‘He’s From Europe. They’re A Lot More Cultured Than We Are’ | Gregg Popovich Talks About His Euro Rookie Phenom Victor Wembanyama, But Are His Comments Rooted In Something Else?

San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama is the talk of the early season. His head coach, Gregg Popovich, has been clear in communicating that Wemby, like every other rookie, has a lot to learn. But Pop also believes that he has the right personality, skill set and mindset to develop into a great player. One area Pop believes he will have no problem in is adjusting to being in a foreign country.

“A lot of these places (in the U.S.) are new to him, but he’s a very inquisitive young man. He’s from Europe. They’re a lot more cultured than we are. They’re more civil than we are. They travel, speak languages,” Popovich said in his media availability on Oct. 29. “It’s not like he’s a dumbstruck young kid. He’s pretty worldly. This hype has gone on for a very long time. It’s old hat for him. He doesn’t even notice it.”

The NBA has pushed the globalization of its game since the early 1990s. It was the vision of the late commissioner David Stern. When he sent NBA superstars to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona it was the initial watershed moment in his grand plan.

Today the NBA has a record 125 international players on active rosters, representing 40 countries and territories across six continents. You could even make the case that four of the top five players in the league right now are international.

That’s progress.

European Culture Better Than American Culture?

But something about Pop’s comments on Wemby might hit differently if you see the league as prioritizing international players and their development over American-born players.

Pop is right when he says Europeans are more cultured than Americans. That doesn’t mean that every European is cultured and every American is uncultured. Hardly.

But many Europeans do grow up with a different understanding of their native culture and other cultures.

For example, in many European schools children must learn English. It’s not like most American schools where you take a language and proficiency isn’t required to pass. In European schools children must become proficient. Why? English is the most common language spoken in the world.

Many Europeans travel throughout the continent through school trips and family travel. The continent is made up of 50 sovereign states and has a total population of 745 million people. Yet, it covers less than 4 million square miles, making it the second-smallest continent.

By comparison North America (U.S. and Canada) covers 9.5 million square miles, making it the third-largest continent. The second-largest country on the continent, the U.S., is home to the largest percentage of the continent’s total population, and the primary language spoken in the U.S. is English.

Traveling from New York to Charlotte is roughly the same distance as Paris to Barcelona. In one instance you’re in the same country, albeit the vibe might be a little different. In the other, you are in a completely different country.

The proximity of different cultures and languages in Europe is vastly different than in North America. That’s one reason why many Europeans are multilingual. Also, many elements of popular culture and entertainment (particularly American) are exported to other continents.

Pop’s assertion that Europeans are more civil is laughable. Countries that make up the European continent have committed some of the most horrific acts in the history of mankind. They’re no different than anywhere else in that regard. There is plenty of uncivilized behavior right out in the open.

Some Of The Best Players In The World Are Not American. That’s OK

But Wemby is “worldly.” He’s been playing professional basketball in France since 2019. He’s traveled the European continent, and others so he’s seen lots of different things.

In interviews he’ll sometimes say “my English is not that good,” but he is clearly more than proficient.

Wemby seems like a special young man. But it’s not because he’s European. It’s likely because he was raised well by his parents and has a good head on his shoulders. Plenty of American-born kids can say the same.

The seeming “international invasion” happening in the NBA isn’t some grand plan to present the European culture as superior, because it isn’t. It’s just different than ours.

An easy way to think about it is style of play.

You might hear that European players play more team-oriented basketball than American players. That’s not exactly true.

In Europe, coaches emphasize tactics more because the overall talent level isn’t as high as it is here in the U.S.

There aren’t a plethora of elite ball-handling shot creators and shot makers in the rest of the world as there are here in the U.S., players who can break off from a team concept and get a score if the team action has been stymied by the defense.

The rest of the world has a few, but the U.S. has a lot.

We just happen to be in a place right now where some of the top players in the world are international, and that’s OK.

The U.S. may have a tougher time now and going forward claiming the “best player in the world” but the depth of U.S. talent is unmatched.

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