UPDATE: We are updating this piece for 2020! There are some edits to this piece, which was originally published on May 11, 2018.
In most years, people from all over the Washington metropolitan area flock to the European Union member states’ embassies. Some nations are more popular than others, but it’s an annual tradition for many.
This year, things are different due to the coronavirus. Saturday would have been that day, one day after “Europe Day” to commemorate peace on the continent, but all facilities are closed. So we won’t be able to sample beers from the Belgian or German embassies, sample pasta from the Italian Embassy or have pierogies from the Polish Embassy.
And if all that weren’t enough, we as Americans are banned from non-essential travel to the EU’s Schengen Area, an open border zone that comprises most of continental Europe. The Schengen Area allows one to travel freely from member state to another like we do when going from D.C. to Virginia or Maryland and vice versa.
So why should we as basketball fans in the United States celebrate the European Union?
It’s because the EU — and Europe as a whole — isn’t just one continent in the world. Europe also provided the most non-American talent to the NBA and WNBA over the years.
In this post, we’ll write something about every EU member state and their most famous player(s) in alphabetical order of each country.
What is the European Union?
The European Union is a multi-national political and economic union of 27 countries that make up most of Europe itself. It was founded in the Treaty of Rome in 1958 as the European Economic Community when Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany agreed to work together on trade. The EEC gradually expanded to include most western European states in the following decades.
The European Union adopted its current name in 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty was signed and many of the former Eastern Bloc countries joined the EU in the years after that. The Treaty of Lisbon was signed in 2007 which adopted most of the EU’s current structure today.
The de-facto capital of the European Union is Brussels, Belgium. Most of the institutions are located near the historical city center on Wetstraat/Rue de la Loi, a major street just west of Het Jubelpark/Le Parc du Cinquantenaire.
Brussels isn’t the only city with EU institutions. The courts are in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, the official seat of the EU Parliament is in Strasbourg, France and the European Central Bank is in Frankfurt, Germany.
What will the EU Delegation to the US host this year?
Because of the coronavirus, the most notable event is a “Stronger Together” live stream from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on Saturday which will feature a number of EU figures, including Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans!
Miss watching sports?— EU in the US (@EUintheUS) May 6, 2020
Our #StrongerTogether #EuropeDay live broadcast this Saturday at 10 EDT will feature @Latvia_USA @NBA @DBertans_42 who misses seeing @WashWizards fans very much, too, and looks forward to many more 3-Pt Field Goals https://t.co/ciCllcqSXB pic.twitter.com/gcrKSu5kZu
Alright, let’s get to the countries in alphabetical order. All population figures are accurate as of 2019 from the European Union itself.
- Capital: Vienna
- Official/De Facto Language: German
- Population: 8,858,775
- Who’s a famous Austrian NBA/WNBA player? San Antonio Spurs post Jakob Poeltl (Yah-kub Puurtl) is in his second NBA season. He’s also the first Austrian to play in the NBA.
- What else is Austria known for? Many famous classical music composers like Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johannes Brahms spent time in Vienna. It’s also the birthplace of actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- Capital: Brussels
- Official/De Facto Languages: Dutch, French, German
- Population: 11,455,519
- Who are some famous Belgian NBA/WNBA players? Mystics forward and 2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman is from Ieper, a city in West Flanders province. It’s less than 30 miles north of Lille, France. If you’re from Belgium, you may still think that Ann Wauters, the first pick of the 2000 WNBA Draft is better, all things considered (though I vehemently disagree). Finally, Kim Mestdagh was also on Washington’s 2019 WNBA championship team.
- Any Wizards ties to Belgium? Yes. Kamiah Adams, Bradley Beal’s wife, was born in Brussels.
- Okay, does Belgium have any NBA players? D.J. Mbenga is the only Belgian citizen to play in the league. Long-time NBA guard Tony Parker was born here. Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic was also raised in Brussels while his father played basketball there.
