Editorial

NBA’s Next Top Pick Is Going To Be Another European … Is America Losing Her Athletic Edge?

Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images

Font Size:

French basketball superstar Zaccharie Risacher just declared for the 2024 NBA draft and all signs point to him being the number one overall selection, according to ESPN.

If he goes off the board at one, it will be the second year in a row a French player gets selected first, following the San Antonio Spurs inaugural selection of French phenom Victor Wembanyama in last year’s draft.

It’s a continuation of a troubling trend for American basketball, as more and more often the stars that are shaping the league are coming from overseas.

Since 2011, five of the first overall selections in the NBA draft have been foreign-born. Kyrie Irving (2011) and Ben Simmons (2016) were born in Australia. Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (2014) are Canadian. And Wemby, of course, comes from France. But the trend doesn’t stop at first picks. The game’s best and brightest are increasingly coming from around the world.

The top three MVP vote-getters from the 2022-2023 season are all from other countries. The award winner, Joel Embiid, hails from Cameroon. Runner-up Nikola Jokić is from Serbia. The third-place vote-getter, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is from Greece.

Other superstars, like 2023-2024’s scoring leader Luka Dončić, are from overseas as well. Rudy Gobert, Kristaps Porzingis, Domantas Sabonis … all from Europe.

The NBA has always been a global game compared to its other North American athletic competitors. Guys like Vlade Divac, Yao Ming and Dirk Nowitzki proudly repped their home countries on a global stage in America. But they were never the sport’s centerpieces. The best players were always American. Jordan, LeBron, Durant, Kobe (who did spend time growing up in Italy but was still a product of Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School). The guys who put asses in seats were always born and raised in the good ol’ U.S. of A. But things are rapidly changing.

Does America still boast a fantastic collection of talent? No doubt. Their recently revealed roster for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games is stacked with familiar (though aging) stars like James, Durant, Steph Curry and more. And oddsmakers acknowledge that fact by marking them heavy favorites to win gold, with DraftKings pegging them at -500 to win it all, according to Covers. (RELATED: NBA Center Who Allegedly Bet On Games Gets Lifetime Ban)

But where once American athletic supremacy was so apparent that they were doubling the opposing country’s point totals, it’s no longer a foregone conclusion that they’ll win the gold. In last year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup, America didn’t even place top three, losing the bronze medal match to Canada, of all countries.

The future is bright for many of the league’s up-and-coming American stars. Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton and Jason Tatum all repped the stars and stripes admirably in stellar 2023-2024 campaigns, but the stat sheets and jersey sales numbers are increasingly being dominated by foreign-born stars.

Might this be the end of American athletic dominance? Maybe not this year or the next, but if current trends continue, American sporting stars could become the minority in their own country.