Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo returns to the playoffs in Toronto on Saturday afternoon. Except in Greece, where it’ll already be very early Sunday morning.
They won’t mind staying up late in Athens to watch.
Same goes for plenty of other places around the world at this time of year. All eight of the NBA first-round playoff series that start this weekend have international players involved, meaning the game’s global reach will be on full display once again.
And as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the All-Star break, the league expects the international players to keep coming.
“I grew up in Athens not having much,” Antetokounmpo said earlier this season. “And being in the situation and to keep pushing, keep pushing, it’s a great feeling because all the hard work I did in my life, it paid off.”
Now the playoff stage again awaits Antetokounmpo, and plenty of other international players. By the NBA’s count, there’s 54 — including some with dual citizenship like Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving — from 28 different countries set to appear in these playoffs.
Here’s some of the top international storylines for the postseason:
We know a Spanish big man is headed to the second round.
San Antonio’s Pau Gasol and Memphis’ Marc Gasol were on opposite sides in the 2015 All-Star Game, have gone head-to-head a slew of regular-season times — and now the brothers will face off in the playoffs for the first time.
The Spurs and Grizzlies are a first-round series in the Western Conference.
Once they actually take the floor, the Gasols will become the sixth set of brothers to meet in the postseason, joining the Mikans (George and Ed, 1949, 1950 and 1953), the Kings (Bernard and Albert, 1983), the Persons (Chuck and Wesley, 1996), the Grants (Horace and Harvey, 1999), and the Wrights (Dorell and Delon, 2016).
San Antonio has six international players on its roster this season.
That’s down a few from recent years.
The Spurs had nine international players when they won their most recent NBA title in 2014. Some remain, like Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Tony Parker. Davis Bertans, Joel Anthony and Pau Gasol are now in the silver and black as well.
While the six Spurs are a lot, it’s not the most in these playoffs. Utah and Toronto each have seven international players on their playoff rosters.
If an international player appears in this year’s NBA Finals — almost guaranteed to happen — it would be the 24th consecutive year that at least one player who doesn’t hail from the United States got in the title series.
There’s seven active players in these playoffs with at least one All-Star appearance that the NBA define as being international: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marc and Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving and Tony Parker.
VIVA LA FRANCE
Utah’s Rudy Gobert and San Antonio’s Tony Parker are two of the six French-born players in this postseason, and they’ll be asked to carry big roles.
Parker enters these playoffs 115 shy of 4,000 postseason points in his career. He’d be the second international player to reach that milestone — after only his longtime and now former San Antonio teammate Tim Duncan (5,172).
Parker is also the NBA’s all-time international playoff assist leader. And he’s third in playoff steals by an international player, behind No. 2 Hakeem Olajuwon — and yet another Spur, No. 1 Manu Ginobili.
Gobert is a defensive player of the year candidate for the Jazz, and now gets to make his playoff debut.
THERE ARE OTHERS, TOO
Not all the best international players are in the playoffs.
And that speaks to the depth of the foreign influence on the league today.
Among players born outside the U.S., five of the top eight scorers this season didn’t reach the postseason. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving was first, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was third and Memphis’ Marc Gasol was sixth on that list — but No. 2 Andrew Wiggins of Minnesota, No. 4 Goran Dragic of Miami, No. 5 Joel Embiid of Philadelphia, No. 7 Danilo Gallinari of Denver and No. 8 Kristaps Porzingis of New York will all be watching the playoffs from afar.
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