Who they are and what you need to know about these ballers
Boston Celtics @ New York Knicks
1. New York’s Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia) is building on his outstanding rookie season and looks poised to contend for an All-Star spot at the age of 21. His scoring and shooting are way up from last season, when he was the Kia NBA Rookie of the Year runner-up. Porzingis is developing so rapidly that he is nearly sharing an equal offensive load with Carmelo Anthony, one of the greatest scorers in NBA history.
2. Three of the Knicks’ five international players are rookies: Willy Hernangomez (Spain), Mindaugas Kuzminskas (Lithuania) and Maurice Ndour (Senegal). The others are Porzingis and Sasha Vujacic (Slovenia).
3. Hernangomez, a former teammate of Porzingis’ in Spain, has been a revelation as a rookie. A 2015 second-round pick, the 22-year-old wasted little time earning a spot in the Knicks’ rotation and getting minutes in crunch time of tight games. Willy’s younger brother, Juancho, is a rookie with the Nuggets.
4. Ndour speaks five languages: French, Japanese, English and two languages native to Senegal. He was born in Africa, went to high school in Japan and attended college at Ohio University.
5. Boston’s Al Horford (Dominican Republic), a four-time All-Star in his first season with the Celtics, is the only active player from the Dominican Republic on an opening-night roster. His father, Tito, was the first Dominican to play in the NBA. Al is wildly popular in the D.R., in addition to being one of the most respected players in the league. Al and his wife, 2003 Miss Universe Amelia Vega, recently welcomed their second child.
6. Boston’s Jonas Jerebko (Sweden) is the NBA’s only active player from Sweden.
Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers
1. Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson (Canada) owns the NBA’s longest-active consecutive-games streak and the longest in franchise history. Christmas Day would mark Thompson’s 399th consecutive regular-season game. Thompson, 25, one of the NBA’s premier rebounders and a key part of Cleveland’s championship-winning team last season, is the most accomplished of the 11 Canadian players on opening-day rosters for the 2016-17 season.
2. Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (Australia) is enjoying the highest-scoring and best-shooting season of his six-year career. His offensive prowess has enabled LeBron James to reduce his role as a scorer and focus more on playmaking. Irving’s outstanding start to the season comes after he helped Team USA win a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
3. Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia (Georgia) is the best NBA player ever to come from his home country. The 14-year veteran ranks in the top 10 among active players in career offensive rebounds. The Warriors are the sixth NBA team for Pachulia, who is starting at center for the team with the league’s best record. Pachulia has been active promoting the sport in his home country, recently launching a basketball academy in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. He has dabbled in business, too, opening hotels in Georgia and taking classes at Harvard, Northwestern and Emory.
Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers
1. The Clippers’ starting lineup features three stars (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan) and one of the game’s great shooters (J.J. Redick). The fifth member of the unit, Luc Mbah a Moute (Cameroon), is also leaving his mark. Coach Doc Rivers recently called him the league’s best defender. Mbah a Moute has long been regarded as a terrific teammate and a mentor to young NBA players, including fellow Cameroon native and 76ers rookie phenom Joel Embiid, who participated in one of Mbah a Moute’s hoops camps back home. Mbah a Moute, the prince in his Cameroonian village, was a camper at the inaugural Basketball without Borders Africa camp in 2003. He has been instrumental in growing the game in Africa.
2. The Lakers’ roster features five international players from five countries: José Calderón (Spain), Luol Deng (South Sudan), Marcelo Huertas (Brazil), Timofey Mozgov (Russia) and Ivica Zubac (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Deng and Mozgov, who both signed as free agents last summer, are part of the starting lineup.
3. Deng and Mbah a Moute both played for Team Africa in the NBA’s first game in Africa. Like Mbah a Moute, Deng has been a driving force behind growing the game in Africa. He is a fixture at BWB events.
4. Last season with the Cavaliers, Mozgov became the first Russian player to win an NBA championship. (Sasha Kaun of Russia also won with the Cavs but, unlike Mozgov, didn’t play in the playoffs.)
Chicago Bulls @ San Antonio Spurs
1. San Antonio’s Pau Gasol (Spain) joined the Spurs in the offseason as the replacement for the retired Tim Duncan. A six-time All-Star, Gasol is one of only six players in NBA history and the sole active player to reach 19,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocks in his career.
2. San Antonio’s Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina) are in their 15th season together. As a pair, they have the most wins together of all teammates currently in the NBA and are fifth in NBA history. Parker recently became the 12th player in NBA history with 18,000 points and 6,000 assists.
3. San Antonio’s Patty Mills (Australia) is putting together his best NBA season at the age of 28. The eight-year veteran’s career was slowed by major shoulder surgery in 2014. Last season he started to regain his form, and now he’s all the way back.
4. San Antonio rookie Davis Bertans (Latvia) joins New York’s Kristaps Porzingis as the NBA’s only active players from Latvia. The 24-year-old Bertans was acquired by the Spurs from the Pacers in the same 2012 trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to San Antonio. Bertans played in Spain and Serbia before coming to the NBA this season, and his early performance suggests that he will be yet another international contributor for San Antonio.
5. Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic (Montenegro) participated in Basketball without Borders camps in 2007 and 2008.
Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder
1. Both teams have five international players.
2. Oklahoma City’s top four big men are international players: Steve Adams (New Zealand), Enes Kanter (Turkey), Joffrey Lauvergne (France) and Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania). The Thunder’s fifth international player is guard Alex Abrines of Spain.
3. Adams, the first lottery pick and first-round pick from New Zealand, is still getting better in his fourth season at age 23. He is one of 18 siblings, six of whom played basketball for New Zealand. All of his brothers stand around 6-10 to 6-11 and his sisters 6-5 to 6-6. His half-sister, Valerie, is a 2008 and 2016 Olympic champion and four-time world champion in the shot put.
4. Kanter finished third in the 2015-16 Kia NBA Sixth Man Award voting. He is one of the NBA’s top rebounders and most accurate shooters.
5. Sabonis, 20, has started since opening day and is the only regular starter among Western Conference rookies. He is the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis.
6. Three of Minnesota’s five international players are starters: Gorgui Dieng (Senegal), Ricky Rubio (Spain) and Andrew Wiggins (Canada). The others are Nemanja Bjelica (Serbia) and Nikola Pekovic (Montenegro).
7. Wiggins has cooled off a bit since the most prolific scoring start to a season in franchise history, but he is still among the league’s leading scorers and has improved his three-point shooting dramatically. Wiggins was the Kia NBA Rookie of the Year in 2014-15 and teammate Karl-Anthony Towns won last season, making the Timberwolves the first team with back-to-back winners in 42 years.
8. Dieng participated in a Basketball without Borders camp in 2009 in South Africa, where the instructors included Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh and Carlos Boozer. From there, Dieng blossomed into an NCAA champion at Louisville, a first-round pick in 2013 and now a productive NBA starter. He played in the NBA’s first game in Africa, representing Team Africa against Team World in the 2015 exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa.