The Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts makes a conscious effort to acknowledge global contributors, and here are five who did just that
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, nestled in Springfield, Massachusetts, is named after James Naismith, a Canadian immigrant and founder of the sport. Though the Hall is filled with memorabilia and recognition of the Michael Jordans and Wilt Chamberlains of the world, basketball fans who look a little further can find mementos that honor overseas stars who played a major role in the globalization of the game today. While many international players have played in the NBA, there are a select few who remained mainly overseas with the goal of becoming international basketball icons. Here are five international players who accomplished that goal and earned a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Born in New Jersey to Greek parents, Galis spent 15 years playing in his parents’ homeland, where his teams won the Greek Basket League eight times, seven with Aris and once with Panathinaikos. Aris eventually named their arena after him in 2013 to honor his efforts. He was the FIBA EuroBasket leading scorer in four seasons (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991) and helped lead Greece to a gold medal in 1987 and a silver medal in 1989 at EuroBasket. Known as the “Gangster” for his “no nonsense style and piercing stare,” The victory in EuroBasket in 1987 was a surprise victory over USSR and it gave Greece a big economic boost as advertising money in the sport was just beginning to flow in, according to a New York Times article. He was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017, and is known as an icon that contributed mightily to the popularity of the game in Greece. 2019 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo considers him one of his idols and one of the greatest Greek players of all time.
2. Dražen Dalipagić
The Serbian didn’t start playing basketball until he was 19 but went on to win European player of the year three times in a career that spanned 20 years. In seven seasons playing for Partizan Belgrade, his first stint for the team in his native Serbia, Dalipagić averaged over 33 points a game. He also won three Olympic medals with Yugoslavia – gold in 1980, silver in 1976, and bronze in 1984. Additionally, he medaled four times at the FIBA World Cup and 5 times at FIBA EuroBasket. He was inducted into The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004 and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007. After his impressive performance in the 1976 Olympics, he almost joined the Boston Celtics, but decided not to because it would have required him to concede the amateur status that allowed him to compete internationally for Yugoslavia.
In a career that spanned 28 years, the Italian won seven EuroLeague Championships, five with Pallacanestro Trieste and two with Olimpia Milano. With Pallacanestro Varese, he appeared in 10 consecutive EuroLeague finals. He also medaled with Italy three times at FIBA EuroBasket and helped them earn silver in the 1980 Summer Olympics. He won four championships — the Italian League, Italian Cup, European Cup, and the Intercontinental Cup — in the same year three separate times (1970, 1973, 1987). He was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2010. He is regarded as one of the best Italian players of all time.
The native Croatian played at BYU starting in 1970 after helping Yugoslavia to the silver medal in the 1968 Olympics. While in Provo, Utah, he became the first international player to earn All-American honors. After playing college basketball in America, he returned to Europe where he spent 19 years as a player and 15 years as a coach. Ćosić won the FIBA EuroBasket MVP twice (1971, 1975) playing for Zadar in Croatia. With the Yugoslavian team, he won three Olympic medals, four medals in the FIBA World Cup, and seven medals in EuroBasket. He was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007 and the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996. Television analyst Billy Packer said during an NCAA Basketball telecast in 2005 that Ćosić is “often considered the first great international player to play college basketball in the United States.” One of the original stretch fives, the 6’11” center could use his hook shot or turn around jumpers inside or stay away from the basket and kill opposing teams with his jumper. He died in 1995 at the age of 46 after losing his battle with cancer
5. Sergei Belov
Belov played for 16 years and coached for 23 years, mainly in Russia. He won the EuroLeague twice (1969, 1971) and the USSR League Championship 11 times as a player for CSKA Moscow. He also helped the Soviet team claim gold at the 1972 Olympics, a stunning upset that assured the U.S. wouldn’t win gold for the first time since basketball became a sport in the Olympics in 1936. He also helped his country win bronze in the Olympics three other times. As a player, he helped the Soviet team medal four times in the FIBA World Cup and seven times in FIBA EuroBasket. Later in his career, he served as the head coach of the Russian National team and helped them medal twice at the FIBA World Cup and once at FIBA EuroBasket. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992 and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2007. Sometimes called, “The Jerry West of Russia,” the 6’3” guard was quick off the dribble and had one of the smoothest shots seen in his day, according to New York Times.
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