point line and 90+ percent from the free throw line in multiple seasons. He has led the league five times in total assists and assists per game.
Nash has been honoured for his contributions to various philanthropic causes. In 2006, he was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He also received the Order of Canada in 2007 and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Victoria in 2008.
Nash is currently the general manager of the Canadian national team and is a player development consultant for the Golden State Warriors. He is also a co-owner of a professional soccer team; Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
3. Bismack Biyombo
Bismack Biyombo is an NBA star who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was born on August 28, 1992.
Biyombo was selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft by the Sacramento Kings before being immediately traded to the Charlotte Bobcats.
He has been ranked as one of the highest paid African players in the NBA with a very bright future and is one of the top blockers in the league.
4. Luol Deng
Luol Deng is another African player who has hit the heights in the NBA.
Deng was born on April 16, 1985, in Wau, Sudan (modern day South Sudan). His family left the embattled African nation for England who granted his family political asylum as the second Sudanese civil war broke out.
From England, Deng moved to the United States to play basketball in both High School and College. After a year of playing college basketball at Duke University, Deng entered the 2004 NBA draft and was picked seventh overall by the Phoenix Suns.
He went on to play for the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and the LA Lakers. Through his 14 years in the league, he’s averaged 15 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 45.5% from the floor and 33.2% from three-point territory.
5. Dikembe Mutombo
The fifth player to make the 5 best African basketball stars list is the 7ft 2in Congolese shot-blocking machine, Dikembe Mutombo.
Mutombo was born on June 25, 1966, in Leopoldville (modern-day Kinshasa), the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He moved to the United States in 1987 at the age of 21 to enrol in college at Georgetown University on a USAID scholarship.
Despite having high hopes of being a doctor, Mutombo flourished in basketball. In 1991, after graduating with bachelor’s degrees in linguistics and diplomacy, the Denver Nuggets drafted him with the fourth overall pick in the 1991 NBA draft.
Mutombo, till date, remains the highest-paid African player in NBA history. He earned more than $143 million in his 18 seasons in the league.