The Toronto Raptors became the first non-American NBA team to win the championship this year after beating the Golden State Warriors in the final.
They did so with the help of two African-born players in Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka. As the Raptors hoisted the trophy into the air, you could almost hear NBA fans from everywhere but Oakland breathing out a collective sigh of relief.
Over the past five years, the Warriors steamrolling their way to yet another NBA Championship has felt like an inevitable outcome. Thankfully this year, the Toronto Raptors flipped the script, which is good for the NBA not just in America, but internationally as well.
Pascal Siakam of Cameroon and Serge Ibaka of the DRC were both instrumental players in Toronto’s march to the Championship.
Their performances on the NBA’s biggest stage could do wonders in regards to growing the game internationally.
Both players are shining examples of the fact that it is possible to make the jump from Africa to the NBA.
While these players took different paths to get to the worlds premier basketball league, they showed others with the same dream that it is possible to not only get to the NBA but to succeed at the games highest level.
Ibaka spent time playing professionally in Spain before finally getting a chance to crack the Oklahoma City Thunder roster in 2009.
Siakam started playing basketball relatively late and wound up playing at Gods Academy in Lewisville, Texas before being recruited by New Mexico State University.
After being drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2016, he spent time playing with their G-League affiliate before actually being able to play at the NBA level.
Both Ibaka and Siakam were players featured on the roster of Team Africa during the 2018 NBA Africa Game. While Ibaka is a more defensive-minded veteran player at this point in his NBA career, Siakam looks to be a breakout star going into the 2019-2020 NBA season, especially now that Kawhi Leonard has left the team.
Now more than ever, international players are getting their chance to shine in the NBA. Siakam is fresh off of winning not only an NBA Championship but also the 2019 Most Improved Player award.
With Kawhi now headed to the Los Angeles Clippers, Siakam will be in a position to shoulder more of the Raptors offence heading into next season.
The NBA’s only international team looks to be led by a rising star on the international stage in Siakam. Having a storyline like this to root for heading into the season can only be a positive for fans of the league both old and new.