Top 10 Most Influential Hispanic NBA Players in History
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrate the 10 greatest Hispanic players in NBA history.
There is a special place in basketball history for Hispanic players, and it impacts the NBA every summer when international competitions are held. It will happen again at the Paris Olympics in 2024, when the Americans are expected to field an Extreme Team to undo the damage that was done when Team USA finished fourth in the most recent FIBA World Cup.
No U.S. team had ever lost before the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis, but at that tournament the United States dropped a game against Argentina on Sept. 4 to set in motion a sequence of events that would allow the rest of the world to catch up.
That Argentina team was loaded with players who would go on to the NBA, most notably Manu Ginobili and Luis Scola. The United States then went on to lose to Spain in the fifth-place game on Sept. 7. That Spanish team had a little-known skinny center named Pau Gasol, who went on to become a Hall of Famer.
International basketball has never been the same since, and one lightly-regarded team with Hispanic players, Puerto Rico, defeated the United States at the 2004 Olympics in Greece. This is the stuff of legend in international basketball, where oddsmakers have not yet set lines for the gold medal at the Paris Olympics. So far, the United States, France, South Sudan, Canada, Japan, Germany, Serbia, and Australia have qualified. The final four Olympic spots will be determined through a qualifying tournament next summer, when Argentina, Spain, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico will be among the teams with Hispanic players who are competing.
Who was the first Hispanic NBA player?
Butch Lee was a first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks out of Marquette in 1978. Half Puerto Rican, he is credited with being the first player with Hispanic roots to make it to the NBA. He earned a championship ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980 when they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals.
Are there any Hispanic NBA players in 2023-24 NBA season?
Depending on what happens in training camps, there could be as many as a half-dozen Hispanic players in the NBA in 2023-24. None are more accomplished than Al Horford of the Boston Celtics, who is from the Dominican Republic and made it to the NBA Finals in 2022 when the Celtics lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games.
Current Hispanic NBA Players
Aside from Al Horford, the Hispanic players expected to have no trouble making NBA rosters this season include Santi Aldama (Spain) of the Memphis Grizzlies, Chris Duarte (Dominican Republic) of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Ricky Rubio (Spain) of the Cleveland Cavaliers,
Famous Hispanic NBA Players
No Hispanic NBA player has ever been more famous than Pau Gasol, who played 18 seasons for the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, and the Milwaukee Bucks. Gasol went into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this past summer.
Celebrating the Top 10 Most Influential Hispanic NBA Players in History
- Eduardo Najera
NBA Career Span: 2000 to 2012
Teams: Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks, Charlotte Bobcats.
Eduardo Najera, from Ciudad Meoqui in Chihuahua State in Mexico, was the first Mexican player drafted (38th overall in 2000 by the Houston Rockets) and only the second to appear in an NBA game (the first was Horacio Llamas). He was an early teammate of Brook Lopez in New Jersey before retiring in 2012 and becoming a coach with the D-League Texas Legends.
- Andres Nocioni
Position: Small Forward
NBA Career Span: 2004 to 2012
Teams: Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers
Awards and Honors: Olympic Gold Medal (2004), Olympic Bronze Medal (2008)
A native of Santa Fe, Argentina, Andres Nocioni landed on NBA radars with his performance at the 2002 FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis and for many years was a thorn in the side of various Team USA squads. One of the friendliest players ever to play in the NBA, Nocioni (nicknamed “Chapu”) holds dual Italian and Argentine citizenship. In recent years, he has worked with the Argentina basketball federation as a coaching assistant.
- Luis Scola
Position: Power Forward
NBA Career Span: 2007 to 2017
Teams: Houston Rockets, Phoenix, Suns, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets
Awards and Honors: NBA All-Rookie First Team (2007-08)
Another member of the Argentinian National Team that began to make noise at the 2002 Worlds, Luis Scola was a force in the Spanish ACB League before finally coming to the United States after having to buy out his own contract. He scored 8,882 NBA points before finishing his career in China and Italy.
NBA Career Span: 2002 to 2020
Teams: Denver Nuggets, Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets
Awards and Honors: NBA All-Rookie First Team (2002-03)
Formerly known as Nene Hilario, the native of Sao Carlos, Brazil was the first Brazilian ever drafted -- selected with the seventh pick in 2002 by the New York Knicks, who immediately traded him to Washington. He would go on to score 10,909 career points.
