Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo Are Primed to Take Centerstage in the NBA
The NBA has a long lineage of game-changing superstars that have donned the crown over the years. LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant carried the league for the better part of the last decade, as these stars begin to dimmer new names will start to adorn NBA marquees. The NBA is teeming with young, emerging talents, but no two young players seem more poised to carry the mantle than Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.
Giannis’s story is the stuff of legend; the reigning MVP was born in Greece to Nigerian immigrants, he lived the first 18 years of his life without citizenship from either country. Giannis comes from humble beginnings, his father Charles Adetokounbo was a handyman and his mother Veronica Adetokounbo was a nanny. The two migrated from Nigeria to Greece along with their 4 young boys in hopes of finding a better life.
The family found themselves struggling to make a living in a very segregated Greece. The boys did their part selling clothes, sunglasses, and DVDs on the street to help bring extra income to the household.
At 16, Giannis found himself playing for the youth club of Filathlitikos, a professional basketball team in Greece. Giannis continued to blossom physically, and his skill set began to catch up with his size, eventually leading to the Bucks taking a chance on this unproven yet extremely enticing prospect.
Luka’s story was much different, born in Slovenia to Mirjam Poterbin, a beautician and Sasa Doncic, a former basketball player and coach; Luka was raised in the middle-class suburb of Ljubljana.
At the tender age of 8, Luka joined the youth club for Union Olimpija, the same team his father played for. Coaches recognized Luka’s talent early on in the youth ranks. By the age of 12, Luka had signed to play in Spain with Real Madrid.
During his time at Madrid, Luka would not only establish himself as one of Europe’s top prospects, but he put together one of the more impressive resumes ever for an international player. Luka’s trophy case houses multiple Youth Player of the Year awards, a FIBA international cup trophy, a EuroLeague title, and a EuroLeague MVP all before the age of 20.
After the first All-Star ballot returns Giannis and Luka were the top vote-getters in their respective conferences, which is not only a testament to their talent but a reflection of the game’s emerging global appeal. The NBA has never shied away from trying to become the world’s most popular sport, placing emphasis on diversity and inclusion. The history books are brimming with names of international players who’ve taken a star turn in the NBA, subsequently inspiring an entire nation of basketball players to follow in their footsteps.
During the NBA’s inaugural season, there were 5 international players on the roster, now the league has over 100 international players under contract. Players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, Detlef Schrempf, Toni Kukoc, and Dikembe Mutombo decimated stereotypes and changed the narrative. These players, like so many other international players in their time, were pioneers, breaking down barriers and providing the framework for the NBA to elevate future foreign-born players such as Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, and Steve Nash into superstardom.
Global initiatives such as “Basketball Without Borders” and the “NBA Academy” have not only helped the league extend its global reach and increase its popularity but it’s served as a training ground for many future players, scouts, and executives most notably recently Masai Ujiri, president of basketball operations for the world champion Toronto Raptors.
As Giannis and Luka continue their ascension atop the NBA stratosphere, the league is not only looking to build on its international popularity, but they're wisely looking across international waters for ways to improve its systems and infrastructure. Take Doncic for example, Luka’s success is not only a product of his prodigious talent but a club system which allows young players to become professionals much earlier in life and while I’m not validating the practice, it’s easy to see the value this situation presents on the basketball side of things.
The NBA seems intent on re-opening its doors for 18 years olds for the 2022 draft, in preparation for this shift the NBA has been working with USA Basketball and grassroots programs across the nation to grant more access for NBA personnel in hopes of creating a more efficient process for draftees and organizations alike. All of this is occurring while the NBA has been trying to establish its rebranded “D-League” as a legitimate minor league/feeder system for its clubs. One thing is for sure, as the NBA continues its expansion, fans should expect to see more international players at the forefront.