African Players in the NBA

May 2, 2007

mutombo.jpgSince I’m a huge NBA fan and given that the playoffs are here, I figured I’d write this bit about African players in the league (some great, some not). I had this idea after I ran some searches on the web and couldn’t find any listing of African players so I decided to do my own digging (yes, I love basketball that much) to satisfy my curiosity.
While it was a rare occurrence in the past couple of decades (at least I only knew of Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and sadly Manute Bol :-)), it’s become easier for African players to get into the league. I don’t mean to say that the standards for getting into the NBA have been lowered so much that it’s easier for anyone to get in but I believe that it’s us who have increased the level of our game to match the Americans’. As you’ve probably witnessed in recent international competition, the rest of the world is catching up…shiiiit you can go ahead cross out the previous sentence, the rest of the world has caught up!!!
Rarely though, do these players come straight from the continent, as most usually make an appearance on the collegiate scene or play for a few years overseas (Europe…uh…Europe :-D) before joining the NBA. Even when they do join the league, very few of those players have an impact on their teams (Michael Olowokandi anybody?), but no need to despair as hope is here in the form of talented players such as Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls or Didier Ilunga Mbenga of the Dallas Mavericks, ok just kidding on that last one lol but there’s reason for hope though.
Since the list was going to be too short with African born players only, I decided to also include any US or foreign born player of African descent (first generation damn it). In any case without further ado I bring you the list I came up with (in no particular order):

Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls – Sudan
Desagana Diop, Dallas Mavericks – Senegal
Ike Diogu, Indiana Pacers – Nigeria
Kelenna Azubuike, GS Warriors – Nigeria
Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats – Nigeria
Thabo Sefolosha, Chicago Bulls – South Africa
Dikembe Mutombo, Houston Rockets – DR Congo
Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Dallas Mavericks – Ghana
Michael Olowokandi, Boston Celtics – Nigeria
Mouhamed Sene, Seattle Supersonics – Senegal
Pape Sow, Toronto Raptors – Senegal
Ime Udoka, Portland Trailblazers – Nigeria
Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, Dallas Mavericks – DR Congo

Honorable mention: Stephane Lasme, UMASS – Gabon (just because I spent most of my life there also)

There it is, this is what I’ve come with so far. I’ll make updates when needed.

Trivia: What South Africa born player has been named MVP of the league in the past 20 years?