When the Raptors made the NBA Finals last night, it was a huge moment for international basketball.
Obviously it was a big victory for Toronto, as they will host the first NBA Finals game to take place outside of the United States. But more importantly, the Raptors making it to the NBA Finals was a monumental victory for Africa.
Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors, has built his team with African-born players in mind, with guys like Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka playing huge roles in their quest for a championship.
Ujiri was born and raised in Nigeria, before coming to the United States to play college basketball. Once Ujiri’s basketball career came to an end, he got a job working as a scout for the Orlando Magic.
Ujiri continued to work his way through NBA front offices, before becoming in charge of the Denver Nuggets basketball operations department in 2010. When he got the job, Ujiri became the first African-born GM in the NBA.
While his career was taking off, Ujiri never forgot about his home nation of Africa. Ujiri became integral in building out the Basketball Without Borders Africa program, which helped bridge the gap between the continent of Africa and the basketball opportunities that exist in the United States.
Over the last decade, we have seen a huge influx of talented players that have come to the NBA from Africa. Players like Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka have become NBA stars, all hailing from Africa.
For Siakam, Basketball Without Borders is where he was discovered, as he attended one of their camps and really impressed. One of the people there was Ujiri, who noted the incredible effort that Siakam played with.
In the 2016 NBA Draft, Ujiri selected Siakam with the 27th overall pick. This year, Siakam has become a budding star in the NBA, as he has evolved into the Raptors second-best player.
Along with Siakam, the Raptors also feature another African player in Serge Ibaka, who was born and raised in the Republic of the Congo.
Ujiri traded for the Ibaka last year and he has been another huge piece in the Raptors quest for an NBA Finals.
As the NBA continues its efforts to expand their game around the world, we are sure to see more international talent thriving in the NBA. With stars from around the world, the NBA is growing its international fan base as well.
The Raptors are becoming a shining example for how international players, specifically ones from Africa, can become champions.
With a roster that features six different international players, the Raptors will look to bring the first ever Larry O’Brien Trophy north of the border.
Isaiah Thomas to Miss Start of the Season After Having Thumb Surgery
Since his breakout season in 2016, it has been a revolving door of injuries for Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas left the Boston Celtics after a year where he garnered MVP attention in the 2016-17 season, when he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving.
A hip injury plagued his tenure with the Cavaliers, leading him to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in the middle of the season, prior to becoming a free agent the following year.
Thomas would then sign a one-year deal with the Denver Nuggets, as he tried to regain his value before heading to free agency again.
With the Nuggets, Thomas was kept off the court with injuries, before falling out of the rotation altogether by the time Denver was in the playoffs.
Now Thomas was set to get another chance to lead a backcourt, when the Washington Wizards signed him to play alongside Bradley Beal for the upcoming season.
Unfortunately Thomas cannot catch a break, as he had to undergo a thumb surgery today after getting injured in a pickup game with teammates.
Thomas will now miss the beginning of the season, as string of bad luck continues for the two-time All-Star.
Outside of DeMarcus Cousins, no one has had worse luck in the NBA when it comes to injuries then Thomas.
Hopefully he can make a fully recovery from the injury and return to have a productive season for the Wizards this year.
Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard Want to Play in 2020 Summer Olympics
The FIBA World Cup proved to be an embarrassing affair for Team USA, as the Americans were defeated for the first internationally in some time.
Team USA advanced to the quarterfinals in the tournament, before being upset and eliminated by France. From there, the Americans lost their next matchup to Serbia and ended up finishing seventh overall.
But the one thing that Team USA did accomplish in the FIBA World Cup is that by making it to the quarterfinals, they qualified to play in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The biggest reason that Team USA struggled in the FIBA World Cup is that a majority of our best superstars chose to stay home and not play.
That likely won’t be the case for the Olympics though, as players are more motivated to compete in that event, on a stage that garners way more national attention.
The Team USA is already starting to look much deeper, as Stephen Curry has announced his interest in competing in the Olympics next summer.
Curry has never played in the Olympics, but would obviously give Team USA a great chance to take home a gold medal. Another player that has not appeared in the Olympics is Damian Lillard.
Lillard is another superstar guard that has announced his intentions to play in the upcoming Olympics, giving Team USA a great one-two scoring punch.
Lillard and Curry can make threes rain from any place on the court, giving Team USA a potent scoring backcourt like we have never seen in international play.
With all due respect to Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell, Lillard and Curry would represent a great upgrade to Team USA’s FIBA roster. Especially as they would push players like Walker and Mitchell to the bench.
Finishing seventh in the FIBA World Cup was disappointing for Team USA, but there is a great chance they rectify that in the upcoming 2020 Olympics.
Three-Time NBA Champion Shaun Livingston Announces His Retirement
Over the past five seasons, the Golden State Warriors have put together one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history, winning three championships and making five-straight appearances in the NBA Finals.
Now they are turning the page to a new era of Warriors basketball, still surrounded around their homegrown ‘Big Three’ of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green’.
But the role players from those great Warriors teams have moved on and for some, are calling it quits altogether. As Shaun Livingston just announced his retirement from the NBA.
In his farewell message, Livingston cites “the injury”, referring to a devastating knee injury that he suffered back in 2007.
The injury was so bad for Livingston, that it almost resulted in his leg being amputated it was so bad.
Livingston made a remarkable recovery from the injury and turned in a fantastic career. The last stages of his career came with the Golden State Warriors, were he proved to be an excellent backup point guard to Curry.
Without Livingston’s ability to make plays and play stout defense at 6-foot-7, the Warriors would not have been three-time champions.
Congrats to Livingston on a great career, which we never could have expected him to have back in 2007.
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