Though his countryman Vlade Divac enjoyed more success over a longer career in the NBA, Petrovic was viewed as one of the most skilled Europeans to ever play in the NBA, a budding star whose life was cut short when he was killed in a car accident in 1993 at the age of 28. His No. 3 was retired by the Nets in 1993 and nine years later, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He is credited as one of the biggest influence on the influx of talented Europeans to the NBA in the years following his death. On the court, he became one the highest-scoring and most accurate shooting guards in the NBA, earning All-NBA third team honors following the 1992-93 season. He was also a key member of the Nets resurgence in the early-to-mid '90s, along with Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman. He died in a traffic accident in Germany on June 7, 1993.
Riding the wave
With his recent announcement that his playing days with MLS' Los Angeles Galaxy are coming to an end, global icon David Beckham ended what was a brave experiment launched by America's No. 1 soccer league and one of its flagship franchises. And while the level of success of Beckham's Galaxy career can be debated, so can this: Is he the greatest English import in the history of American sport? One thing that cannot be denied: Dating to days long before Beckham, the history of sports in the U.S. is filled with stars from other countries who made a name — and built a legacy — playing for American-based teams (or for players of non-team sports, dominating in events on American soil). The following are some of the greatest athletes from around the globe to enjoy success as American imports.
Argentina: Manu Ginobili, NBA
Ginobili comes from an Italian-Argentine family of basketball players, and he has duel citizenship in Argentina and Italy. Considered one of the biggest NBA draft steals of all time when he was selected 57th overall in 1999 by the San Antonio Spurs, Ginobili was named an All-Star in 2005 and 2011 and won the the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2008. He has been an integral part of a long run of success by the Spurs, winning three NBA championships (2003, '05, '07). He is also one of only two players to have won a Euroleague title, an NBA championship, and an Olympic gold medal.
Australia: Greg Norman, Golf
Professional golfer Greg Norman, born in Australia in 1955, has twice won the Open Championship (often referred to as the British Open), the oldest of the four majors and the only one held outside the United States. Norman, known as the Shark, has 88 professional wins, including 20 on the PGA Tour (he was named PGA Player of the Year in 1995) and 14 on the European Tour. He was the first person in PGA Tour history to surpass $10 million in career earnings. Norman, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, has had enormous success in the game, but is also known for his near misses in several majors. At one time married to former professional tennis player Chris Evert, today he is involved in several businesses, and has a net worth believed to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. He is the father of two children and he and his wife, Kirsten Kutner, live in Florida.
Belgium: Kim Clijsters, Tennis
Clijsters, a former World No. 1 in both singles and doubles, has won 41 WTA singles titles and 11 WTA doubles titles. She has won four Grand Slam singles titles — three at the US Open (2005, '09, '10) and one at the Australian Open in 2011. Known for her devastating forehand, Clijsters has been runner-up in four Grand Slam singles tournaments, and won the WTA Tour Championships singles title in 2002, 2003 and 2010. She announced her retirement in 2012.
Brazil: Pele, Soccer
Regarded by many as the best soccer player of all time, Pele is the all-time leading scorer of the Brazil national team and the only player to be a part of three World Cup-winning squads. In 1974, Pele came out of semi-retirement to sign with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League for the 1975 season. Though not the player he once was, he is credited with significantly raising public interest in soccer in the United States. In his final year with the club, he helped lead the Cosmos to the 1977 NASL championship.
Canada: Wayne Gretzky, NHL
It might seem unfair to have to live up to the nickname "The Great One," but Gretzky definitely did over his 20-year NHL career. Born and raised in Brantford, Ontario, he is the leading point-scorer in NHL history and the only player to amass more than 200 points in one season, which he accomplished four times. After his retirement in 1999, he was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The NHL retired his jersey number 99 throughout the league, making him the only player to receive this honor.
China: Yao Ming, NBA
Retired professional basketball player Yao Ming was born in Shanghai, China, in 1980. The 7-foot-6 center was the tallest player in the NBA when he retired from the Houston Rockets in 2011 and today is still one of China’s most recognizable athletes. Ming, the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, was named to the All-Star first team eight times. He was credited by NBA commissioner David Stern for being a bridge between China and the U.S., and could have had even more success on the court if not for persistent injuries to his feet and ankles, which hastened his retirement. Ming competed for China in three Olympic Games, including Beijing in 2008, when he carried the Olympic flame into Tiananmen Square and his home country’s flag during the opening ceremony. Ming, who is married to a former basketball player for China and has one daughter, has since purchased the club team the Shanghai Sharks, for whom he played prior to joining the NBA.
