With the Latino population surge in the United States and the global reach of the NBA, it’s no secret the NBA targets the Latino fan base.
From Noche Latino nights during the regular season, to the NBA’s newest website dedicated to the Latino fan, Ene-Be-A, the NBA fully embraces and celebrates the Latino culture.
In recent years, when it came to Latino players making an impact on and off the court, two names were at the forefront — San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili from Argentina and Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol from Spain. These two players have proudly represented their Latino roots with strong play on the court for their respective teams, and willingness to be ambassadors to the Latino fan base.
However, as Ginobili and Gasol begin to see the end of their NBA careers, a new crop of Latino players are emerging as the next ambassadors to take the mantle and carry on the foundation Ginobili and Gasol have established.
Memphis Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol and Greivis Vasquez
Pau’s “little” brother, Marc has been having a fantastic run in the NBA playoffs. This rugged, skilled, tough Spanish player is a huge reason the eighth seeded Grizzlies were able to shock the NBA world when Memphis ousted the mighty first seeded Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Not only that, he is currently helping the Grizzlies test the Oklahoma City Thunder in the semifinals.
Gasol is the Grizzlies’ all-time franchise leader in field goal percentage (.555) and for the playoffs he is averaging 15.9 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks.
As for Vasquez, he became the first Venezuelan-born player ever selected in the NBA Draft after the Grizzlies chose him with the 28th pick in 2010. He became the third Venezuelan to play in the NBA, joining Carl Herrera (1991-99) and Oscar Torres (2001-03).
For Memphis, Vasquez is emerging as a solid bench player capable of hitting clutch shots. Just ask the Thunder in the recent triple-overtime Game 4 how clutch Vasquez can be.
In the playoffs, he is averaging 4.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists.
Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford
In this new era of point guards in the NBA, Hawks’ Horford is one of the few centers remaining in the NBA.
The Dominican big man has been a steady force for Atlanta and in the playoffs, he was a key piece in ousting the Orlando Magic and held his own against Dwight Howard.
In the playoffs, Horford averaged 11.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1 block.
However, for as much as he is key for Atlanta on the court, it’s his service off the court which reflects his pride in his Dominican/Latino roots. Horford supports Atlanta-area Hispanic youth groups, including the STAR House and La Amistad, where he has conducted Reading Timeouts and donated tickets to Hawks games. He is also active with other area youth groups through his “Al’s Amigos” initiative, as he gives Hawks tickets to youth groups and non-profit organizations. Not to mention he was awarded the NBA’s Community Assist Award in February ’08.
And talk about not forgetting his Latino heritage, he enjoys eating white rice and black beans, and sweet plantains.
Dallas Mavericks’ JJ Barea
Mavericks’ Juan Jose Barea has been instrumental for Dallas in the playoffs including shredding the Los Angeles Lakers’ defense to the point Andrew Bynum took it upon himself to send a message – though a very stupid one – to Barea when Bynum cheap shotted him in Game 4 of their series.
This Puerto Rican born player is as tough as they come and is averaging 7.7 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists for Dallas in the playoffs.
However, he does give back to the community and NBA fan base where in 2009 he took part in Festival de Los Mavs where he mingled with fans prior to the game against the Spurs.
Denver Nuggets’ Nene
This Brazilian giant has emerged as one of the best centers in the NBA. He has been a steady force in the middle for Denver and stepped up his play once Carmelo Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks.
For the playoffs, he averaged 14.2 points, 9 rebounds, and shot 56% from the field for Denver.
Off the court, he established a foundation to build a youth center in his hometown of Sao Carlos, participated in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders in South America in the summer of 2003 and 2004, took part in an Adidas skills camp in Sao Paolo in 2005 and has donated season tickets to under privileged families each of the last five seasons.
Houston Rockets’ Luis Scola
This rugged Argentinian is establishing himself as one of the premier forwards in the NBA. From his great foot-work beneath the basket to becoming the Rockets’ go-to player, Scola is truly making a name not only for himself as a player, but as a shining example of what Latino players can do in the NBA.
In his third season with Houston, he averaged a career-best 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 0.77 steals in 82 games. He had three 30-point performances and one 40-point game. He also posted a career-best 32 double-doubles and 33 double-figure rebounding games, including six 20-15 performances with points and rebounds rebounds this season.
Scola also participates in the Rockets Player Ticket Program, where he purchases season tickets to be donated to under privileged children and their families. He also takes part in “green” initiatives with the Rockets.
New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony
Say what you will about the drama that swirled his departure from Denver, this Puerto Rican player is one of, if not the, premier forward in the NBA.
In the playoffs, he averaged 26 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists for New York.
Moreover, in 2008 Anthony was recognized as the Outstanding Basketball Player of the Year at the first Annual Univision Premios Deportes, an awards show celebrating the best Hispanic athletes.
New Jersey Nets’ Brook Lopez
One of the few traditional centers in the NBA, this Cuban big man was the only Net to appear and start in all 82 games, becoming first center in franchise history to start in all 82 games. He averaged team-highs with 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.70 blocks and averaged 2.3 assists. Averaged .499 from the field and .817 from the line, which was ranked third among NBA centers.
Of course there are other Latino players in the NBA who proudly represent their heritage on and off the court such as Portland Trail Blazers’ Rudy Fernandez, Toronto Raptors’ Leondro Barbosa, Boston Celtics’ Carlos Arroyo, Sacramento Kings’ Francisco Garcia, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Anderson Varejao, Spurs’ Tiago Splitter, and more, but the above NBA players are at the forefront of the rising Latino presence in the NBA.
It will be them who will pave the way for the next generation of Latino players aspiring to make it in the NBA as did Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol have done.
(photo via daylife.com)