Five Arab Players Who Influenced the NBA
The NBA is widely regarded as a sport that is dominated by Americans and whilst the league is currently 75% filled with American nationals that doesn’t mean others haven’t had an impact on the sport. Here we look at five people with an Arab background and how they’ve left a mark on the NBA.
Number 5. Alaa Abdelnaby
Abdelnaby seemed to have it all ahead of him when the Portland Trail Blazers took him as their round one pick in 1990 and things started well as Portland reached the play-offs in back to back years with Abdelnaby featuring in 127 games – albeit mainly from the bench. A brief and unsuccessful spell with the Milwaukee Bucks followed but then came a move to the Boston Celtics where he played the best basketball of his career as he started in 52 games and threw a career-high 8.2 points per game and registered 4.8 blocks as the Celtics reached the play-offs.
After leaving the Celtics, short spells with the Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia 76ers saw the end of his five-year stay in the NBA but he still has a voice into American basketball today through the means of TV and radio where he’s part of multiple broadcasting networks.
Number 4. Salah Mejri
It looked for a long time like Mejri would never make it to the NBA; he went undrafted back in 2008 and went on a journey that saw him play in Tunisia, where he was born and raised, Belgium and then Spain before the Dallas Mavericks came calling in 2015. The first year of his time in the US was spent with the Mavericks feeder side the Texas Legends but then the unmistakable 7’2 Mejri began to make an impact in the big time.
He never truly established himself as a starter in Dallas but he played a big part from a supporting role for three seasons and – after going unsigned as a free agent last year – headed back to Real Madrid as a real fan favorite with his graft and direct, sometimes antagonistic interviews earning him huge support.
Number 3. George J. Maloof Jr
Maloof might be seen as a left-field choice given he’s never actually played in the NBA but owning the Sacramento Kings for 15 years – and a three-year spell in charge of the Houston Rockets – is something that can’t be overlooked in terms of impact on the league. Maloof’s grandfather is from Lebanon, but he was raised in New Mexico with his money predominantly coming through the global beer company ‘Coors’ and hotel chains that cover the South West of the United States.
On the sporting front, the Kings saw the most success they’ve ever had during the Maloof tenure with consecutive Pacific Division wins in 2002 and 2003 and reached the play-offs on seven occasions with Maloof finally selling for an NBA record fee of $534m.
Number 2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
On ability or legacy alone then Abdul-Jabbar would be clear in number one in the list, but we’ve bumped him down on the basis that his background in Arabic is only through time he spent studying it during stays in Libya and Saudi Arabia.
On the court though, Abdul-Jabbar’s impact was unquestionable. He was the number one pick in 1969 before being named Rookie of the Year in 1970 and went on to win six MVP awards in the next decade.
All in all, Abdul-Jabbar was named an All-Star on 19 occasions, won six championships, retired as the NBA’S leading points scorer with a tally that nobody has come close to since and was even awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Number 1. Rony Seikaly
Seikaly starred in college basketball betting matches for Syracuse and went on to become the first-ever pick for Miami Heat back in the 1988 draft before going on to achieve a high level of success over the next 12 years. Early on in his days in Miami, he was named as the Most Improved Player in the NBA as he established himself as one of the best centers in the league and in just his second year he led the team on three fronts – points, rebounds and, blocks – and it became a consistent theme for Seikaly as he performed well throughout his six years on the East coast.
A move to the Golden State Warriors followed but injuries hampered his two years there before Orlando Magic traded him as a replacement for the legendary Shaquille O’Neal testament to how good the Lebanese born Seikaly was – and Magic reached the play-offs in his one full season before a year with the New Jersey Jets brought the curtain down on his NBA career with injury forcing him to call his time to an early end – if it wasn’t for that, who knows what else he’d have achieved.
There you have it, proof that the NBA isn’t all about the stereotypical American.
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