NBA Sunday Insider: Where the international look began

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2013 - 1:46 AM

Mavs’ Donnie Nelson never stopped crossing borders.

hide

Donnie Nelson, Mavericks president of basketball operations, posed with the team’s rookies in July. Nelson is a big part of the reason that Dallas is loaded with international players.

Photo: TONY GUTIERREZ • Associated Press,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

This international wave the NBA surfs — the one that led it to send the Timberwolves and San Antonio Spurs to Mexico City last week for a game never played — wasn’t a ripple when Donnie Nelson’s mom sent him to South America to play for Athletes in Action when he was a college freshman.

“She twisted my arm and forced me to do it because she thought it’d open my eyes to the world,” he said.

Some 30 years later, a mother’s decision has shaped in so many ways the Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operation’s life and done its part to transform the NBA landscape as well.

“I fought it and fought it and then I went down there,” he said, “and loved it so much, I did it every year.”

The son of former Celtics player and NBA head coach Don Nelson traveled with the Christian sports ministry group those first two years to South America, where he sometimes played games in the rain and rode midnight buses through the Andes mountains. He toured Europe for two more years, including a Soviet Union trip his final year when he faced a Lithuanian player named Sarunas Marciulionis years before communism collapsed there.

“I came back home and told my dad, ‘Hey, there’s a guy behind the Iron Curtain who’s pretty darn good,’ ” he said. “And that’s what started the whole thing for me.”

That whole thing was being at the forefront — and in the middle — of a globalization that has transformed the sport. In 1989, he helped persuade Marciulionis to sign with the Golden State team his dad coached. Eastern Europeans Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc and others also came to the NBA about the same time the Berlin Wall fell.

“I grew up shagging balls for the old Celtics, so I knew what an NBA player looked, breathed and smelled like,” Nelson said. “So I would come back and say, ‘Hey, Dad, there’s a Larry Bird over there, only this guy is 7-4.’ When you’re over there and actually locking horns with them, you realize these guys belong.”

That 7-4 Larry Bird to whom Nelson referred was former Soviet and EuroLeague superstar Arvydas Sabonis. He was drafted by Portland in 1986 but didn’t arrive in the NBA until nearly a decade later after foot injuries had robbed him of his mobility.

Nelson and his father swung Dallas’ draft-day trades in 1998 to acquire the rights to relatively unknown Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) as well as Steve Nash (Canada) from Phoenix. The Mavs have been among the league leaders in acquiring international players during Nelson’s time running the franchise.

“The cultural exchanges that have happened over the years are really good,” he said. “It’s good for our team, good for our fans. It teaches world peace and tolerance. It helped me grow. My mom told me you’re going on this thing and I fought it. It changed my life. It really did.”

NBA short takes

An ounce of pretension is worth ...

Whatever happened to just saying you’re playing again Sunday?

Kobe Bryant announced his return after eight months away because of a torn Achilles’ tendon by uploading a two-minute video to his Facebook page Friday. The professionally produced video — entitled “Seasons of Legend” — shows his No. 24 L.A. Lakers jerseys flapping in a dramatically lighted sky that transforms from clouds of creation into sleet, snow and pelting rain that tear the jersey before the sun returns and the jersey is made whole again.

The video ends like a Hollywood blockbuster movie trailer with these words on the screen: The Legend Continues … December 8.

Get your popcorn and watch him play Toronto, I guess.

  • related content

  • NBA short takes

    Saturday December 7, 2013

    An ounce of pretension is worth ...Whatever happened to just saying you’re playing again Sunday?Kobe Bryant announced his return after...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs 5 Top 7th Inning
St. Louis 1
Cincinnati 0 Bottom 1st Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Minnesota - K. Gibson 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Philadelphia - J. Williams 6:10 PM
NY Mets - B. Colon
Miami - J. Cosart 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Harang
Boston - A. Webster 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - J. Odorizzi
Cleveland - T. Bauer 6:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Shields
Detroit - K. Ryan 6:10 PM
Chicago WSox - C. Bassitt
Texas - R. Ross Jr. 6:10 PM
Houston - S. Feldman
Colorado - T. Matzek 7:10 PM
Arizona - V. Nuno
Chicago Cubs - T. Wada 7:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Gonzales
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke 7:40 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Milwaukee - M. Fiers 8:05 PM
San Francisco - J. Peavy
Oakland - J. Samardzija 8:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Washington - S. Strasburg 8:10 PM
Seattle - R. Elias
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 6 2nd Qtr 2:14
Massachusetts 0
West Virginia 3 1st Qtr 1:49
(2) Alabama 3
Rice 7 1st Qtr 2:13
(17) Notre Dame 7
(10) South Dakota St 7 1st Qtr 4:44
(24) Missouri 21
Fla Atlantic 7 1st Qtr 1:34
(22) Nebraska 7
California 14 1st Qtr 0:03
Northwestern 0
Marshall 14 1st Qtr 1:51
Miami-Ohio 0
UC Davis 0 1st Qtr 12:07
(11) Stanford 7
Arkansas 0 1st Qtr 9:58
(6) Auburn 7
(16) Clemson 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 1st Half 44:55
Seattle 0
New England 4:00 PM
Toronto FC
Columbus 6:30 PM
Montreal
FC Dallas 7:30 PM
Chicago
Real Salt Lake 9:30 PM
San Jose
Portland 9:30 PM
Vancouver FC
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many games will the Timberwolves win this season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close