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

Baltimore 2 FINAL
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 FINAL
Toronto 7
San Francisco 4 FINAL
Oakland 9
Cleveland 0 FINAL
Cincinnati 10
Boston College 0 FINAL
Boston 1
Arizona State 0 FINAL
Arizona 4
Boston 79 FINAL
Cleveland 110
LA Lakers 103 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Sacramento 124 FINAL
New York 86
Houston 96 FINAL
Atlanta 104
Utah 93 FINAL
Memphis 82
Washington 92 FINAL
Chicago 97
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
Denver 106
Nashville 1 FINAL
New Jersey 3
Calgary 3 FINAL(OT)
Philadelphia 2
Washington 5 FINAL
Columbus 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Toronto 3 FINAL
Florida 2
Ottawa 2 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 3
NY Islanders 2 FINAL(OT)
Dallas 3
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Arizona 1
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
Edmonton 2
San Jose 6 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Ole Miss 82 FINAL
Alabama 74
Eastern Mich 67 FINAL
Ball State 60
Kent State 81 FINAL
Bowling Green 80
Ohio 66 FINAL
Buffalo 93
Georgetown 60 FINAL
Butler 54
Toledo 77 FINAL
Central Mich 85
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
Dayton 75
Youngstown St 67 FINAL
Detroit 77
North Carolina 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 49
Loyola-Maryland 45 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Iowa 77 FINAL
Indiana 63
Akron 63 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 70
Army 52 FINAL
Navy 56
Maryland 60 FINAL
Rutgers 50
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
USC Upstate 90
Jacksonville 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 81
Lipscomb 76 FINAL
Northern Ky 73
Stetson 67 FINAL
North Florida 81
Wright State 57 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 60
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Northern Ill 65
Nebraska Omaha 80 FINAL
North Dakota 78
Houston Baptist 71 FINAL
Abilene Christian 83
NC State 66 FINAL
Clemson 61
Texas A&M 62 FINAL
Florida 66
Kentucky 72 FINAL
Georgia 64
West Virginia 69 FINAL
Kansas 76
Auburn 61 FINAL
Missouri 63
Michigan 78 FINAL
Northwestern 82
Villanova 76 FINAL
Creighton 72
Longwood 55 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 63
Charleston Southern 39 FINAL
Presbyterian 47
Coastal Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 68
NJIT 51 FINAL
UMass Lowell 60
West Virginia 55 FINAL
Kansas State 59
TCU 45 FINAL
Texas 79
Fresno State 61 FINAL
Air Force 41
San Jose St 76 FINAL
Boise State 91
Nevada 61 FINAL
Colorado State 68
UNLV 61 FINAL
San Diego State 76
Wyoming 61 FINAL
Utah State 57
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: Which is your favorite 'return' by a Minnesota athlete?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close