More than ever, the NBA has become an international game, as players from all corners of the world are starting to catch up to the skill level of American players. While Europe is an obvious hotbed of talent, Africa has long been a great resource for NBA talent. Soccer remains king on the continent, but basketball has slowly but surely made waves. In fact, most people would be surprised to check out some of the players on our list of the best NBA players of all-time who were born in Africa.
Bol probably doesn’t qualify as one of the best NBA players from Africa. But he’s undoubtedly one of the most noteworthy, standing 7’7’’ and serving as one of the best shot blockers in the NBA throughout his career.
The late Bol was born in Sudan and spent his retirement serving as an activist and humanitarian for his home country.
Less than a decade into his NBA career, Embiid is already one of the best African players of all-time. Born in Cameroon, he initially planned on being a pro volleyball player before discovering basketball at age 15.
His star has been on the rise ever since, moving to the U.S. at age 16 to pursue basketball. After getting over the injury issues that plagued him early in his career, Embiid has been a perennial all-star since 2018 and one of the league’s best big men.
Born in what is now South Sudan, Deng spent his childhood in Egypt and Britain after his family fled the Civil War in Sudan. As a teenager, Deng moved to the United States and became one of the top high school players in his class.
After one season at Duke, he embarked on what would become a 15-year NBA career that included two all-star selections. After calling it a career in 2019, Deng became president of the South Sudan Basketball Federation and then coached the South Sudan national team.
Most people recognize that Nash is Canadian, although he was actually born in South Africa to English and Welsh parents. He moved to Canada when he was just 18 months old, all but ending his association with the African continent.
Nevertheless, the two-time MVP and eight-time all-star technically hails from South Africa.
Considered by many to be the greatest shot blocker in NBA history, Mutombo was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When he came to the United States at age 21, he planned to become a doctor and was actually on a USAID scholarship. However, legendary Georgetown coach John Thompson convinced him to play basketball, and the rest is history.
Rather than medicine, Mutombo graduated with a degree in diplomacy and linguistics. He was already 25 when he was drafted fourth overall in the NBA Draft but still played 18 seasons in the NBA, nearly averaging a double-double for his career and ranking second all-time in blocked shots.
Olajuwon has served as the inspiration for countless African players who have made their way to the NBA. Born in Nigeria, playing soccer in his youth helped him develop the kind of footwork that would eventually make him a great shot blocker. Olajuwon didn’t start to play basketball until he was 15, eventually moving to the U.S. to attend college.
He would go on to spend nearly 20 seasons in the NBA, mostly playing for the Houston Rockets. Olajuwon led the Rockets to two NBA titles during his Hall of Fame career and is still the NBA’s all-time leading shot blocker.