We all have our weaknesses.
Quick, what do you think of when I say Siberia?
Well, forget about that. Move over debatably extinct tigers and gulag camps, make room for Siberia's latest claim to fame, the absurdly underrated Andrei Kirilenko.
When I was last in New York, a friend of mine (after a few beers) admitted to having a "man-crush" on Cleveland prodigy, LaBron James. As a basketball fan, this is understandable, but I still managed to think to myself, "Boy, is that screwed up! He's really confused." It wasn't until I found myself on Kirilenko.com did I realize the hypocrisy of my judgments and the extent of my affliction.
For some strange reason, I've grown to love foreign basketball players. Not only do they provide a global character to the game, but the path they've taken to the NBA must have been more difficult than the American players. Many of the Eastern European players came from war-torn former Yugoslavia. In fact, when the fighting began there, some of the pro players stopped talking to each other because of their affiliations (specifically, the late Drazen Petrovic ended his friendship with Vlade Divac because Vlade's a Serb.)
Maybe it's easier for some of the Western European players like Pau Gasol and Tony Parker, since their countries aren't in war turmoil and their professional leagues are stable, but think about the path Manu Ginobili had to take from Argentina, Arvydas Sabonis from Lithuania, Yao Ming from China, Hidayet Turkoglu from Turkey, Dikembe Mutombo from Congo, and Andrei Kirilenko from Siberia, all to become some of the best players in the NBA. It would be the equivalent of playing soccer here and wanting to play for Manchester United (like Tim Howard did).
So, may hat goes off to these guys. Not that it's any easier for American players to make it, but the foreign players don't seem to benefit from hype as much as young American players (I'm looking at you Felipe Lopez and Kwame Brown!).