When we talk about the foreign-born players who have become stars in the NBA, it’s usually European players who come to mind. However, players from Latin American countries have also left their mark on the league. Certain players spring to mind right away while fans may not even know that some players originally hail from Latin America. In recognition of the cosmopolitan nature of the NBA, let’s give the best Latin American players in NBA history their proper credit.
Luis Scola, Argentina (Rockets)
Scola didn’t get to the NBA until he was 27 after being one of the best players in Europe and winning countless trophies with his club in Spain. However, he made an instant impact, being named to the All-Rookie Team. For five seasons, he was a regular in Houston’s starting lineup, averaging double figures every season, including a career-high 18.3 points per game during the 2010-11 campaign. Scola tailed off after that because he was quickly past his prime after waiting so long to get to the NBA.
Leandro Barbosa, Brazil (Suns)
Known for his speed, Barbosa played 14 seasons in the NBA. During his career, Barbosa was one of the best in the league at making an impact off the bench, winning Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2007 when he averaged 18.1 points per game. Even late in his career, Barbosa was a trusted reserve, even lending a helping hand to the Warriors when they won the 2015 NBA title.
Nenê, Brazil (Nuggets)
Nenê was the first Brazilian ever selected in the NBA Draft and has long been one of the most underrated big men in the NBA. He quickly became a starter when he joined the Nuggets in 2002 and was a member of the NBA All-Rookie Team. He continued to be a key player in Denver, having his best season when the Nuggets reached the Western Conference Finals in 2009. He averaged double figures in 10 of his 18 NBA seasons and was a steady rebounder for much of his career.
Manu Ginobili, Argentina (Spurs)
Ginobili was a star in Europe before coming to the NBA, where he was a key part of San Antonio’s sustained success. He helped the Spurs win four NBA championships, largely coming off the bench as a complementary piece to Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Of course, he would have been a starter on most teams, scoring in double figures in 12 of his 16 seasons. Without Ginobili, the Spurs probably aren’t the dominant force they were in the early 2000’s.
Al Horford, Dominican Republic (Hawks)
Most fans probably don’t realize that Horford grew up in the Dominican Republic before moving to Michigan as a teenager. After a standout college career, he’s continued to be a great pro, being named an all-star five times. Horford has averaged over 10 points in each of his NBA seasons, including the 2012-13 season when he averaged a double-double. He’s also one of the best defensive big men in the league and has helped his teams reach the playoffs nearly every season.