With professional basketball having gone truly global - and then some - over two decades ago, just about every NBA roster nowadays features several players born outside the United States. And while every NBA team doesn't feature a mock United Nations like the 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs, most are deeply entrenched in cultivating talent from around the globe.
All of this makes the every-four-years FIBA World Cup of Basketball (formerly the FIBA World Championships) fun to watch for the modern NBA fan. Not only do we get to see a collection of current and future All-Stars with the Mike Krzyzewski-coached USA squad, but many of Team USA's competitors in the World Cup feature NBA and almost-NBA players.
By my counting, our very own Denver Nuggets have a connection to nine of the 288 players participating in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, ranging from players drafted (and then traded) by our Nuggets to players who spent a substantive amount of their career in a Nuggets uniform. Here's a rundown on each by country, which should serve as a brief trip down memory lane in addition to playing a bit of "where are they now?" ...
BRAZIL - Nene Hilario
Watching Brazilian power forward Nene Hilario start for his home country after coming off a terrific playoff run for his Washington Wizards, Denver fans can't help but long for the days when Nene manned the Nuggets' power forward position from 2002 to 2012. Unfortunately, much of Nene's tenure in Denver was spent on the injured reserve list, as the big man succumbed to the Nuggets power forward curse early in his career. But after boldly recovering from ACL surgery on his knee and testicular cancer, Nene proved to be a force on two of the Nuggets best teams in NBA franchise history; the 2008 through 2010 Nuggets. But with an expensive contract and the emergence of the younger power forward Kenneth Faried in 2012, the Nuggets decided to trade Nene to Washington for center JaVale McGee - a trade that, to date, has not worked out in the Nuggets favor.
FRANCE - Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert and Joffrey Lauvergne
Neither Evan Fournier nor Joffrey Lauvergne are Nuggets at the moment, with Fournier traded from Denver this past summer to the Orlando Magic for Arron Afflalo and Lauvergne, who was drafted by Memphis for the Nuggets in 2013, signing with a club in Moscow soon thereafter. Which, in both cases, is unfortunate. Because while the Fournier-for-Afflalo trade undoubtedly makes the Nuggets more competitive overnight, it will be sad to see the always-developing, ever-confident Fournier grow as an NBA player while wearing some other team's uniform. And Lauvergne, if today's FIBA World Cup thriller between France and Serbia is any indication, is really starting to develop. In France's 74-73 victory over Serbia, Lauvergne led the way with 19 points (on 7/10 shooting) and six rebounds, including a game-sealing free throw.
Meanwhile, the 7'1" Rudy Gobert, while drafted by the Nuggets, was never meant to be a Nugget at all. Selected 27th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, Gobert was immediately traded to the Utah Jazz for the second pick that became Erick Green (who will be joining the Nuggets this season after spending last season overseas).
PUERTO RICO - Carlos Arroyo and Renaldo Balkman
Denver basketball fans have to go waaaaaay back to remember the days when the scrappy Carlos Arroyo donned a Nuggets uniform. But before Arroyo played meaningful minutes for the Jazz, Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat, Arroyo was a Nugget, briefly. During the very forgettable 2001-02 Nuggets season (that ended halfway through after then head coach and president Dan Issel went on a profanity-laced tirade against a Hispanic fan), Arroyo came off the bench for 20 games late in the season. Arroyo's Puerto Rican teammate, Renaldo Balkman, should be more memorable to modern day Nuggets fans. Balkman joined the Nuggets in 2008 and played on the squad that took the Los Angeles Lakers to six games in the 2009 Western Conference Finals before being included in the blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011. Most recently, Balkman played professionally in Mexico and Arroyo in Turkey.
SPAIN - Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull
Spain's Rudy Fernandez thrilled Nuggets fans for 31 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 NBA Season before injuring his back which ended Fernandez's final NBA season prematurely. Fernandez is good enough to be back in the NBA, but has instead opted to play in Spain for Real Madrid where he is signed until 2018. Coincidentally, Fernandez plays alongside a fellow Spaniard with a Nuggets connection in guard Sergio Llull. Llull was drafted 34th overall by the Nuggets in 2009, only to be "sold" to the Houston Rockets for $2.25 million, the most money ever paid for a second round pick.
UNITED STATES - Kenneth Faried
We've featured Kenneth Faried's selection on Team USA several times here at Denver Stiffs, but if ever there was any doubt that Faried belonged among the USA's best, Faried has removed all of it with his play in the 2014 FIBA World Cup thus far. In Sunday's game against Turkey - where the US found themselves down at halftime - Faried stepped up with 22 points (on 11/14 shooting), eight rebounds and two steals. But beyond the box score, if you watched the game you saw that it was Faried whose trademark energy and enthusiasm sparked Team USA's second half rally which ultimately buried Turkey with a 21-point victory.
Faried's inspired play in Spain during the World Cup has been fun to watch ... but regrettably, it's going to cost our Nuggets a fortune when it comes time to re-sign Faried in 2015.