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Pau Gasol, Lakers-Celtics, and the outsourcing of the NBA Finals

Game 3 of the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals continues tonight. While the Celtics have no international players, the Lakers have three, including Spaniard Pau Gasol. Could that be decisive?

By Correspondent / June 8, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol celebrate during the second half in Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series. International players such as Gasol are arguably more team-oriented than American players, and their presence has reapidly increased on NBA championship teams.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

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Boston

The Lakers-Celtics matchup of the NBA Finals features the classic Los Angeles vs. Boston rivalry, but with one big twist: the rise of the international basketball star.

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While the Celtics have no international players on their team, the Lakers have Spaniard Pau Gasol, Slovene Sasha Vujacic, and Congolese Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, a sign of the sport's increasing international appeal.

Could it also make the difference in the Lakers besting the Celtics? The Celtics have already handled two elite teams with two foreigners each. But coaches and former players acknowledge that international players bring a different skill set and an ingrained sense of teamwork to their clubs.

Foreign players come from a system that better hones skill development, says NBA coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic.

"If you look around the league, it becomes pretty evident that the Europeans are quite a bit ahead of us in terms of skill development for players," Mr. Van Gundy recently told Sports Illustrated. "The way we develop our players from a young age is just inferior to what they do there. They spend a lot more time on skill development."

Gasol, for example, is an excellent passer and shooter even at seven feet tall.

More team-oriented

International players are arguably more team-oriented. This was one explanation for the US’s embarrassing loss in the 2004 Summer Olympics. The men’s national basketball team lost three games – more than all other years combined – and barely managed to hold on to the Bronze medal. They lost by 19 points to Puerto Rico, and fell as well to Lithuania and Argentina.

It was a sign of an increasingly internationalized game. When the Celtics and Lakers went head-to-head in the 1960s and 1980s, there were few international players in the National Basketball Association (NBA), part of the reason why the original “Dream Team” dominated the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

That changed in 1990s, with players such as Croat Toni Kukoč (drafted in 1993) and Congolese Dikembe Mutombo (drafted in 1991).

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