Right now, the NBA is considered an urban, inner-city sport dominated by African Americans. This perception is enforced by the media’s constant attention to players who defy what white Americans consider, “normal.” This image broke through during the early 1990s when here at the University of Michigan, a brash and flashy group of five freshman debuted. They were dubbed The Fab Five.
While the NBA may carry the moniker of America’s Hip-Hop Sport, it is transitioning toward a more international flair. Here is a sampling of the Latino presence in the ever-changing demographic of the NBA.
Due to the lack of exposure of Latino players to the NBA in the early 1990’s, Manu played for the Argentine basketball league and the Italian league before making the jump to the NBA. Due to his up-tempo style of play, his passing, and behind the back moves when attacking the basket it is no surprise that he was a three time all star in the Italian league. He also helped his team win the 2001 Italian Championship , 2001 and 2002 Italian Cups , and the 2001 Euroleague, where he was named MVP.
In 2002, Ginóbili signed with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. As an inexperienced rookie in the NBA, Ginóbili used his quickness and resiliency to spark fast breaks and create game changing plays. The Spurs won the championship that year and they also won it in 2005, with Ginóbili losing a close race for NBA Finals MVP to Tim Duncan.
Off the court, Ginóbili has helped raise awareness in Latino countries about the NBA which has led to an increase in the number of Latino players in the league. Through organizations such as Basketball without Borders which has hosted its 2nd annual Americas outreach program, Ginóbili and other Latino players are able to reach out to Latinos in Central and South America and run mini training camp sessions to teach them the fundamentals of basketball. His contributions are opening the doors for numerous Latinos.
Nájera, the second Mexican born player in the NBA, is known for his rebounding and tenacity on defense. He was expected to blossom in the NBA, but unfortunately, injuries have left him sidelined for much of the past two seasons. His national identity has made him extremely popular with Mexican Americans which is evident from the spike in television ratings for Denver Nuggets games in which he plays.
Like Ginóbili , Nájera participates in Basketball without Borders, educating youngsters about basketball. In addition, Nájera founded the Eduardo Nájera Foundation for Latino Achievement in 2004, which provides college scholarships for outstanding Latino students facing barriers to their educations. His contributions are opening the market for Latinos in the NBA.