For most people, when they hear the word “basketball” their mind goes directly to the NBA and the legendary players that were part of it through the years. Nevertheless, basketball is something bigger than the NBA with many great players in all corners of the world and especially in Europe.
This week, DunkStories focuses on some of the most notable European basketball legends who never made it to the NBA despite their tremendous impact on the sport. The criteria of my selection are quite diverse as they have to do with a number of factors such as the number of titles won in their career, their popularity and their personal career achievements.
Without further delay, let’s have a closer look at ten basketball legends who never played in NBA:
10. Felipe Reyes
Felipe Reyes, Real Madrid and Spanish basketball legend, is undoubtedly one of the biggest European players of the last two decades that hasn’t played in the NBA. He moved from Estudiantes to Real Madrid back in 2004 and he never left the “Blancos” since then.
He has many times been criticised for his lack of athleticism, but his smooth moves and high basketball intelligence has made him one of the most respectable big guys in Euroleague’s history.
A look at his achievements all these years can be convincing:
- 2 Euroleague titles in 2015 and 2018
- 1 Eurocup title in 2007
- 6 ACB championships (2005, 2007, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018)
- 6 Spanish Cup titles (2000, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017)
- 1 FIBA Intercontinental Cup (2015)
- 2 silver and 1 bronze Summer Olympics medals (2008, 2012, 2016)
- 1 gold FIBA World Cup medal (2006)
- 3 gold (2009, 2011, 2015), 2 silver (2003, 2007) and 1 bronze Eurobasket medals (2001)
9. Sergei Belov
We travel a bit back in time where we meet the Russian basketball legend, Sergei Belov. He played for CSKA Moscow from 1968 until 1980 and he was also an emblematic player for the national team of the Soviet Union.
His most memorable performance was in the final of the 1972 Summer Olympic Games against the United States. In a dramatic game (51-50) which ended with the Soviets winning the gold medal, Sergei Belov scored 20 points and he was the x-factor for his team. That night he became a hero for an entire nation.
Apart from the Summer Olympics gold medal, Sergei Belov has won two Euroleague trophies, 11 USSR league titles and two USSR cups with CSKA Moscow. Without a doubt, a Russian basketball legend!
8. JR Holden
Speaking of Russian basketball legends, JR Holden is next on our list. The American who got the Russian citizenship and helped both CSKA Moscow and Russia to conquer Europe. Holden played for 10 years in CSKA (2002-2011) and was one of their leaders all of these years.
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He celebrated two Euroleague championships but the most memorable moment of his career is his breathtaking buzzer-beater shot against Spain in the 2007 Eurobasket Final. The Russians under David Blatt’s guidance managed to win the Spanish national team despite the fact that they were the underdog in this fight.
JR Holden came many times close to continue his career in the NBA but it seems that Europe felt more like home to him in this long and remarkable basketball journey.
7. Sergio Llull
Second Real Madrid player on our list. The one and only Sergio Llull. Half of the NBA teams (if not all) would love to have him in their roster but Llull is loyal to Madrid. During the last years many great players have played by his side (Sergio Rodriguez, Luka Doncic, Nikola Mirotic, etc.) but Llull was always the brain and heart of this team.
He can put the ball in the basket in a million different ways and he is surely one of the most eye-catching players who have ever appeared in European basketball. Llull played first time for Real Madrid in 2007 and all these years he has won two Euroleague championships (2015, 2018), five Spanish league titles (2007, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018), two Spanish cups (2012, 2017) and many individual awards.
It goes without saying that he has celebrated a number of medals with the Spanish national team, too:
- Three gold (2009, 2011, 2015) and one bronze (2013) Eurobasket medals
- One silver (2012) and one bronze (2016) Olympic medals
- One silver FIBA Europe under-20 championship medal (2007)
- One gold FIBA Europe under-18 championship medal (2004)
I think the titles talk for themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, Sergio Llull!
6. Dino Meneghin
Dino Meneghin is the proof that Italians can hoop. Meneghin spent most years of his career in two giants of Italian basketball: Varese (1966-1980) and Olimpia Milano (1980-1990, 1993-1994). Due to his dominant performances, everybody was expecting that sooner or later would end up in the NBA.
Nevertheless, he never took this big step and kept offering memorable basketball moments to European basketball lovers. He is the man with most Euroleague championships (seven!!!) and it’s no coincidence that in 1980 and 1983 was chosen as the European Player of the Year (Mr. Europa).
And not only that, as he is member of the Basketball Hall of Fame which is probably one of the biggest honors for every basketball player around the globe.
Meneghin has also been included in FIBA’s 50 Greatest Players (1991), and has been named as one of 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008). It is no exaggeration to say that he is one of the most influential players in the history of Italian basketball (gold Eurobasket medal in 1983) and a true European basketball legend!
