Basketball is a global game, and the NBA is a hot-bed of international talent. The 2017-18 season opened with 108 foreign-born players from a record 42 different countries. This marks the fourth consecutive season with at least 100 players in the Association from overseas.
The Celtics have firmly followed this trend, with six international players suiting up for Boston on a given night. As best I can tell, that’s the most for a C’s roster in franchise history. From Australia to Egypt, from Germany to the Dominican Republic, Brad Stevens’ General Assembly spans the globe.
As I’m currently living abroad, I felt compelled to celebrate just how international this Celtics team really is. Tray tables up, let’s depart on a quick trip around the world. First stop: the land of Oz.
Kyrie Irving and Aron Baynes: Australia*
Boston’s new franchise star may have grown up in New Jersey, but Kyrie Irving was actually born in Melbourne, Australia. His father, Drederick Irving, played professional basketball with the Bulleen Boomers. As such, Kyrie spent the first two years of his life Down Under, and holds dual citizenship.
Irving once toyed with playing for his native Australia in the 2012 olympics, but stated that Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski was the deciding factor to suit up for the US junior team instead.
So maybe Kyrie is only a mild Aussie. That’s ok, because this summer, the Celtics brought aboard All of Australia.
At 6′ 10 and 260 lbs, Aron Baynes is a true force to be reckoned with, representing a serious presence down low for the Celtics. He can orchestrate a clean pick and roll with his fellow Australian, and more than holds his own on the glass. He’s even taken to teaching his teammates some Aussie slang, which I can confirm first-hand is no easy task.
— NBA (@NBA) January 6, 2018
For the sake of intellectual honesty, Baynes was actually born in New Zealand, moving to Queensland as a baby. Still, he represents Australia in international competitions and has more than has earned the All of Australia moniker. Just look at that man bun!
Al Horford: The Dominican Republic
Kyrie Irving isn’t the only Celtics player who’s pops played professional ball. Al Horford’s father had a three-year stint in the NBA before plying his trade overseas, including in Spain.
Horford, born in Playa Plata in the Dominican Republic, spent the first 14 years of his life in the island nation. His family eventually relocated to Michigan, before Horford went on to his storied career as a member of the Florida Gators.
Now a multi-time All Star, Horford’s journey to the NBA underscores just how global the NBA is. Basketball being a rather simple game, it’s possible to get shots up even in difficult circumstances. Here’s what Horford told the Boston Globe about his time in the DR and his efforts to play the game he loved.
“Anything I could get to shoot, I would,” Horford explained said. “You would always find ways to do it, whether it’s like a rim from a car we’d put against a tree or something and nail it in. Whatever it took.”
Horford would later enroll in a basketball academy in Santa Domingo, the nation’s capital, but wouldn’t forget those less fortunate. Al has worked to rebuild and refurnish courts in his native country, hosting basketball camps and clinics.
Abdel Nader: Egypt
Abdel Nader joins Al Horford in seeking to expand a love of basketball in his homeland. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, the second-year guard has spent time with the Celtics and the club’s G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. He’s shown flashes in his limited minutes as a professional, but his plans off the court are equally admirable.
“I was thinking about going back this summer to open up some camps, doing some basketball camps there [in Egypt] and seeing how that goes,” Nader recently explained. “It would be great to stay tied up with the community there and seeing how that works out. I’ll gladly do whatever I can to help for any reasons. I haven’t really looked into that yet, though.”
“If I could influence a kid to improve his life with basketball and get him to the United States, to make it a better life for himself, I am all for that,”
Like the Domincan Republic, Egypt isn’t necessarily a hot-bed for basketball, but the future is bright. Nader said he grew up on a steady diet of NBA classics, watching everything from Michael Jordan’s prime to contemporary stars like LeBron James. As the NBA expands its global reach, perhaps more and more young athletes like Nader will pursue basketball.
Daniel Theis: Germany
Germany has had its fair share of successful pros, headlined by the great Dirk Nowitzki. The Celtics’ 25-year old rookie Daniel Theis has a way to go in the NBA, but the early returns are exciting. And his admiration for Dirk is endearing, to say the least.
“[It’s] tough to watch NBA games [in Germany] because they come on in the middle of the night,” Theis told the Globe. “The earliest game is like 1 o’clock [in the morning]. But we all looked up to Dirk Nowitzki. You could look at his career and it’s unbelievable. He’s the hero.”
Second and third generation players from foreign countries are important to the worldwide development of the sport. Nowitzki showed that if you have lottery potential the NBA will find you. Players like Theis are showing that if you have role player skills, you can still make it to the NBA. That opens up basketball to a huge pool of young sportsmen.
Theis has shown promise, and has been giving Baynes chase in terms of earning minutes. He’s athletic and can shoot the ball, but still has moments where he’s clearly adjusting to the NBA game. That said, his career as a pro overseas means he’s got a solid foundation to work with moving forward. Keep an eye on Theis.
Guerschon Yabusele: France
Guerschon Yabusele is still a work-in-progress for the Celtics, but is already well-established among the fans. The Dancing Bear hasn’t consistently put things together on either ends of the floor yet. Like Nader and Theis, it will take more time for Yabu to get used to the NBA game and to really polish his otherwise raw talent.
Still, the Frenchman does have the intangibles down pat.
I have tracked down the Yabu dab. Cherish it for all its glory. pic.twitter.com/pdkHZ43Lhu
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) December 7, 2017
Born in Dreux, France, Yabusele actually spent part of his youth training as a boxer. Perhaps this is why the 22-year old does enjoy a surprising amount of agility despite his large frame.
Also dubbed the French Draymond Green, Yabsuele has appeared in just 16 games for the Celtics thus far. Like Nader, he’s spent time with the Red Claws, where his production has been enough to keep optimism for the Dancing Bear relatively high.
The Global View
International players can do more than add just a bit of flair to a team. They bring new perspectives and approaches to the game. For example, Kevin Arnovitz recently explored how Ben Simmons benefits from a love of Australian Rules Football. I can’t recommend the piece highly enough.
The additions of Theis and Yabusele may also suggest the Celtics have a new willingness to trust the team’s overseas scouting. The Spurs have built a dynasty around an ability to find talent all around the world, and while there are no guarantees, maybe Boston is joining San Antonio in casting a wider net. With the international Celtics spreading a love of the game across the globe, it’s certainly worth celebrating this new trend.
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