Currently, the NBA has a large fan base in Latin America; however, in the payrolls of the 30 franchises the total number of Latino players hardly reaches ten. In a context in which the league seeks to become more and more international, with junior programs in Latin America and an academy in Mexico City to develop talents, let’s hope that the number of Latin American basketball players in the NBA will increase in the not-too-distant future.
The first Latino basketball player to play in the NBA was Puerto Rican Alfred “Butch” Lee. He was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks in 1978. He only spent two years in the league because of a knee injury that ended his promising career early on, but his name is still part of history.
At PanamericanWorld we picked the 10 best Latino players in the NBA who not only triumphed thanks to their talent and hard work, but also opened the door for the world to see that Latin America is a continent where basketball is played a lot and well.
Manu Ginobili (Argentina)
Selecting the 75 best basketball players in NBA history was a bit controversial. Should Manu Ginobili be on that list? Of course. However, those with the right to vote preferred to look more at hard statistics than at a player’s legacy.
Ginobili’s track record is impressive; but, beyond what he did on the courts for 16 years, let us also consider his work ethics, his discipline and the boost he gave to basketball in his country, where he led a Golden Generation that reached the top of international basketball.
Ginóbili won four NBA championship rings, as part of a true “Big Three”, not those that are created today based on million dollar checks and that almost never end well. Along with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the Argentine formed a trio that led the San Antonio Spurs to four titles in a decade.
His final numbers show his consistency: he averaged 13.3 points per game, with 37% of successes on triples, distributed 3.8 assists and captured 3.5 rebounds per match. He played twice in the All-Star Game and, in 2008, received the award as Best Sixth Man of the season. In total he appeared in 1057 regular season games with the Spurs and came out winning in 762 of them.
The voting experts on the panel did not take into account his track record with the Argentine national team, but we are highlighting it because his leadership within that team led to an Olympic title in Athens 2004 and the bronze medal in Beijing 2008. In addition, Ginobili was world runner-up in 2002 and won the Copa America twice.
Related article: The Most Successful Latino Athletes in the United States
In all fairness, Ginóbili was announced among the 2022 Hall of Fame finalists. To be inducted into the hall of fame, he will need to gather 18 of the 24 votes issued by the experts. Hopefully this panel will recognize that the Argentine is, by his own merit, a basketball legend.
Al Horford (Dominican Republic)
On the list of the best Latino players in the NBA, Al Horford’s name should not be missing. In 2007, the Boston Celtics selected him as the third pick in the draft. In his extensive career he has also played for the Hawks, where he achieved his most remarkable results and was the leader of that team. He then played with the Philadelphia Sixers, the Oklahoma City Thunders and, in the current season, he returned to wear the Celtics uniform.
So far, his historical averages are: 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 blocks per game.
J.J. Barea (Puerto Rico)
This excellent point guard was a key figure in the title won by the Dallas Mavericks, in the 2011 season, when they beat the Miami Heat in the final. Barea played 14 years in the NBA, most of them with the Mavs, and finished averaging 8.9 points and 3.9 assists per game.
Carl Herrera (Venezuela)
The Venezuelan spent 8 years in the NBA. His first four years were the best, winning two titles with the Houston Rockets in the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons. In the ’94 Finals against the New York Knicks, he averaged 7.1 points per match.
In total, Herrera appeared in 465 games and finished with 5.3 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Brook Lopez (Cuban-American)
Only two Cuban-born players have been part of an NBA team: Andrés Guibert and Lázaro Borrell. But among our best Latino players in the NBA, we include Brook Lopez, who was born in the United States to a Cuban father.
The 2.13-meter-tall center has been active in 14 seasons. In 2021 he was proclaimed champion with the Milwaukee Bucks, although his most outstanding results, individually, were achieved with the New Jersey / Brooklyn Nets.
In 14 years, these are his numbers: 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. In 2013 he played in the All-Star Game.
Luis Scola (Argentina)
This formidable Argentine basketballer played for a decade in different NBA teams (Rockets, Suns, Pacers, Raptors and Nets). In total he participated in 743 games and finished with 12 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Together with Ginóbili, he led the Argentine Golden Generation. He played in five Olympic Games and five World Championships.
Nene Hilario (Brazil)
Nené played 17 seasons in the NBA, making him the longest-serving Latino basketball player in the league. His best results came with the Denver Nuggets, where he played for a decade. He went on to join the Washington Wizards and the Houston Rockets.
In 965 NBA games, he averaged 11.3 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Leandro Barbosa (Brazil)
This Brazilian basketballer played 15 seasons in the NBA. He went through different teams (Suns, Raptors, Pacers, Celtics and Warriors). With Golden State he achieved his best results, and was champion in the 2014-15 season.
Leandrinho closed with 10.6 points, 2.1 assists and 2 rebounds per game. In 2007 he received the award for Best Sixth Man of the Year.
Anderson Varejao (Brazil)
Varejao remained 15 years in the league, playing for competitive teams, such as the Cavaliers and the Warriors. The Brazilian averaged 7.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
Eduardo Najera (Mexico)
This player is perhaps the least prominent in our list of the best Latinos in the NBA, but he is the most complete of the five Mexicans who have been in the league
Najera played for 12 years in different teams (Mavericks, Warriors, Nuggets, Nets and the then Bobcats). The Mexican averaged 4.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.