The NBA has truly become an international basketball league. From superstars coming all across the globe, there is no doubting that the league has become as inclusive as ever. Currently, it is European superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic who are some of the best in the league.
While it isn't rare anymore to see top international talent in the draft nowadays, back in the 90s and the 2000s, international players were seen somewhat as a risk. The 2002 draft, though, was an outlier in the same regard.
With players like Yao Ming, the draft was full of international prospects. Joining the broadcast of the 2002 draft were both Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith. The duo is now known for their incredible pre-game show, Inside the NBA, where the special guests in the draft repeatedly gave their inputs about the draftees.
Given how many international prospects were at the top of the class, Kenny and Chuck made fun of the mentioning that there would be a language barrier as some of them didn't even know how to speak English.
Former NBA commissioner, the late David Stern, was all ears to the comments made by the duo. Before declaring the 26th draft pick for the San Antonio Spurs, Stern roasted the two. (46:38 onwards):
"When Kenny and Charles first came into the league, they didn’t speak English either."
The 2002 draft class certainly turned out to be great, as multiple international talents ended up becoming key players for franchises. While there were concerns specifically surrounding Yao Ming and how he would cope with the cultural shift, the Chinese superstar settled in pretty well and had some incredible seasons with the Houston Rockets.
Apart from him, players like Amar'e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and Caron Butler stood out in the draft. This draft certainly proved that taking a risk on international talents might well be worth it.