5. Theo Papaloukas
When we are talking about European basketball legends, we have to include Theo Papaloukas. One of the most admirable players of Euroleague in the last twenty years with great career in CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos.
Thodoris Papaloukas was the mastermind of his team inside the court, and nobody can forget that he could pass the ball in every way possible. Simply put, he could make his teammates better just with one pass. He has won two Euroleague titles with CSKA Moscow in 2006 and 2008 and he has been named Euroleague Basketball Legend in 2013.
Papaloukas has a long history with the Greek National team, as well. He was part of the great team that got the gold Eurobasket medal in 2005 and the silver World cup medal in 2006. He came very close to sign in NBA twice but he preferred to remain in Europe given his influence on the game there.
4. Fragiskos Alvertis
The eternal captain of Panathinaikos BC is another European basketball legend who never made it to the NBA. If you take a look at his achievements with the “Greens”, you can understand why he never felt the need to leave the Greek powerhouse and try his luck in the NBA.
Twenty years in the same team (1990-2009), countless trophies and memorable moments:
- 5 EuroLeague titles (1996, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2009)
- 11 Greek League trophies (1998–2002, 2004–2009)
- 8 Greek Cup titles (1993, 1996, 2003, 2005–2009)
- 2 Triple Crowns (2007, 2009)
- 1 FIBA Intercontinental Cup (1996)
And many more individual awards which could take us a day to list them all. I mean he has even won a Greek League trophy as the Head Coach of Panathinaikos BC in 2014.
Panathinaikos honored his contribution to the team by retiring his jersey with the number 4 in an emotional friendly game against CSKA Moscow that took place in Athens in October 11th 2009.
3. Dejan Bodiroga
“Sex, droga and Dejan Bodiroga” was the chant that you could hear all around Europe every time Dejan Bodiroga was stepping on the court. Member of the outstanding Yugoslavian national team, Dejan is undoubtedly one of the biggest basketball personas that never played in the NBA.
He is still considered to be a legend for Panathinaikos BC and Barcelona. He has won three Euroleague championships: two with the Greens (2000, 2002) and one with Barca (2003). For many, his most memorable performances were in the Final Four of Bologna where Panathinaikos managed to win the trophy despite the fact that they arrived in Italy as the big outsider.
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Naturally, Bodiroga was named Euroleague Final Four MVP and automatically became an eternal hero for the fans in Athens.
As far as his achievements with the National team of Yugoslavia are concerned, Dejan Bodiroga has celebrated three Eurobasket titles (1995, 1997, 2001) and two FIBA World Cup titles (1998, 2002). He has also a silver medal in the Summer Olympics of 1996.
2. Dimitris Diamantidis
If Panathinaikos was a person, it would be him! Dimitris Diamantidis is the natural continuation of Fragiskos Alvertis in the team and probably the player with the biggest contribution in the history of the club.
Diamantidis spent thirteen years (2004-2016) in Panathinaikos BC where he celebrated quite a few titles:
- 3 Euroleague champions (2007, 2009, 2011)
- 9 Greek league champions (2005-2011, 2013, 2014)
- 10 Greek cup titles (2005-2009, 2012-2016)
- 2 triple crowns (2007, 2009)
But that’s not all, as he was also decisive for the National team of Greece. Who can forget his three-point buzzer beater against France in the semi-final of the 2005 Eurobasket in Belgrade. Greece won the title in the Final against Germany and Diamantidis will always be regarded as the one who carried the team to this victory. On top of that, the year after Diamantidis was together with Thodoris Papaloukas part of the Greek national team that managed to reach to the Final of the FIBA World Cup in Japan.
There aren’t many who deny that Diamantidis could have a great career in the NBA but for him staying with his green family was always a priority!
1. Nick Galis
Last but certainly not least, Nick Galis! A European basketball legend who changed the game as we know it not only in Greece but in the entire continent. He was selected by the Boston Celtics in the 1979 NBA draft but he never played there.
What he was meant to do instead was to bring the first gold Eurobasket medal to Greece (44 points in the Final against the Soviet Union) and change forever the relationship of his country with basketball. Furthermore, he was the leader of former Greek powerhouse Aris BC and later joined Panathinaikos BC where he also retired.
On September 8 2017, Nick Galis became part of the most prestigious closed club in the basketball society. He was accepted to the Naismith Memorial International Basketball Hall of Fame, in Massachussetts. It is no exaggeration to say that Galis is an NBAer that never got to play in the NBA not because he couldn’t do it but because he had a different mission in the basketball world.
Wrapping it up!
There you have it. Ten European basketball legends who for different reasons never played in the NBA. Nevertheless, their contribution to European basketball goes far beyond stats and trophies as they were and are the reason for many of us to start following this magical sport.
Are there any more players that we forgot to include in the list. Please let us know in the comments below!
Featured image: Ekipa24.si