- What else is Belgium known for? Besides hosting most of the EU’s institutions, Belgium is known for its food and drink which range from Trappist beer, chocolate, to what we call french fries. They are known for comics like “The Smurfs” and invented the saxophone. Finally, Belgium is where the late Marvin Gaye wrote many of his later hits like “Sexual Healing.”
- Capital: Sofia
- Official/De Facto Language: Bulgarian
- Population: 7,000,039
- Who’s a famous Bulgarian basketball player? Georgi Glouchkov. He played one season for the Phoenix Suns in 1985-86 and was the first player from the Eastern Bloc to play in the NBA. Today, Glouchkov is the President of the Bulgarian Basketball Federation.
- What else is Bulgaria known for? It is known as the Land of the Roses. In fact, Bulgaria produces most of the world’s rose oil.
- Capital: Zagreb
- Official/De Facto Language: Croatian
- Population: 4,076,246
- Who’s a famous Croatian NBA/WNBA player? Toni Kukoc. The forward played 13 NBA seasons and was the started for the Chicago Bulls when they won three straight championships from 1996-98.
- Any Wizards ties to Croatia? Bojan Bogdanovic played for the Wizards for part of the 2016-17 season.
- What else is Croatia known for? Scenic coastlines along the Adriatic Sea. Over 17 million people visited Croatia in 2017.
- Capital: Nicosia
- Official/De Facto Languages: Greek and Turkish
- Population: 875,899
- Who’s a famous Cypriot NBA/WNBA player? None
- What else is Cyprus known for? It is a tourist destination given its location on the Mediterranean Sea. Cyprus also is known for having the oldest wine label.
- Capital: Prague
- Official/De Facto Language: Czech
- Population: 10,649,800
- Who’s a famous Czech NBA/WNBA player? Wizards alum Tomas Satoransky! DUH!
- Any other Wizards or Mystics connections? Jan Vesely, the Wizards’ 2011 first round pick is from here. Former Mystics center Kia Vaughn naturalized as a Czech citizen as well and plays for their national team.
- What else is the Czech Republic known for? The country used to be what was once known as the Kingdom of Bohemia. And though Belgians and Germans may contest this, the Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita worldwide. The pilsner originated here!
- Capital: Copenhagen
- Official/De Facto Language: Danish
- Population: 5,806,081
- Who’s a famous Danish NBA/WNBA player? Lars Hansen was born in Denmark to Danish parents, but he became a Canadian citizen. Hansen played 15 games for the Seattle SuperSonics in 1978-79 when they won the NBA championship against the Bullets.
- What else is Denmark known for? Legos! And yes, danish pastries came from here too.
- Capital: Tallinn
- Official/De Facto Language: Estonian
- Population: 1,324,820
- Who’s a famous Estonian NBA/WNBA player? Martin Muursepp was the 25th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft and played a couple of years for the Heat and Mavericks.
- What else is Estonia known for? Skype. The original software was developed by Estonian developers Priit Kasesalu and Jaan Tallinn back in 2003.
- Capital: Helsinki
- Official/De Facto Languages: Finnish and Swedish
- Population: 5,517,919
- Who’s a famous Finnish NBA/WNBA player? Chicago Bulls rookie forward Lauri Markkanen is from Finland. He even led Finland to a big win over France in EuroBasket 2017 at home.
- Do the Wizards have ties with Finland? Yes. former Wizards forward and-now color analyst Drew Gooden is Finnish from his mother’s side of the family. He was planning on playing for Finland in the 2014 FIBA World Cup but couldn’t because paperwork was not filed in time.
- What else is Finland known for? Nokia’s headquarters is based in Espoo. Before Samsung and Apple dominated the cell phone marketplace, it was ALL NOKIA!
- Capital: Paris
- Official/De Facto Language: French
- Population: 67,012,883
- Who’s a famous French NBA/WNBA player? Tony Parker by far because he was a six-time All-Star and won the 2007 NBA Finals MVP Award with the San Antonio Spurs.
