It’s fair to say that our friends in the United Kingdom have never really ‘got’ basketball as a sporting attraction. There are thousands of basketball fans in the country, and whenever the NBA plays a game over there, the court is always sold out, but there aren’t enough NBA fans to make the sport mainstream. You’ll see virtually no coverage of basketball in the sporting press, and on the rare occasions it’s shown on television, it’s placed in a late-night slot with almost nobody watching. To the majority of sport-loving Brits, basketball is an inferior version of netball, and netball is a game mostly played by schoolgirls.
We don’t want to tar all Brits with the same brush, though, even if the closest that most of them have ever come to catching basketball fever is the ‘Basketball Fever’ online slots game that’s popular on many of the country’s online slots websites. It’s not the only basketball-themed slot you’ll find over there – there’s another equally popular one called ‘Basketball Star.’ Broadly speaking, the Brits are big fans of gambling and online slots such as Fishin Frenzy online slot, and the fact that basketball is considered worthy of having online slots made about it tells you that the sport does have a following there even if it’s comparatively small. Aside from having a following, it also has some great players.
Making it into the NBA from any European country is difficult, and there haven’t been many who’ve made it ‘across the pond’ and succeeded. There have been a few though, and this is our take on who deserves to be considered among the greatest British NBA players of all time.
Let’s start with some recent history. Luol Deng might have been born in Sudan, but he was raised in England, is registered as a British citizen, and has played for both England and the United Kingdom at the international level. We’re considering longevity when it comes to putting our list together, and Deng scores highly in those stakes. In a career that took him to the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Deng stuck around in the NBA for a full fifteen years. The small forward was named as an NBA All-Star twice during his illustrious career. At the very end of his career in October 2019, he was given an honorary one-day contract with the Bulls so he could officially say that he’d ended his career with them. That tells you everything about how highly the team rated him.
Including Ben Gordon on our list is a little bit contentious. He was born in London, England, but his parents were Jamaican, and he grew up in the United States of America. Despite that, he’s a British citizen and played for Great Britain at the international level, so we’re confident that he qualifies! Gordon’s eleven-year career saw him play for the Chicago Bulls, the Detroit Pistons, the Charlotte Bobcats, and Orlando Magic as a shooting guard. He’s the only player in history to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award in his rookie season, and only Kirk Hinrich has shot more three-point field goals for the Bulls. We don’t know why there appears to be a special connection between British players and the Chicago Bulls, but it generally seems to work out well for both parties.
It says a lot about the long and successful career of James Donaldson as a center than the fourteen years he spent in the NBA only encompass three-quarters of his career. Donaldson started playing basketball professionally in 1979 and didn’t stop until 1999. By that time, he’d played for the Seattle Supersonics, the LA Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Utah Jazz before returning to Europe to end his career. He moved around so much that he’s not considered to be a legend with any of the teams that he played for, but he was considered good enough to be named an All-Star in 1988 and obviously, he wouldn’t have been employed by so many teams if he didn’t have anything to offer. His time in Seattle must have been particularly special for him because he unsuccessfully ran for mayor there in 2009.
John Amaechi is remembered more for being the first NBA player in history to come out as gay than for anything he did on an NBA court, and that’s probably unfair to him. His career as a player both started and ended in the USA. He started out with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1995 as a power forward but struggled to make the grade, and went to play in Europe the following year. He developed his game during his time away and returned to the NBA by signing for Orlando Magic in 1999, and then moved on to Utah Jazz in 2001. During the peak years of his career, he was offered a seventeen million dollar contract to move to the LA Lakers but turned it down to stay in Orlando and play for less than one million dollars. His country thought so highly of him that he was persuaded to come out of retirement in 2006 to play for Great Britain at the Commonwealth Games, where the team ended up with the bronze medal.
Let’s place a little faith in the future here at the end of our list. OG Anunoby hasn’t done enough in his career yet to be considered an all-time great, but he’s still only 23 years old and appears to have a bright future in the sport. He also holds the distinction of being the only British player in the NBA at the moment. Anunoby was born in London to Nigerian parents in 1997 but moved to the USA when he was four years old. The small forward stood out from the crowd playing college basketball for Indiana and then moved on to the Toronto Raptors, where he’s spent his whole three-year NBA career to date. He already has one NBA Championship to his name, and the smart money says that he’ll add more before his time on the court is done. Is he destined for the Hall of Fame one day? Time will tell, but he’s made an excellent start.