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Early on this season, Dirk Nowitzki passed Hakeem Olajuwon as the highest scoring international player in NBA history. That was certainly an outstanding feat, and many people have used that feat as an opportunity to crown him as the best foreign NBA player ever. The question is, where does he actually rank?
The 1st thing a person needs to do is define what exactly constitutes a foreign NBA player. Guys like Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Tim Duncan were all born outside of the United States, and that trio could all give Nowitzki a run for his money if you are comparing NBA careers. However, many people rule all three of those guys out of the discussion because they played college basketball in the United States, and all three also wore Team USA colors in the Olympics.
Nowitzki crafted his skills in Germany, and he is a true European player by every definition. He was one of the 1st big men to play mostly on the perimeter, and he represented Germany in several international competitions as well. Since entering the NBA after being traded during the draft to the Dallas Mavericks, he has been their franchise player for practically the entire time.
There are some people who feel like Nowitzki has a few more years left in the tank. With the way the Dallas Mavericks have started the year this season, it is not out of the question that he is able to pick up another NBA championship after winning at all in 2011. That would just add to his case of being not only the best international player in NBA history, but perhaps the most important as well. He has inspired countless other players from Europe to hone their skills and feel like they have an opportunity to play at the highest level. Remember, it was not always a given that a European player could actually have success in the NBA.
By strict definition of a foreign-born player, Nowitzki would have a hard time passing Olajuwon. Duncan is from the U.S. Virgin Islands, and he would probably have an edge as well. Guys such as Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Yao Ming are the ones Nowitzki should really be compared to. When it comes to those names, he has stood out in fantasy basketball above the rest. Factor in his NBA Championship, and he is the best true foreign player the league has ever seen.