Canada is a country known for many great things: maple syrup, socialized medicine, Degrassi… It’s also known for some not-so-great things: bagged milk, snooty Montréalais, Tom Green… For a long time, hoops in the Great White North fell squarely into the latter category, despite the fact that it was actually a Canuck, James Naismith, who invented the game in 1891.
But although the Canadian roots of basketball’s creator had little effect on its popularity north of the border, the expansion of the NBA to Toronto, and to a lesser extent, Vancouver, Canada, combined with the outstanding play of Steve Nash throughout the 2000s, have led to a basketball revolution in the nation. From the inception of the league in 1949 through 2011, only 19 players with Canadian citizenship had ever played in an NBA game. But in the past five years, that number has risen to 31, thanks to an impressive influx of young Canadian talent into the league.
Nine Canadians have been selected in the first round of the NBA Draft since 2011, including back-to-back first-overall picks, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins in 2013 and 2014. This has infused some much-needed talent into the league, for a country that has just one Hall of Fame player to its name, Bob Houbregs—who mostly made the cut thanks to his fantastic career with the Washington Huskies in the 1950s.
This weekend, the basketball world will descend upon Toronto for NBA All-Star Weekend. It will mark the first time in the 65-year history of the event that it has been held outside the United States, and although no Canadian-born citizens made the All-Star Game itself, the nation’s influence upon the game will be evident in many of the events.
On Friday, Feb. 12, the festivities begin with the Rising Stars Challenge, which will pit the league’s best rookies and sophomores against one another in a battle between international players and ones born in the United States. Three Canadians will participate in the event: Andrew Wiggins, Dwight Powell, and Trey Lyles, with the former two both hailing from Toronto. On Saturday night, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors will look to unseat reigning champion Steph Curry in the Three-Point Contest. And when the main event begins on Sunday night, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will take the floor for the East, marking the first time two Raptors have competed in the All-Star Game together since 2001, when Vince Carter and Antonio Davis represented Toronto in Washington, D.C. All three nights of All-Star Weekend action will be televised on TNT.
With all the attention being paid to our northern neighbors and the sport of basketball this week, we decided to highlight the 12 best players to ever represent Canada in the NBA.