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African players well represented on NBA opening night rosters

Fourteen players, including reigning MVP Joel Embiid, are from African continent

A record-setting 125 international players will suit up for NBA teams during the opening week of the NBA season, the NBA announced Tuesday. Fourteen of those players are from the African continent, including reigning MVP Joel Embiid (Cameroon) of the Philadelphia 76ers and Golden State Warriors third-year forward Jonathan Kuminga (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

More than 35 American and international players, including two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (Nigeria) of the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (Nigeria), are of African origin, defined as having at least one parent from the continent.

The 2023-24 season represents the third straight season of at least 120 international players and the 10th consecutive season with at least 100. The players represent 40 countries and territories across six continents, the league wrote in a press release, with all 30 teams having at least one international player.

Europe has the most international players represented in the league this season with 64, including two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic (Serbia) of the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Dončić (Slovenia), and a number of those athletes originated in Africa. That includes the Bucks’ Antetokounmpo and his brother, forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Greece, Nigeria), the Toronto Raptors guard Dennis Schröder (Germany, Gambia), Atlanta Hawks center Clint Capela (Switzerland, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and the San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama (France, the Democratic Republic of the Congo), among a record 14 players from France.

Canada, fresh off of a third-place finish in this summer’s FIBA World Cup, is represented by 26 players this season, the most ever for the country. Five of those Canadians have a parent from either Africa or the Caribbean, not including Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, whose mother competed for Antigua and Barbuda in the 1992 Barcelona Games.

The league created programs designed to grow the game outside of the United States over the last two decades, particularly with its Basketball without Borders (BWB) and NBA Academy programs.

BWB was launched in 2001 as a way to provide elite-level basketball training to international youth basketball players across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. The program has placed 112 former camp participants on NBA or WNBA rosters, including Portland Trail Blazers center Deandre Ayton (Bahamas and Nigeria), Embiid and Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (Cameroon).

The NBA Academy, a year-round development program for high school prospects, placed a record four players in the league this season, including the New Orleans Pelicans forward Dyson Daniels (Australia), the Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin (Canada, Haiti) and the Dallas Mavericks forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper (Canada, Haiti). Mathurin and Prosper participated in NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City together.

The previous record for international players on opening-night rosters was 121 from the 2021-22 season.

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"