Cuba: Tony Perez, MLB
Known as "Big Dog," Perez was a key member of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine," considered one of baseball's all-time greatest teams. An RBI powerhouse throughout his 23-year MLB career, he finished with a .279 batting average, 379 home runs, 1,652 RBI and 1,272 runs scored. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
Czechoslovakia: Martina Navratilova, Tennis
Considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major women's doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 major mixed doubles titles. She reached the Wimbledon singles final 12 times, and won the women's singles title at Wimbledon a record nine times. Her 74 consecutive wins is the longest winning streak in the open era, and she is only tennis player to have won eight different tournaments at least seven times. She amassed a career record of 1,442–219. Navratilova became a US citizen in 1981.
Dominican Republic: Albert Pujols, MLB
Pujols was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in 1980 and moved to the States in 1996. It didn't take long for the St. Louis Cardinals to realize they had struck gold after plucking Pujols from near obscurity in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB Draft, after he played one season of college ball. As a rookie in 2001, he unanimously won the NL Rookie of the Year award. The three-time MVP and nine-time All Star is the only player in MLB history to bat at least .300 with 30 or more home runs and 100 or more RBI in his first 10 seasons. Before the 2012 season, the Los Angeles Angels signed Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million deal.
England: David Beckham, Soccer
After establishing himself as one of the world's greatest, Beckham expanded his brand (and his global reach) with a much-publicized move to MLS and the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007. He was hardly an unknown in the States, however, having been a star as the sport's popularity grew in the U.S., being married to a Spice Girl and having a movie named after him. Nonetheless, the move was seen as a bit of an experiment, and the final results are debatable. What is not debatable, with Beckham's final game with the Galaxy less than two weeks away, is the on-field success the Galaxy have experienced with him (three MLS Cup appearances, one championship and a possible second on the way).
France: Tony Parker, NBA
Parker (far left) was born in Belgium in 1982 but raised in France by an African-American father (also a professional basketball player) and a Dutch mother (a model). He is a three-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs (2003, 2005, 2007) and was named MVP of the NBA Finals in 2007 — the first European-born player to receive the award. Parker, who is divorced from actress Eva Longoria, has been named to four NBA All-Star games. He was highly recruited by UCLA and Georgia Tech in 2000, but played in Europe until entering the NBA Draft in 2001. He also owns a stake in the French professional basketball team ASVEL Villeurbanne, a team he signed with during the 2011 NBA lockout. For those wondering, his fellow chap in San Antonio, Tim Duncan (also pictured) doesn't qualify for this list, having been born in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Germany: Steffi Graf, Tennis; Dirk Nowitzki, NBA
OK, so we cheated on this one and went with two from Germany. Graf, born in Germany in 1969, is one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, having won 22 Grand Slam singles titles during her amazing career. She was ranked No. 1 in the world a record 377 weeks and was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004. Graf, who retired in 1999, earned prize money in excess of $21 million. Her titles include the Australian Open (four times), the French Open (six), Wimbledon (seven) and the U.S. Open (five). She also won an Olympic gold medal at the 1988 games in Seoul. Nowitzki has had an impressive run of success since coming to the NBA from Germany in 2001 and is generally viewed as the man who pioneered the NBA's new European invasion. He has led the Mavericks to 12 consecutive NBA Playoffs, including the 2006 NBA Finals and the franchise's first championship in 2011. In 2007, the 11-time All Star became the NBA's first European-born player to win MVP.
Japan: Ichiro Suzuki, MLB
Originally a player in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball, Ichiro stormed onto the MLB scene in 2001 with the Seattle Mariners and quickly established himself as a hitting machine. Ichiro has broken several MLB batting records over his 12-season career, including the single-season record for hits with 262. He also had 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons, the longest streak by any player.
South Korea: Chan Ho Park, MLB
Chan Ho Park broke new ground in 1994, becoming the first South Korean-born player in MLB history. He had a breakout season in 1997, notching a 14–8 record and a 3.38 ERA in 32 appearances, 29 of them starts. Over a 16-year MLB career with eight teams, Park set the record for most wins by an Asian-born pitcher with 124 and amassed 1,715 strikeouts.
Mexico: Fernando Valenzuela, MLB
At the age of 20, Valenzuela became an instant sensation in Los Angeles when he won his first eight decisions and led the Dodgers to the 1981 World Series championship. Known for his devastating screwball, Valenzuela became the only player in MLB history to win the Rookie of the Year award and the Cy Young Award in the same season. The hysteria in L.A. following his record rookie campaign became known as "Fernandomania."
Panama: Rod Carew, MLB
Born and raised in racially segregated Panama, Carew moved with his family to New York when he was 14. Despite not playing baseball in high school, Carew was signed by the Twins in 1964 after a scout saw him play semipro ball for the Bronx Cavaliers. Three years later, he was the AL Rookie of the Year with Minnesota and first-time All-Star. He would make the next 17 Midsummer Classics, win seven batting titles and collect 3,053 hits in a Hall of Fame career. He also made time to take part in the U.S. military, serving a six-year commitment to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He remains the only Panamanian-born member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Philippines: Manny Pacquiao, Boxing
Some would argue no foreign-born athlete has lived the American Dream more than Pacquiao. Educated and trained in his homeland, Pacquiao turned pro and, despite being an virtual unknown by the American boxing media, quickly climbed the ladder in his craft before finally reaching the top, striking it rich and becoming one of the most famous in . . . Vegas, baby! While he has made more headlines in recent years for a boxing match he has yet to fight (will we ever see Pacquiao-Mayweather?!?!), he has also found life in front of the camera (and is reported to be working on his American film debut), on the microphone and in politics, winning a seat in the Philippines House of Representatives in 2010.
