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The International Impact Of NBA Finals, World Cup & Beyond

Just like in the World Cup, the NBA Finals has players representing France, Argentina, Australia and Italy. This really lets us know much sports transcends culture and makes a global impact.

There's been a lot of discussion about how San Antonio has nine players from other countries. The impact of these players on the world is amazing. Not only are young kids from their countries watching basketball at a young age, but now these players are going back and helping to develop the sport in other countries as the game continues to grow. And these countries are producing NBA-quality players via, for example, academies in China (which is like what we call the AAU system in North America). These international basketball players have found their own paths, and now are being showcased in the greatest league's spotlight during the height of the greatest moment...the NBA Finals.

Guys like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli are not just heroes in another country, but they have become heroes here. They are heroes and contributors to the San Antonio community and to the NBA game. They didn't just make it, they are really playing ball.

I think this is a window into how popular the sport of basketball has become globally. Now an elementary school student in another country knows that the NBA dream can come true for them if they work hard, focus, listen to their teachers, pay attention to their coaches. They could be the next one. It's a window of hope.

It's so exciting to think about...a country like China finding their next player. Or places like India and the Philippines, both countries that love basketball, waiting for their first breakthrough player. This is a global sport that impacts the world, and we are going to continue to get the best players, and they are clearly not just from North America. Just 10, 20, 30 years ago, we were only looking in our backyards. Now we know there are guys and girls out there who can really play basketball...and we need to get out there and find them.

With the World Cup starting today and the Finals going on right now, I am amazed at the way sports connects us all together. So many of these players, who come from all over the world, have such incredible backstories.

One backstory that I find incredibly intriguing is that of Chris Wondolowski from the U.S. World Cup team, who is part Native American. I too am part Native American (Choctaw), and Chris is a hero of mine. Chris is unique because he's part Native American and has come from very humble underdog beginnings.

He went to a small Division II school, Chico State, where he didn't have the publicity you get at a major D1 school. People in soccer circles didn't know who he was, but he went to the soccer combine and caught the eyes of a few general managers. He wound up getting drafted by the San Jose Earthquakes and excelling in MLS soccer ever since. He was not a kid who grew up with a silver spoon, he doesn't even have an agent; he represents himself.

Chris's mom is Native American, a Kiowa native from Oklahoma. Chris and his brothers all received their Indian names in a ceremony together and Chris was chosen as "Bau Daigh," which means warrior coming over a hill. That bloodline, that warrior spirit, has obviously been infused in him, being someone who never quits, never gives up.

Can you imagine tying to make a 23-man roster for the World Cup, which is a dream come true for any soccer player, let alone one of four forwards that they bring...and one of the last spots open is between you and Landon Donovan (obviously one of the soccer greats). Chris prevailed. The warrior spirit prevailed, and now he is the first self-identified Native American to play on the U.S. World Cup team. He didn't look at the odds; he looked at the opportunity...and I think that's how a lot of the NBA's international players have – and continue to – look at their goals.

Just like the paths of a lot of the Spurs players, which we were sometimes harder paths, Chris did not give up. He, like many of the Spurs players, is representing a body of people. For Chris, it is the Native Americans. It is all so much bigger than each individual athlete.

Sports can truly tie the world together into a much bigger story than one can imagine. And I love being alive today to witness it all!

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