LOS ANGELES – The NBA has seen international success for years now, but it's currently booming like never before. Led by the current faces in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Luka Doncic, the league's best are increasingly coming and developing from overseas. In the eyes of former Los Angeles Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic, it's a testament to the ones who paved the way for himself and others.
The league has seen an uptick in international players over the last two-to-three decades, namely with Dirk Nowitzki, who is now considered the greatest overseas player in NBA history. But it doesn't start — or even end — there.
Nowitzki joined a league already featuring, Hakeem Olajuwon, Peja Stojaković, Arvydas Sabonis, Detlef Schrempf, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, and Sarunas Marciulionis. After him, the NBA saw the European likes of Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic, and Luka Doncic join the league.
Former shooting guard Sasha Vujacic never reached the superstar status of any of those players, but he was able to play in some of the biggest games and deliver in some of the highest pressure situations. Vujacic spoke with ClutchPoints in an exclusive interview about how international players are becoming more prominent in the NBA.
“I think luckily the game became very global and players have developed,” Vujacic told ClutchPoints. “And for me, being European coming from Europe, I understand what the journey was to get here. And when these kids back in the day saw what Vlade [Divac], Drazen [Petrovic], [Arvydas] Sabonis, all the pioneers did — without naming everybody — and then what different generations did, they got excited and they understood that hard work will pay off.”
As of this September 2022, three of the six highest-paid players in the NBA are international talents. The first is current back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic with a $272 million deal. The second is two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with a $228 million deal. The third is Luka Doncic, who will no doubt win an MVP by the time his NBA career is over, with a $215 million deal.
3 of the 5 biggest contracts in NBA history belong to European players 🔥
Nikola Jokic 5-year, $264 million
Bradley Beal 5-year, $251 million
Giannis 5-year, $228.2 million
Stephen Curry 4-year, $215.3 million
Luka Doncic 5-year, $215.1 million pic.twitter.com/AL4ecetJEF
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 30, 2022
“If you look at all three players, I love Giannis Antetokounmpo because of what Giannis did,” Sasha Vujacic continued. “He stayed in Milwaukee, he showed the loyalty, and he won a championship. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the back-to-back, but I love his grind, I love his determination, I love what he stands for, and I believe he’s got a couple more championships.
“You see Jokic MVP back-to-back, they have to make that extra pass to the Western Conference Finals, probably to the Finals because they deserve to feel what it means to be in the Finals. It’s a whole different ball game in the playoffs and then once you go stage by stage, it’s different.
“And then there’s Luka who is an upcoming MVP, an incredible player. Just something that I haven’t seen in a long time. He’s got a great management, a great coach around him, players, so hopefully he’ll be surrounded by a lot of weapons because he would deserve to win it more than I can explain. I really wish him to get to that point.”
Vujacic was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 27th pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. He set the Lakers record for three-point shooting percentage during the 2007-08 season, knocking down 43.7 percent of his three-pointers.
The Slovenian guard only started 58 of his 646 career NBA games, including zero playoff starts in 65 appearances. Vujacic did, however, remain a consistent scorer and shooter off the Lakers bench en route to back-to-back NBA Championships in 2009 and 2010. He's highly regarded and well-known for his two clutch free throws in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, helping the Lakers defeat their rival Boston Celtics.
“Its fun to see when you work properly, when you just lock in and you have that road in front of you and you see where you wanna go, it also means you gotta be in a good system surrounded with great teammates, a good management, and you gotta be in a franchise that they wanna win. That’s another question nowadays. Winning or just going along with the ride.”
Just in the last decade, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and Nikola Jokic have been joined by international stars like Joel Embiid, Domantas Sabonis, Kristaps Porzingis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Pascal Siakam.
The future of the NBA remains bright, especially with the amount of international talents coming in.
“Was I fortunate?” Vujacic asked regarding his perfect situation with the Lakers. “I don’t know. The basketball gods are always watching and they were watching how crazy I was about basketball, the little kid that was also sleeping with basketball shoes and playing basketball as breathing.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Luka Doncic were all competing at FIBA EuroBasket 2022, but all three fell before their teams could reach the semi-final round. Minnesota Timberwolves and France star Rudy Gobert is the last remaining NBA All-Star in the tournament, which continues Friday at 8:15 AM PST.
Nikola Jokic? OUT
Giannis Antetokounmpo? OUT
Luka Doncic? OUT
The last remaining NBA All-Star in EuroBasket 2022… France's Rudy Gobert 🇫🇷🔥 pic.twitter.com/cOoDsx65Rv
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) September 14, 2022