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Latinos in the NBA 

Trailblazer of the Day | Friday, October 4, 2013

Butch Lee and Andres Nocioni

Basketball has been played on Latin American and Caribbean courts for almost as long as it’s been played in the United States. As the Bulls begin their 2013-14 Championship run, let’s honor some trailblazing Latino hoopsters.

The first Latino to play in the NBA was Butch Lee, who signed with the Atlanta Hawks in 1978 after starring at Marquette University. Lee is one of the few players to be named MVP of the NCAA Final Four (1977), and win both NCAA and NBA Championships. He is now coaching in his native Santurce, Puerto Rico.

The first Latino Chicago Bull was Argentine Andres Nocioni (2004-08). He helped Argentina’s Men’s Basketball team win the Gold in the 2004 Summer Olympics & the Bronze in 2008. As a Bull, Nocioni became a fan favorite for his brutal defense and clutch play-off performances. He was the Bulls’ Player of the Year in 2005-06.

Another Chicago fan favorite was small forward Mark Aguirre, whose father was born in Mexico. Aguirre was a star at Westinghouse High School and DePaul University before having a distinguished NBA career.

Other milestones:

•    The first Latino drafted by an NBA team was Al Cueto, a Cuban-born star at University of Tulsa who was drafted by Seattle in 1969, but never played in the NBA.

•    The first Mexican-born NBA player was Horacio Llamas, who signed with the Phoenix Suns in 1996.

•    On the 2013 NBA rosters, there are 18 foreign-born Latino players (including Spain’s dynamic siblings, Pau and Marc Gasol) and six U.S.-born players of Latino heritage.

•    The first breakout women’s star was Rebecca Lobo – of Cuban-Irish heritage – who started for UConn during their perfect 1995 season and won Gold with the U.S. Women’s team in the 1996 Summer Olympics. About 25 Latinas have played in the WNBA, most from Spain or Brazil. This year, we saw the first WNBA All-Star from South America: Brazilian Erika de Souza.