Basketball Beyond the NBA: Top 5 European Leagues and Their Stars

When we talk about professional basketball, the NBA is often the first league that comes to mind. However, basketball passion and talent can be found across the globe, especially in Europe. Many European leagues have given rise to stars who have made significant marks in the basketball world. Let’s journey beyond the courts of the NBA and dive into the world of European basketball. As a basketball fan, if you ever feel like exploring betting options or tracking live scores, you might want to check out BetWinner (, a platform known for its comprehensive coverage of various sports.

1. Liga ACB (Spain)


  • Location: Spain
  • Founded: 1957
  • Teams: 18

Spain’s Liga ACB is often regarded as the second-best basketball league globally, after the NBA. It has been a breeding ground for many top-tier talents.

Notable Stars:

  • Pau Gasol: Before his NBA fame, Gasol played for FC Barcelona.
  • Ricky Rubio: Started his career with DKV Joventut before making a splash in the NBA.
  • Luka Dončić: Began with Real Madrid and rapidly ascended as a European prodigy.

2. EuroLeague


  • Location: Pan-European
  • Founded: 1958 (FIBA), 2000 (ULEB)
  • Teams: 18

Not tied to a specific country, the EuroLeague is a continental competition, hosting elite clubs from across Europe.

Notable Stars:

  • Vasilije Micić: One of the leading guards in Europe, previously played for Anadolu Efes.
  • Nando De Colo: Showcased his talents with CSKA Moscow before heading to the NBA.
  • Sergio Llull: A stalwart of Real Madrid, Llull has made a name for himself with his leadership and clutch performances.

3. VTB United League (Eastern Europe and Northern Europe)


  • Location: Eastern and Northern Europe
  • Founded: 2008
  • Teams: 13

VTB United League is a unique blend, comprising teams from Eastern Europe and Northern Europe. It is not just a showcase of basketball talent but also a testament to the sport’s unifying nature.

Notable Stars:

  • Alexey Shved: A standout player for Khimki Moscow Region, Shved has also played in the NBA.
  • Jan Veselý: Known for his time with Fenerbahçe, Veselý has displayed consistent performances in Europe.
  • Malcolm Delaney: After playing for Lokomotiv Kuban, Delaney made his way to the NBA.

4. Basketball Bundesliga (BBL) – Germany


  • Location: Germany
  • Founded: 1966
  • Teams: 18

The BBL has seen a surge in popularity over recent years and has become a significant hub for nurturing young talent.

Notable Stars:

  • Dennis Schröder: Before shining in the NBA, Schröder developed his skills in the BBL with Braunschweig.
  • Maodo Lô: An integral part of FC Bayern Munich, Lô has exhibited his prowess on multiple occasions.
  • Daniel Theis: Began his journey with Brose Bamberg and later transitioned to the NBA.

5. Lega Basket Serie A (LBA) – Italy


  • Location: Italy
  • Founded: 1920
  • Teams: 15

Italy’s LBA is one of the oldest basketball leagues in Europe and has a rich history filled with legendary players and epic matches.

Notable Stars:

  • Danilo Gallinari: Before his NBA journey, Gallinari played for Olimpia Milano.
  • Marco Belinelli: Another NBA star who commenced his career in the LBA with Fortitudo Bologna.
  • Alessandro Gentile: A star player for Olimpia Milano, Gentile’s skills are well-recognized in European circles.

European Players Making a Mark in the NBA

Europe’s contribution to basketball doesn’t stop at its domestic leagues. Over the years, several European players have transitioned to the NBA, not just participating, but also leaving a significant mark. The synergy between European basketball and the NBA has evolved remarkably over the past decades, creating a dynamic exchange of talent, tactics, and cultural appreciation.

Pioneers and Trailblazers:

  • Dirk Nowitzki (Germany): Arguably one of the most successful European players in the NBA, Dirk played 21 seasons for the Dallas Mavericks, securing an NBA championship in 2011 and being named the Finals MVP.
  • Arvydas Sabonis (Lithuania): Before joining the NBA, Sabonis was a legend in European basketball. When he eventually played for the Portland Trail Blazers, he showcased a unique blend of skill and intelligence, earning accolades and respect.
  • Toni Kukoč (Croatia): A versatile forward, Kukoč played a pivotal role in the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat in the 1990s alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

The New Generation:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece): Often dubbed “The Greek Freak”, Giannis has already bagged multiple MVP titles in the NBA, playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. His rise from humble beginnings in Athens to NBA stardom is nothing short of inspiring.
  • Nikola Jokić (Serbia): Jokić, playing for the Denver Nuggets, is known for his exceptional skills as a center, especially his playmaking abilities. His performances have redefined the role of big men in modern basketball.
  • Kristaps Porziņģis (Latvia): Known as “The Unicorn” for his unique combination of height and skill set, Porziņģis has showcased his prowess both in the European courts and the NBA.


European basketball is a treasure trove of talent, competition, and passion. These leagues, often overshadowed by the NBA, have their own stories, heroes, and legends that have shaped the game’s landscape. For a more detailed look into the history and intricacies of European basketball, you might want to explore this Wikipedia article.


  1. Q: Which European league is considered closest in competition to the NBA?
    • A: The Liga ACB from Spain is often cited as the second-best basketball league globally.
  2. Q: How many teams play in the EuroLeague?
    • A: The EuroLeague consists of 18 elite basketball clubs from across Europe.
  3. Q: Are there many players who transition between the NBA and European leagues?
    • A: Yes, numerous players have successfully transitioned between European leagues and the NBA, and vice versa.