In Spain, no sport will ever be bigger than soccer. That’s just the way it is on the Iberian Peninsula and most other places in Europe. But while Spain was dominating the soccer world with its World Cup win in 2010 and its European titles in 2008 and 2012, the nation was quietly producing elite basketball talent as well. In recognition of the contributions the country has made to the hardwood over the years, let’s check out the best Spanish-born NBA players of all time.
It took until he was 24 for Calderon to garner enough interest from the NBA for him to leave Europe. He never became a star player, but he was a useful role player and a brilliant passer for many years. He averaged more than eight assists per game in four different seasons and averaged double figures in scoring in eight seasons. Ultimately, Calderon spent 14 seasons in the NBA and set the single-season NBA record for free-throw percentage during the 2008-09 campaign.
It was always going to be tough for Rubio to live up to the massive hype around him when he first came to the NBA. Even if he didn’t quite reach those expectations, Rubio did become a bonafide starting point guard for a long time.
During his last few years in Minnesota, he was less than 1.5 assists per game away from averaging a double-double. While some will label him a bust compared to the lofty expectations that come with being the fifth overall pick, Rubio has had a solid and respectable NBA career.
While he went to high school in the U.S., Szczerbiak was technically born in Spain and spent most of his childhood in Europe while his father played professionally. He was a little overlooked coming out of high school and played at Miami (OH).
But he had a brilliant college career and became the sixth overall pick in the draft. Szczerbiak averaged double figures in nine of his 10 NBA seasons, including a career-high 20.1 points per game in 2005-06. He was a starter for a big chunk of his career and finished his playing days averaging over 14 points per game.
The younger Gasol brother didn’t come with as much hype, only being drafted 48th overall, but he’s put together a great career. Marc has been an all-star three times and won NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. During his peak years in Memphis, he was one of the best two-way big men in the league. After more than a decade in the league, Marc is still a viable role player and started all 24 playoff games for the Raptors when they won the NBA championship in 2019.
Unfortunately for Marc, he’ll always be overshadowed by his older brother. He came out of the shoot fast, becoming the first non-American to win Rookie of the Year honors and then making his first of six All-Star Teams a few years later. Pau was also an integral part of the Lakers when they won back-to-back NBA titles in 2009 and 2010. Before returning to Spain to finish his career, Pau became one of the most iconic players in Memphis Grizzlies history and set the bar high as the best Spanish player to ever play in the NBA.