A few months after the NBA celebrated its first season with more than 100 foreign players on rosters one of the association’s biggest stars laments the dearth of fundamentals imparted to American players that has led to the relative decline in U.S. players.
“I just think European players are just way more skillful,” Bryant opined after Friday night’s Laker loss to the Marc Gasol-led Memphis Grizzlies. “They are just taught the game the right way at an early age.”
The remarks mesh with the results. The NBA boasted of a record 101 foreign players from 37 countries to start the regular season. The reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, not coincidentally, led the league for the third straight year with nine international players. The Lakers, whose 10-23 record puts them next to last in the West, suit up just one in Canadian Robert Sacre with fellow son of the Great White North Steve Nash sidelined.
The U.S.-born, Italy-raised Bryant points to the Amateur Athletic Union as a primary culprit in eroding skills. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and many of the league’s best players honed their skills in AAU leagues prior to debuting in the NBA.
“AAU basketball,” Bryant volunteered for blame. “Horrible, terrible AAU basketball. It’s stupid. It doesn’t teach our kids how to play the game at all so you wind up having players that are big and they bring it up and they do all this fancy crap and they don’t know how to post. They don’t know the fundamentals of the game. It’s stupid.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers made history by hiring David Blatt, coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, as the first head coach brought directly from an overseas league to the NBA. The team-oriented approach has not worked well in Cleveland. The Cavs, preseason favorites to win the NBA championship, struggle at 19-14 under the tutelage of their rookie coach.
Foreign players competed in the NBA from its beginnings, with Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and Dirk Nowitzki playing as a few of the all-time great foreign-born players. When Kobe Bryant came to America from Europe to play high school basketball, the NBA contained about one-fifth the number of international players than it does now.