- What about D.C.’ s connections to France? Oui! Ian Mahinmi is from Rouen, the largest city in Normandy, which is in northern France. Former Wizards center Kevin Seraphin and former Mystics player Bria Hartley have suited for their national team as well.
- What else is France known for? France seems to have an aspirational vibe to it for Americans, thanks to the Parisian vibe in the north and its exquisite cuisine. Before you think of France as a Nordic nation, the southern part has a lifestyle of its own. Nice (pronounced like niece) is a top vacation destination. In fact, France seems to be the aspirational European country From a historical context, France is the first country to recognize American independence from the British back in the Revolutionary War.
- Capital: Berlin
- Official/De Facto Language: German
- Population: 83,019,213
- Who’s a famous German NBA/WNBA player? By far, the most famous German NBA player is long-time Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. He was a 14-time NBA All-Star, the 2007 NBA MVP and the 2011 NBA Finals MVP. Among German players in their prime, Dennis Schroder plays for the Thunder.
- What about D.C. connections? Moritz Wagner and Issac Bonga are the Wizards’ German representatives. Both came to D.C. in a 2019 summer trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.
- What else is Germany known for? Germany is known for its luxury car brands (BMW, Mercedes, Audi) and the Autobahn. Like Belgium, Germany is known for beer as well. In fact. Munich is the home of Oktoberfest in the early fall. And more Americans claim German ancestry than any other country or part of the world.
- Capital: Athens
- Official/De Facto Language: Greek
- Population: 10,724,599
- Who’s a famous Greek NBA/WNBA player? Bucks forward and 2018-19 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
- Any D.C. connections to Greece? Zoi Dimitrakou played a few games for the Mystics in the 2016 season.
- What else is Greece known for? Greece is the origin of the Olympics as we know them today. It’s also where democracy originated and much of western society as we know it.
- Capital: Budapest
- Official/De Facto Language: Hungarian
- Population: 9,772,756
- Who are some famous Hungarian NBA/WNBA players? Kornel David, a forward who played two seasons for the Bulls, Cavaliers, Raptors and Pistons from 1999-2001. Hungary is probably better known for American WNBA players who naturalized there, most notably Chicago Sky guards Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot.
- What else is Hungary known for? Hungary, like Austria, is well known for being a hub of classical piano music composers. Bela Bartok and Franz Liszt come to mind.
- Capital: Dublin
- Official/De Facto Languages: Irish and English
- Population: 4,904,240
- Who’s a famous Irish NBA/WNBA player? Pat Burke, who played three NBA seasons for the Orlando Magic (2002-03) and Phoenix Suns (2005-07). Burke played his college basketball at Auburn from 1993-97.
- What else is Ireland known for? Guinness beer and Saint Patrick’s Day are the low hanging fruits. But Ireland is also known for being home of RyanAir, a low-cost air carrier that serves all over the EU. The Irish also invented the ejection seat for fighter jets!
- Capital: Rome
- Official/De Facto Language: Italian
- Population: 60,359,546
- Who’s a famous Italian NBA/WNBA player? Andrea Bargnani was the top pick of the 2006 NBA Draft where he played for the Raptors, Knicks and Nets for over a decade. The late Kobe Bryant also spent his childhood here and spoke fluent Italian because of it.
- But Bargnani is a draft bust, right? Bargnani may be a bust because he was never an All-Star. But he played over a decade in the NBA, which most first overall picks get to do anywhere. In my opinion, the most consistent Italian NBA player over the years is Marco Belinelli. Belinelli has been a journeyman, but he was part of the Spurs’ 2014 NBA championship team.
- What else is Italy known for? Italy is known for its cuisine, including pasta and wine. Many famous Italian artists, especially from the Renaissance have their paintings shown in museums all over the world. And Italy was once the heart of the Roman Empire about 2,000 years ago.
