In the NBA, Europe is finally in fashion

The Slovenian Luka Doncic, opposite Stephen Curry, embodies the international shift of the NBA.
The Slovenian Luka Doncic, opposite Stephen Curry, embodies the international shift of the NBA. RICHARD W.RODRIGUEZ / AP

Fragile, not athletic enough, without mental … in short, "Soft". For a long time, basketball players who did not bother to be born in the United States enjoyed a not too great reputation in the NBA. In a covenant that created individual images, the gap between Europe and the United States seemed long wider than the Atlantic Ocean. But the place of European players in the NBA consolidates.

This year the performances of the Greek Antetokounmpo – more simply "Giannis" across the Atlantic – with Milwaukee Bucks and the Serbian Nikola Jokic with Denver make them serious candidates for MVP (Most Valuable Player, best player of the season)). And a Slovenian tornado hit the competition. Luka Doncic, the best player of the Euroleague and the Spanish championship at 18 last year, has won since the beginning of the season as the leader of the Dallas Mavericks, the story of another mythical European, Dirk Nowitzki – holy MVP of the season 2007 and NBA Finals in 2011. His former coach with Slovenia, the Serbian Igor Kokoskov, has broken a new barrier by becoming the first European coach this summer at the helm of a franchise, the Phoenix Suns.

"It is great to see that teams are ready to bet on an international player rather than on national or local talent ", Welcomes Pau Gasol Legendary in Spain, like a Tony Parker in France, the Spurs player has contributed greatly to changing attitudes towards foreign players. "Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and Bojan Bogdanovic (Indiana Pacers) are all incredible talents that play at high level, they are not afraid of anything, they practice the sport they love, against the best and prove that they are good. to be. "

Praise for European education

Witness the votes for the next All-Star game. Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Jokic and Cameroonian Joel Embiid are praised by fans to take part in the big rally of the NBA. And they are for the level they represent, more than for their nationality, as may have been the case of the Chinese Yao Ming or the Georgian Zaza Pachulia, whose compatriots voted en masse.

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From now on, NBA leaders take the example of European training. After Kobe Bryant, who gave him "Would not have been able to dribble and shoot with the left hand" if he was not trained in Italy, where his father played, owner Mark Cuban of Dallas Mavericks attacked the American training system. " If we send our best children to Slovenia, the competition would be a thousand times better. They would learn how to play basketball, while they learn chamber music and mixtapes. " Ask questions to academies, these "Player factories" pre-university students whose collective game is absent from the program.

Bucks leader Giannis Antetokounmpo (shirt 34), in exchange for the MVP title of the season.
Bucks leader Giannis Antetokounmpo (shirt 34), in exchange for the MVP title of the season. AARON GASH / AP

Even the & # 39; king & # 39; LeBron James praises the European formation, and attracts the Slovenian rookie in the margins of a meeting between his Lakers and the Mavs. "European players are growing faster than Americans Luka Doncic is a professional since he was 15, so nothing that the NBA offers intimidates him, I do not feel that the NBA game is something he has never seen before."

Must prove yourself constantly

For some, however, prejudice continues to exist. In 2015, New York Knicks fans accused their leaders of choosing Latvian Kristaps Porzingis as the fourth in the concept – the selection of the best young players. Porzingis soon became the mainstay of the New York franchise.

"If you are a European player who arrives in the NBA, you have to prove yourself constantly"Judge Tomas Satoransky, the Czech leader of the Washington Wizards, took the step and the Atlantic in 2016. "What we did in EuroLeague does not count, and so does Luka" the One "Doncic, he had to prove himself in the first matches, but for some players it takes time, and it is very difficult mentally, especially the first years we are used to playing in Europe and we know what we can bring. " Like Boris Diaw, who dragged his punishment in Atlanta before exploding in Phoenix under the command of a coach to express his play, the examples of mutual misunderstanding are great.

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"I have nothing against foreign players, but when I see an 18-year-old man an MVP, I conclude that he played in a worthless championship, this summer, Charles Barkley, converted a former player into a hanged analyst No one at the age of 18 should dominate adults. " With reference to, for example, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, that is a legend "Had problems" When they arrived at the NBA at the age of 18, the troublemaker refused to believe in the potential of Luka Doncic.

Fear of the fiasco

These doubts about the level of foreign competitions pushed three teams to give their turn to the Slovenian prodigy. three general managers more afraid of the possibility of failure than being seduced by a player who is able to change the face of their franchise. Because every newcomer, European, carries the spirits of the past on his shoulders. From Darko Milicic, selected on the second place in the design of 2003 just after LeBron James, to Frederic Weis, drawn up by the Knicks in 1999 and who will not play an NBA game, the fiascos were legion in the NBA.

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Sometimes Europeans have not been able to reach the level required by the NBA. But American coaches, who took the time to trust, also had their share of responsibility. If someone often emphasizes the international failures of the design, his history is also marked by memorable failures regarding American players.

A great architect of the opening of the NBA for the rest of the planet, the architect of a successful multicultural team in the person of the Spurs of San Antonio, coach Gregg Popovich is pleased that he has finally been imitated.

And never forget, in great contrast to President Donald Trump, to add a reflection with a political focus: "It helps people to understand each other better and to be more accountable to each other. Our planet is huge, so let's avoid being xenophobic. "

A competition in London, soon in Paris?

Accustomed to exporting his basketball in different countries, the NBA stopped in London on Thursday, January 17. The Washington Wizards defeated the New York Knicks in the last seconds (101-100). In the margins of this meeting, the NBA boss, Adam Silver, opened the door to the organization of a regular season meeting in Paris in 2020. "I was told that I should not advertise today, but yes, we are very serious about organizing a match in Paris next season."announced the Commissioner of the NBA. While many Frenchmen play in the North American league, France has not organized any matches and a race before the season since 2010.

Clément Martel

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