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The NBA needs more Hispanics

| Friday, April 26, 2019

Four-hundred ninety-four. There are at least 494 players in the NBA this season. Can you guess how many of them are Hispanic?

.2%.

Only 10 players in the NBA are Hispanic. Six of them are from Spain. Half of them averaged more than 10 points this season. Three of them are 24 years old or younger.

With the retirement of Manu Ginobili, an Argentinian basketball star, there isn’t much of a face to put on Hispanic NBA players. The Gasol brothers are in their thirties and running out of gas. (I am aware that they are arguably just as iconic as Ginobili, but they come from a country where basketball has world-class facilities and teams.) Celtics center Al Horford still has some legs, but he’s 32. Trevor Ariza is a solid player, but he isn’t a star like Ginobili was.

There’s no up-and-coming star, either. Willy Hernangómez was in the 2016-2017 All-Rookie team, but he averaged 14 minutes a game this season and has only started 26 games in his 178-game career. Willy’s brother, Juan, has started 37 games in the 157 times he’s seen action on the court. However, 25 of those starts came this season after teammate Paul Millsap was injured. Juan Hernangómez, playing the same power forward position as Millsap, filled the starting role.

Ángel Delgado, 24, plays center for the Los Angeles Clippers. He appeared in two games this season for a combined 15 minutes.

The next-youngest Hispanic player is Ricky Rubio, 28. Rubio is in his prime and has started all but one game this season with the Utah Jazz. He averages 12.7 points per game, six dimes per game, and plays a key supporting role in the Donovan Mitchell-Rudy Gobert offensive scheme of the Jazz. Despite not being a household name (Rubio has half a million followers on Instagram, whereas Mitchell has 2.2 million), Rubio may be the face of Hispanic players in the NBA for the next couple of seasons.

No es bueno.

As the NBA tries to extend its reach into Latin American markets, it’s going to need more players from those areas for basketball to really get a footing there. The NBA has a growing number of African players like Joel Embiid and Serge Ibaka. The NBA has a growing number of European stars like Nikola Jokić and Luka Dončić. The NBA doesn’t have a growing number of Hispanic players not from Spain.

Does the NBA care? Yes. In 2017 the NBA hosted four regular-season games in Mexico in an effort to expand its reach in the region. In 2018, the NBA Global Games hosted two more games in Mexico. And after the conclusion of the 2020 NBA Mexico City Games, the league will have played 32 games in Mexico since 1992.

The efforts of the NBA to expand into Latin America also includes hosting basketball camps alongside the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) in places like the Dominican Republic with players from countries like Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico, etc.

While there are a lot of factors that go into creating NBA-level talent, it would be wise for the association to look into expanding the sport of basketball into Latin America more than what they are already doing. Soccer is, without a doubt, the most popular sport in Latin America, but there is a lot of potential for basketball to grow, as well. Baseball has seen a rise in popularity in Latin America, and that’s partly due to the stars that have emerged in the MLB that come from Latino origins. Basketball could do the same, it just needs someone who can speak the same language and play at an elite level.

Basketball needs a new Ginobili.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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