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Thursday, September 11, 2014 (read 13433 times)

What You Didn't Know About Spanish Basketball

by David

Basketball in Spain

Basketball in Spain is very popular sport with a league (ACB) that is considered one of the best outside of the United States. In fact, many American players (most either towards the end of their career or players that weren't quite able to make the cut in the NBA) find themselves playing in such cities like Vitoria, Malaga or León. With all of this popularity and some of the brightest NBA stars coming from Spain, let's take a moment to take a look at some of the lesser known aspects that has come to be a part of the history of Spanish basketball.

The Priest Made Me Do It

John Naismith invented basketball in 1881 but this game didn't reach Spanish shores until 1921. In that year, a 35 year old priest had just returned to Barcelona from Cuba. In Cuba, this priest, Eusenio Millán, witnessed people playing the relatively new sport and thought it would be an ideal sport to play in Spain where the winters can be very cold—something he knew all too well coming from the province of Soria. As a man of the cloth and also an educator he introduced this game into the school he taught at, the Escuelas Pías de San Antón, in Barcelona. In 1922 he founded the basketball team Layetano and the growth of teams across Spain was exponential. 10 years later, the first Catalonia vs. Madrid contests were held and even then were played with the same energy and regional pride that is seen to this day.

ÑBA in America

Considering that basketball has been a popular sport for almost hundred years in Spain, Spanish athletes haven’t really had any presence in the NBA until (relatively speaking) recently. The first international player to play in the NBA was Hank Biasatti who played first for the Toronto Huskies and later the Boston Celtics. Even though Biasotti was born in Italy he was a Canadian national and, while technically he is the NBA's first international player, it seems a bit of reach to consider him as such since the some consider Canada the 51st state (Not me though, honest!).  Spain's first player to participate in the NBA was Fernando Martín in 1986. Fernando is considered one of the greatest basketball players Spain has ever produced. Unfortunately his life was cut short in an auto accident in 1989 when he was only 29. His NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers lasted only 24 games due to injury and he returned to play in the ACB until his death. In 2007, Fernando Martín was posthumously inducted into the FIBA Basketbal Hall of Fame

Gil Grissom? ...Or should I call you Danny Ainge?

Many people don't know that actor Gill Grissom William Petersen was a college football player before he was a Secret Service agent or the head of the Las Vegas CSI crime lab. Petersen was born in Evanston, Illinoise and later moved to Boise, Idaho. Going to Idaho State on a football scholarship, Petersen quickly found his passion for theater and acting. Interestingly enough, Petersen and group of fellow actors (along with his wife) went to Spanish Basque country to continue learning and working with one of their acting teachers. While in the Mondragon area in mountains between Bilbao and San Sebastian, he quickly learned the Basque language and become very much a part of the local scene. He was so involved with his neighbors that he responded to a call for players  by local third division basketball team, Goierri Saskibaloia. Unfortunately for Petersen, but good for all of us fans, he wasn't able to sign on with the team officially since the rules at the time prohibited the signing of foreign players. We're not sure how his career would have gone anyway since the director of the team has said "he wasn't bad, but he wasn't anything great either. He would shoot a lot and couldn't get one in for the life of him". What would Grissom say about that?

A Kid's Game

The youngest player to ever play in the NBA has been Andrew Bynum who began playing when he was 18 years and 6 days old. As if that wasn't young enough, Ricky Rubio of the Minnesota Timberwolves began playing professionally when he was only 14 years old, making his professional debut on October 15, 2005. And don't think he played with a 3rd division Spanish league team. Ricky was playing with the ACB first division powerhouse DKV Joventut Badalona. In his first year Joventut won the EuroChallenge Cup, a pan European championship, and everyone saw what a 15 year old from the small coastal town of El Masnou could do. Not only did Ricky catch the eye of Europeans, but American NBA scouts were quickly behind him encouraging him to sign with one of their teams. Considering himself too young to participate in the NBA, Ricky waited until 2011 to make the move across the Atlantic. Considered by most to be the best European guard ever to play in the NBA, he is known for his consistent and fundamentally sound game. His style of play reminds many basketball fans of basketball legend, "Pistol" Pete Maravich.

Even though soccer is the king of all sports here in Spain, basketball is the second most organized sport played in Spain. This popularity has grown in the last few years as Spain has become a global power winning the World Cup once, gold in the last European Championship and silver in the most recent Olympics. Knowing a little bit more about basketball in Spain will hopefully give you a little more insight and appreciation as to how this country, the size of California, has been able to capture the imagination of millions with their style and energy.

Keywords: history of basketball,sports in spain,nba stars,invention of basketball,spanish athletes,greatest basketball players,basketball in spain,fernando martin,spanish basketball

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