2023 Hall of Fame class is a milestone moment in basketball’s global growth

The 2023 Basketball Hall of Fame class is special. Not just because its members — Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Dwyane Wade — combine for 10 NBA Championships and 28 All-NBA selections. Not because it features an all-time WNBA great in Becky Hammon and arguably the greatest coach of all time in Gregg Popovich. Rather, the reason that the 2023 class is so important is because it’s a milestone moment in showing how much the game has grown internationally.

International players being enshrined in Springfield isn’t anything new. Soviet gold medalist Sergei Belov was the first international player to be inducted more than 30 years ago in the class of 1992. Even last year, Radivoj Korać and Manu Ginóbili were both inducted as international players. This year’s class is different, though, because it’s the first class in which three international players had enough merit from their NBA careers alone to warrant immortality in the Hall of Fame.

That isn’t to say previous players who started coming from abroad aren’t equally deserving of recognition. Arvydas Sabonis was maybe the best player in the world in his prime, he shouldn’t be faulted for being unable to play in the NBA until the twilight of his career because he was born in the USSR. Ginóbili’s performance in the 2004 Olympics alone, dethroning the perennial Goliath that is the US National team, is worthy of a Hall of Fame nod. Still, the work of Parker, Gasol and Nowitzki is a big part of the reason why the NBA has so much more depth than it did 20 years ago.

I was nine years old during the 2008 Olympics and happened to be on a trip up in Maine with my family. Like any other little kid, I was full of energy and never wanted to sit still or spend a day cooped up inside. If given a choice of playing basketball or watching, I’d choose to play every time. Still, when Team USA faced off against Team Spain for the Olympic Gold, I insisted on leaving the beach just so I could listen to Pau Gasol face off against a Dream Team-esque roster with just Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and a 17-year-old Ricky Rubio as his teammates.

Three years later, the Miami Heat was the team nearly every fan of the game thought would steamroll its way to a championship with The Heatles, a big three made up of Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh. Yet, Nowitzki did the impossible, taking down the greatest player on the planet and two other Hall of Famers in just five games after already slaying Giants in the reigning champion Lakers and the dynasty San Antonio Spurs.

My point is that these are magnetic players, even to me as an American. For European fans, there haven’t always been as many of these players to look up to. The success of this year’s class should be looked at as a milestone moment.

We’re in a unique period in the NBA’s history where international players have had as much success, if not more, than the Americans. Over the last five years, there hasn’t been an American MVP. Prior to Giannis Antetokounmpo winning in 2019, 20 of the previous 24 MVPs had been American.

This year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, French phenom Victor Wembanyama, even said to Bleacher Report that “there’s a special relation between France and the Spurs. … The whole country wanted the Spurs to have the first pick,” because of the influence of Tony Parker.

This isn’t the first time international players have made it to the Hall of Fame, but it should be acknowledged as a sign of a growing trend.

In two years, Marc Gasol will be eligible. Further down the line, reigning MVP Joel Embiid of Cameroon, reigning NBA champion Nikola Jokić of Serbia and rising Slovenian superstar Luka Dončić are all on track to be inducted. This isn’t an aberration, it’s a sign of great things to come for the NBA.

For more from Jake McNeill, listen to The Ankle-Breaker podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Amazon Podcasts with new episodes every Friday. He can also be found on Twitter @JakeMcNeill_ and Threads @JakeMcNeill___


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