Story of the Week


    A recent article I read by Steve Hirdt peaked my interest on the subject of foreign-born athletes in our major sports. It started with Yao beating out Shaq for the starting spot in the NBA All-Star game, and it does keep going. The impact that foreign-born players are having on North American pro sports leagues is becoming more and more dramatic.

    As television continues to show what used to be known as "our American sports" to a global community, and as the money being offered by North American teams, combined with the allure of playing with the best in the world, acts as a magnet for the best players from beyond our shores, the increase in foreign-born players shows no sign of abating.

    Nearly one-third of all NHL players this season were born outside the United States and Canada; that rate has doubled in the last 10 years. In major league baseball, the numbers are much the same; just over 25% of all players were born outside the 50 states and 10 provinces, a rate that has doubled since 1989.

    The growth rate of foreign-born players has been even steeper in the NBA, a league that got through the 1960’s without a single player born outside the U.S. This year, nearly 15% of NBA players were born on other continents, a rate that has more than doubled in just five years.

    The foreign-born players who have made their way onto the rosters of North American teams are hardly riding the bench. Where would the Angels have been without Francisco Rodriguez, or the Kings without Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Hidayet Turkoglu?

    A half century after baseball welcomed its first All-Stars from Spanish-speaking nations (Minnie Minoso, Connie Marrero and Chico Carrasquel, there were 24 players named to last summer’s infamous All-Star game who were born outside our 50 states; that broke the previous record of 20 set four years earlier.

    The NFL is the only one of the four leagues not to have seen a dramatic increase in foreign-born players. It has held steady at a rate below 3% for more than 20 years. In fact, only 51 of the league’s 1,841 players in the NFL this season were born outside the U.S; seven of them were born in Canada. It’s interesting to note that Jamaica sent the most foreigners, nine, to the NFL in 2002. We North Americans know about the pattern of baseball imports from the Carribean, and hockey and basketball imports from Europe, but there is no such pattern in football.

    Bottom line: It’s a small, small sports world, and if you’ve got real talent in any of our four major sports, you will be found and will, more than likely, be a pro playing somewhere in North America.

Last Week’s Trivia

    It’s the first time in NHL history that a goalie has assisted on an overtime goal in a playoff game. Who and when? Detroit beat Colorado in a 2002 playoff game when goaltender Dominick Hasek’s alert pass to Steve Yzerman triggered the goal by Fredrik Olausson.

Trivia Question of the Week

    What NBA team won a championship as its starting guards set a game seven record for the poorest % shooting in history for that position? Ironically, both players were All-Stars. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.