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Five of the Best Latin American Players Who Graced the NBA

Manu Ginóbili, one of the greatest Latin American Basketball players to ever step out on the hardwood - Image Credit: NBA

Latino players make up only three percent of the current National Basketball Association (NBA) rosters. Yet, despite this underrepresentation, many players with Latin American roots have forged illustrious NBA careers and become superstars of the basketball community. They all share common traits, including being skillful, dedicated, and determined to make a name for themselves against all odds.

Dozens of up-and-coming Latino players await the opportunity to shine in the NBA. Anyone well-versed in college basketball betting tips will be familiar with names such as Santiago Vescovi and Francisco Farabello, two rising stars who are sure to follow in the footsteps of the following five Latin American NBA stars.

Manu Ginóbili

When you think of Latin American NBA players, Manu Ginóbili is the first name that springs to mind; most basketball fans consider Ginóbili the best Latin American player of all time. Ginóbili enjoyed a 16-year NBA career, which he spent entirely with the San Antonio Spurs.

Ginóbili comes from a family of professional basketball players but is the only one to have made it to the NBA. He started his professional career in the Argentine basketball league with Andino Sport Club before playing for Estudiantes de Bahia Blanca and Italian teams Viola Reggio Calabria and Virtus Bologna. The San Antonio Spurs selected Ginóbili in the second round (57th overall) of the 1999 NBA Draft. However, Ginóbili did not officially join the team until the 2002-03 NBA season.

San Antonio Spurs won the NBA championship during Ginóbili’s first season, although he only made five starts due to injuries and playing backup to veteran guard Steve Smith. Ginóbili got his hands on three more NBA championship rings in 2004-05, 2006-07, and 2013-14.

By the time Ginóbili retired from the NBA, he had played 1,057 games (349 starts) and scored 14,043 points, 4,001 assists, and 3,697 rebounds. Ginóbili is the name that regularly crops up when basketball experts discuss the game’s best-ever sixth man, and it is easy to see why with figures like those.

Luis Scola

Luis Scola almost became a San Antonio Spurs player, but the NBA’s rules prevented that from happening. San Antonio selected Scola as the 56th overall pick in the second round of the 2002 NBA Draft, but he remained with Saski Baskonia in Spain until the summer of 2005. Baskonia wanted $3 million, but the deal never happened.

Luis Scola – Image Credit: NBA

In July 2007, the Spurs traded Scola’s rights to the Houston Rockets, and all the legal paperwork was completed soon after; Scola was an NBA player. Scola shone during his rookie season, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

The power forward only missed eight games across the next four seasons before the Spurs waived Scola using the league’s amnesty clause to provide salary cap relief. Scola signed with the Phoenix Suns, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, and the Brooklyn Nets before spending brief spells in China and Italy, finally retiring in 2021.

Through 743 games (505 starts) in the NBA, Scola scored 8,882 points, created 1,194 assists, and enjoyed 4,941 rebounds.


Born Mabyner Rodney Hilario before legally changing his name in 2003, Nenê played soccer from an early age and could have turned professional. However, in his teenage years, Nenê discovered basketball; his height shot up to 6 feet 11 inches, and a new professional was on the horizon.

Nenê – Image Credit: NBA

Vasco da Gama gave Nenê his professional basketball debut, but he was always destined to play in the NBA. During the 2002 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets selected Nenê as the seventh overall pick in the first round. After gaining a reputation for having deadly field goal accuracy, disaster struck when Nenê tore his ACL after only three minutes of the 2005-06 season.

Injuries and ailments, including testicular cancer, reduced Nenê’s playing time, and he ultimately left the Rockets for the Washington Wizards in 2012. Nenê’s poor injury record continued while at the Wizards, and he left Washington after five seasons, joining the Houston Rockets.

Nenê spent another four seasons with the Rockets but missed the entire 2019-20 campaign with a lingering hip injury.

Despite injuries blighting his career, Nenê played 965 games (626 starts), scored 10,909 points, 1,719 assists, and 5,828 rebounds. Nenê would have been a legitimate superstar had his body allowed.

Leandro Barbosa

Leandro Barbosa played for five NBA teams during a professional career that spanned 21 years. Barbosa is best remembered for his time with the Phoenix Suns. Barbosa was selected 28th overall in the 2003 NBA Draft, but the Suns acquired his rights the same night.

Leandro Barbosa – Image Credit: NBA

Barbosa played 70 games (46 starts) during his rookie season. He broke the Suns record for points scored by a first-time starter when he scored 27 against the Chicago Bulls in January 2004. The Suns continued giving Barbosa plenty of time on the court, mainly from the bench. His superb performances in 2006-07 and 2007-08 saw him named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year.

The Brazilian left Phoenix at the end of the 2009-10 season and joined the Toronto Raptors, where he spent two seasons. A season in Boston followed before Barbosa returned to the Phoenix Suns. After only 20 appearances from the bench during the 2013-14 season, Barbosa signed for the Golden State Warriors following impressive performances at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Barbosa was part of the Warriors team that won the 2015 NBA Championship.

Barbosa left the Warriors in 2016 and returned to the Suns. Sixty-seven sixth-man appearances later, he called time on his NBA career.

Through 850 regular games (112 starts), Barbosa scored 9,035 points, 1,775 assists, and 1,720 rebounds.

Anderson Varejão

Anderson Varejão enjoyed a 14-year career in the NBA, with 13 being with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Orlando Magic selected Varejão 3rd overall in the 2004 NBA Draft but traded him to the Cavaliers a month later. Magic’s loss was the Cavaliers’ gain.

Anderson Varejão – Image Credit: NBA

Primarily used as the sixth man from 2004-2009, Varejão forced his way into the Cavaliers’ starting line-up in 2010, but several injuries kept him in the treatment room. Between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons, Varejão played only 81 (starting all 81) from a possible 246 games.

Varejão spent two more seasons with the Cavaliers before becoming a Golden State Warriors player, playing only 35 games across two campaigns. Varejão returned to his native Brazil, spending 20 months with Flamengo. He returned to the Cavaliers in May 2021 and played five games before retiring at the end of the season.

During his injury-hit career, Varejão played 632 games (209 starts), scoring 4,550 points, 885 assists, and 4,551 rebounds.

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  1. Julio

    April 29, 2024 at 10:44 am

    Excellent article on Latinos in the NBA that few of us knew.

  2. J Diddy

    April 29, 2024 at 4:18 pm

    Is there a reason no Caribbean players are on this list? Is it only from the continent of South America? Carmelo Anthony is the 10th highest scorer all time in the NBA. Karl Anthony Towns is Dominican and better than anyone on this list not named Manu. And JJ Barrea is an All-Time Dallas great. This list is questionable.

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