Puerto Rico: Roberto Clemente, MLB
Amassing 3,000 hits over 18 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1955 to 1972, Clemente is the first Hispanic player to win a World Series as a starter (1960), receive an MVP Award (1966) and be named World Series MVP (1971). He shares the record with Willie Mays for most Gold Glove Awards among outfielders with 12. He died in a plane crash on Dec. 31, 1972, while traveling to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1973, becoming the first Latin American player to be selected.
Russia: Ana Kournikova, Tennis
Yes, we know she never won a professional title. But she was also a bit of a trailblazer in the evolution of athletes as celebrities. Mega-star boyfriend. Tabloid covers. Modeling contract. Television appearances. Kournikova did 'em all, and one was among the first in the sports world. Born in Moscow in 1981, Kournikova moved to Florida to focus on tennis at the age of 10. One of the sport's bright young stars, she never managed to truly break through, but did manage to nearly break Google when her name was among the most-searched in the world, even after her playing days were over. In recent years she has been most-known for her relationship with singer Enrique Iglesias, becoming a U.S. citizen and serving as a trainer on the reality show 'The Biggest Loser.' Among the things names after Ana: an alcoholic drink, a poker hand and a computer virus.
Serbia: Novak Djokovic, Tennis
Djokovic has dominated around the world, but experienced of his crowning moments with the U.S. Open championship in 2011. The world's top-ranked player at the end of both 2011 and 2012, Djokovic was also one of the first athletes to find a voice through a new American fave — social media. In fact, he's so dialed in, even his dog has a Twitter feed.
Spain: Rafael Nadal, Tennis
Known as the "King of Clay" and considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Nadal has netted 11 Grand Slam singles titles, including a record seven French Open titles as well as the 2008 Olympic gold medal in singles. He completed the Career Grand Slam by winning the 2010 US Open. While clay is considered his speciality, Nadal is the first male tennis player to simultaneously hold Grand Slam tournament titles on clay, hardcourts and grass. His career prize money amounts to $50,061,827.
Sweden: Annika Sorenstam, Golf
Sweden typically makes its biggest sports noise in ice hockey and soccer. But perhaps no woman ever made more noise (or drew louder cheers) in the history of golf than Sorenstam. She is the LPGA career leader in money won (more than $22 million), owns eight Player of the Year titles and is a 10-time major winner (including three U.S. Opens). In 2003, Sorenstam increased her popularity beyond the sports world, drawing international headlines when she played with the men on the PGA Tour in the Colonial in Texas. She missed the cut but earned a new level of respect with players and fans alike.
Switzerland: Roger Federer, Tennis
Roger Federer, born in Switzerland in 1981, is widely considered to be the best tennis player of all time. He has 17 Grand Slam titles to his name, a silver medal in singles from the 2012 Olympic Games in London and a gold medal in doubles from the Beijing games in 2008. Whereas many players are considered specialists on one surface or another, Federer is dangerous on clay, grass and hard courts. His career prize money tops $74 million — making him the all-time leader in earnings. His titles include the Australian Open (four times), the French Open (one), Wimbledon (seven, including five in a row) and the U.S. Open (five in a row). He has been ranked No. 1 in the world for a total of 302 weeks overall, the most in the Open era. He and his wife, former WTA player Mirka Vavrinec, live in Switzerland and are parents of twin girls.
Taiwan: Yani Tseng, Golf
Never heard of Tsang? Or at the very least, know the name but sure of how good she is? Well, despite being far from a household name in the U.S., Tseng's game is anything but under the radar. She is the youngest golfer, male or female, to win five majors. She has been ranked No. 1 in the world since 2011. She already has 15 LPGA titles. She is on the verge of having enough career points to qualify for the Hall of Fame. And she is all of 23. Oh yeah, she was also named one of Time magazine's most influential people in the world in 2012.
Venezuela: Miguel Cabrera, MLB
Cabrera made his MLB debut at age 20 with the Florida Marlins on June 20, 2003 and became the third player since 1900 to hit a walk-off home run in his first game. Widely regarded as one of the best pure hitters in baseball, he became in 2012 the first player since 1967 to win the Triple Crown with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI. The seven-time All-Star also won the MVP that season. His achievements have made many proud in baseball-loving Venezuela, where he recently won the annual Luis Aparicio Prize, presented to the best Venezuelan major leaguer of the year.