In the beginning, there was the legendary Dino Meneghin, who was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1970 draft but failed to make his debut. From that moment on, many Italians tried their luck in the NBA: Let’s discover the most important stories.
Italians in the NBA: pioneers
Let’s face it: Italian players in the NBA have never really made a difference, other than the occasional and temporary exception. Generally speaking, there aren’t even that many athletes from Italy. They tried to make a big move to the legendary US basketball championship: Eleven in total, including Italian Americans Mike D’Antoni and Paolo Banchero.
To these were added four players who were selected in the draft but did not make their NBA debut: the legendary Dino Meneghin, followed by Gus Binelli, Riccardo Morandotti, Alessandro Gentile. Then there are two children born in 2002 and 2003. Gabriele Procida and Matteo SpagnoloIn the 2022 draft, he was selected by the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves respectively, but then Alba went to Berlin: maybe for them The doors of the NBA championship will open later.
According to the annals, the first Italian player in the NBA was Mike D’Antoni. But his was the opposite career. In fact, Il Baffo was born in West Virginia to an Italian father, completed a respectable basketball career in the United States with four seasons in Kansas City, Saint Louis and San Antonio, and then flew to Europe at the age of 26. precisely to Milan, where he would play with Olimpia from 1977 to 1990 and become his flagship. D’Antoni will later return to the NBA as a coachand not just any coach. The player, who won the NBA Coach of the Year award in 2005 and 2017, is considered one of the most effective offensive tacticians in basketball history.
After Big Mike, we will have to wait twenty long years to see the first players from Italian sports teams burst onto the scene in the stars and stripes world of basketball. These were in the 1995-1996 season Vincenzino Esposito and Stefano Rusconi To fly to the Toronto Raptors and Phoenix Suns. Cold statistics aside, the two have always been considered the first two Italians to embark on the NBA basketball adventure. An adventure that didn’t go very well, to be honest.
Esposito will close out his season in Canada with 282 minutes and 116 points in 30 games before returning to Pesaro. It will be even worse for Rusconi, who will suffer from major nostalgia during his time in Arizona and could put it all together in an NBA year. 8 points with only 30 minutes of play. Thus, he will return to Treviso in 1996 before ending his career in Milan.
Bargnani, Belinelli, Gallinari: Italians who left their mark in the NBA
The name of the player who truly changed the history of Italians in the NBA is Andrea Bargnani. The Roman boy, nicknamed The Wizard, was selected first overall in the 2006 draft by the Toronto Raptors when he was only 21 years old. Great things are expected from him, The clearest talents in European basketball history Yet, despite a very honest career that spanned nearly a decade, he will never fully succeed in the NBA, remaining a major underdog in the widespread opinion of coaches and pundits. In any case, the championships between Toronto, New York and Brooklyn continue; They played in 550 games, scored almost 8000 points, and there are many games that continue to make you think about how much Bargnani can give to basketball.
Marco Belinelli, who came to the NBA the following year in 2017, was drafted 18th by the Golden State Warriors. Instead there was a bumpier roadbut also more prestigious in the US basketball championship. His first two years in San Francisco were not exceptional, but Belinelli is showing that he can be in the NBA with 75 games, 467 points and a three-point percentage approaching 40%. He moved to Toronto in 2009, then spent two seasons in a very positive but disastrous context in New Orleans, then Chicago, before joining the San Antonio Spurs, the team that would change his career.
The master Gregg Popovich uses it surgically, and Belinelli will play a decisive role with his three-point shooting (he will finish the season averaging 43% and also win the three-point contest in the All Star Game). Spurs championship victory. Belinelli is still there even todayThe only player in Italian basketball history to win the ringHe continued his overseas career, which lasted until 2020 and included the Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers in addition to the previously mentioned teams. Before forgetting, Belinelli, who returned to Italy at the age of 37, is still one of the most important players of Virtus Bologna.
Danilo Gallinari is still in the NBA in his fifteenth season and is perhaps the most talented Italian player ever. Like Bargnani, he has a very respectable journey across the United States, where he has played 728 games between New York, Denver, Clippers, Atlanta, Oklahoma, Boston and, this season, Washington. always gave the impression that he would never reach the top Performances that can be expected, starting with his talent, perhaps due to his numerous serious injuries.
The great Gigi Datome, who spent less than his fair share of time in the NBA from 2013 to 2015, deserves a mention: He started 55 games between Detroit and Boston. Niccolò Melli, who currently plays for Olimpia Milano, also played in the United States between 2019-2021. Two important years between New Orleans and Dallas, with 105 games and the feeling of choosing European basketball. Finally, Simone Fontecchio. Pescara boy, 28 years old, he is the only Italian in the NBA today. After a 2022-2023 season in Utah that lasted 52 games and averaged 14 minutes, he started this year with slightly less playing time in a difficult environment: The Utah Jazz sit second-to-last in the Western after nine games. Conference.