- Brook Lopez
NBA Career Span: 2008 to present
Teams: New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks
Awards and Honors: NBA All-Star Game (2013), NBA All-Rookie First Team (2008-09), NBA All-Defensive First Team (2022-23)
The 10th overall selection in the 2008 NBA Draft out of Stanford, 7-foot-1 center Brook Lopez continues to do his thing for the Milwaukee Bucks as one of the best shot-blockers in the NBA. The Los Angeles native will team with brother, Robin, on the Bucks this upcoming season.
- Al Horford
Positions: Power Forward, Center
NBA Career Span: 2007 to present
Teams: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Oklahoma City Thunder
Awards and Honors: NBA All-Star Game (2010, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2018), All-NBA Third Team (2010-11), NBA All-Defensive Second Team (2017-18). MBA All-Rookie First Team (2007-08)
Still getting it done for the Boston Celtics, the favorites on the Betway Board to come out of the Eastern Conference in 2023-24, Al Horford, a native of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, has scored 13,605 career points over the course of his 16 seasons. He shows no signs of slowing down heading into the upcoming season, when he will turn 37.
- Manu Ginobili
Position: Shooting Guard
NBA Career Span: 2002 to 2018
Team: San Antonio Spurs
Awards and Honors: NBA All-Star Game (2005, 2011), NBA Sixth Man of the Year (2007-08), NBA All-Rookie Second Team (2002-03), Olympic Gold Medal (2004), Olympics MVP (2004), Olympic Bronze Medal (2008), Basketball Hall of Fame (2022)
Manu Ginobili went from the Argentine league to the Italian league and played in those places for seven years before the San Antonio Spurs selected the native of Bahia Blanca, Argentina, with the 57th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. From there, he went on to become a franchise icon for the Spurs, scoring 14,043 career points to earn a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
- Marc Gasol
NBA Career Span: 2008 to 2021
Teams: Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Lakers
Awards and Honors: NBA All-Star Game (2012, 2015, 2017), All-NBA First Team (2014-15), NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2012-13), Olympic Silver Medal (2008, 2012)
Still playing at age 38 in the Spanish ACB League, Marc Gasol was known as the lesser of the two Gasol brothers until he came to the NBA and started doing things that his brother, Pau, had been doing. He was revered in Memphis during his 11 years with the Grizzlies, and the Barcelona native was a silver medalist at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics while playing for Spain’s national team. He and Pau are the only brothers to win NBA championships.
- Carmelo Anthony
Position: Power Forward
NBA Career Span: 2003 to 2022
Teams: Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers
Awards and Honors: NBA All-Star Game (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), NBA All-Rookie First Team (2003-04), All-NBA Second Team (2009-10, 2012-13), USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (2006, 2016), Olympic Gold Medal (2008, 2012, 2016)
Carmelo Anthony, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., was born to Puerto Rican parents and was the third overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He scored 28,289 points in his storied career and most recently served as the U.S. ambassador to the FIBA World Cup -- a reward for once saying he always appreciated FIBA basketball more than NBA basketball. He was a fan favorite with the Knicks.
- Pau Gasol
NBA Career Span: 2001 to 2019
Teams: Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Milwaukee Bucks
Awards and Honors: NBA All-Star Game (2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016), All-NBA Second Team (2010-11, 2014-15), NBA Rookie of the Year (2001-02), NBA All-Rookie First Team (2001-02), Olympic Silver Medal (2008, 2012), Olympic Bronze Medal (2016), Basketball Hall of Fame (2023)
The most accomplished Spanish player in NBA history, Pau Gasol was a part of the Spanish national teams that were rivals to Team USA at the Beijing, London, and Rio de Janeiro Olympics. He won two silver medals and a bronze medal. While in the NBA, Gasol scored 20,894 career points and grabbed 11,305 rebounds. He was also the MVP of the 2006 World Cup in Japan, where Spain won the gold medal. He was traded to the Lakers from Memphis in 2008 as part of a controversial deal in which his brother, Marc, was sent to the Grizzlies.
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