Wizards-Thunder an example of NBA's global expansion originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The Washington Wizards have become one of the NBA's most international teams, as they entered this season with seven foreign-born players, at the time the most in the league. On Monday, they will see an Oklahoma City Thunder team that currently has eight players born outside of the United States.
Between the two teams, six players are alumni of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program, an initiative now in its 20th year that helps develop prospects and give them exposure to professional coaching and scouting. The BWB program holds regional camps each year and since 2015 has hosted over 100 players at the NBA All-Star Game.
On the Wizards, Rui Hachimura (2016), Isaac Bonga (2017) and Deni Avdija (2018) have gone through the BWB system. The Thunder can count Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2016), Lu Dort (2017) and Aleksej Pokusevski (2018) as alums of the program.
They are among many success stories for the international showcase. According to Chris Ebersole, the NBA's senior director of international basketball operations, BWB has helped develop 10 top-10 draft picks in the last five years. Hachimura and Avdija were each the ninth overall pick in their respective drafts, in 2019 and 2020.
"Both players are tremendous representatives and ambassadors for their home countries and mean so much to their home countries," Ebersole said.
BWB, which partners with FIBA, the international basketball federation, has held 61 total camps over the last 20 years with more than 3,600 players from 133 countries participating. Over 300 players have gone on to make the NBA or WNBA. The WNBA just last week saw the No. 2 pick, Awak Kuier, hail from Finland by way of Egypt.
"I think it just speaks to how widespread the game of basketball is now growing, not only traditional international powers like Canada or Serbia in Poku's case, but players are emerging on the scene from countries like Japan and Israel. It's pretty neat to see how far and wide the reach of the game has gotten," Ebersole said.
Some BWB of alums have returned to serve as coaches in the same camps they participated in. Hachimura, for instance, attended a camp in Tokyo.
"To see how much that meant not only to the players in Japan, but to him I think was a really cool thing," Ebersole said.
The six players between the Wizards and Thunder come from all over the world; Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort from Canada, Bonga from Germany, Pokusevski from Serbia, Hachimura from Japan and Avdija from Israel. On Monday, their paths will cross, all thanks to the global game of basketball.