- Capital: Riga
- Official/De Facto Language: Latvian
- Population: 1,919,968
- Who’s a famous Latvian NBA/WNBA player? Wizards forward Davis Bertans of course! He’s been a three point shooting machine! He’s not the only Latvian on Washington’s roster since Anzejs Pasecniks is also there!
- Fake news! Who is the most famous Latvian player once you take D.C. fandom out of it? Okay, it’s Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis. He was an All-Star too by the way.
- What else is Latvia known for? Much of Latvia’s land is a pristine forest. Also, the old town of Riga is a UNESCO Heritage site. Riga has been a major city of European trade since the Middle Ages!
- Capital: Vilnius
- Official/De Facto Language: Lithuanian
- Population: 2,794,184
- Who are some famous Lithuanian NBA/WNBA players? Grizzliess center Jonas Valanciunas tops the list among current Lithuanians here in the USA. But Basketball Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis is the most famous Lithuanian basketball player ever. He played seven great seasons for the Portland Trail Blazers from 1995-2001 and 2002-03, but Sabonis was 31 when he finally started his NBA career. If he started his career sooner, Sabonis could have been one of the top NBA centers in the last 30 years.
- Any Wizards connections to Lithuania? Yes. Darius Songaila played for Washington from 2006-09. And though he never played for the Wizards, former Maryland Terrapins guard Sarunas Jasikevicius played in the NBA. Zydrunas Ilgauskas also spent a few weeks on the roster in 2010.
- What else is Lithuania known for? During Saint Patrick’s Day, Vilnius turns the Vilnele River green. Literally! And finally, Lithuania is a European country where basketball is truly king.
- Capital: Luxembourg City
- Official/De Facto Languages: French, German, Luxembourgish
- Population: 613,894
- Who are some famous Luxembourgian NBA/WNBA players? Alvin Jones was a second-round pick in the 2001 NBA Draft and played for the Philadelphia 76ers in the 2001-02 season.
- What else is Luxembourg known for? To Americans, Luxembourg is probably confused with the Netherlands because both have very similar looking flags, minus the shade of blue. But for Europeans, Luxembourg is known for being the home of the RTL Group, which runs media channels in multiple countries. Within the Benelux, RTL is best known for its French-language network in Belgium, a Luxembourgish language network at home and a Dutch language network which serves the Netherlands.
- Capital: Valletta
- Official/De Facto Languages: Maltese and English
- Population: 493,559
- Who are some famous Maltese NBA/WNBA players? None.
- What else is Malta known for? Malta is an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea south of Italy. It’s known for having many old structures and being a tourist destination for its scenic coasts.
- Capital: Amsterdam is the official capital. But The Hague is the seat of government.
- Official/De Facto Language: Dutch
- Population: 17,282,163
- Who are some famous Dutch NBA/WNBA players? Rik Smits played 12 NBA seasons for the Indiana Pacers, made one All-Star appearance and was known as the “Dunking Dutchman.” Smits didn’t go back to Eindhoven, his hometown after retiring. He still lives in the USA and is regularly given a hero’s welcome at Pacers games like Gheorghe Muresan gets when he is at Wizards games.
- What else is the Netherlands known for? The Dutch are known for land reclamation because much of the country is at or below sea level. They are also famous for Gouda cheese, the Holstein Friesian cattle (a/k/a the dairy cow), stroopwafels (strohp-waffles), tulips, Delftware and wooden clogs. If you watch “The Voice” on NBC for the blind auditions, the show actually originated here, where it’s still very popular. Finally, the Dutch are probably the most American-friendly European group you will meet.
- Capital: Warsaw
- Official/De Facto Language: Polish
- Population: 37,972,812
- Who are some famous Polish NBA/WNBA players? Long-time Wizards center Marcin Gortat is the obvious pick for people in the nation’s capital. He was a mainstay in Washington for over five years and was remarkably consistent over the years. But for most WNBA fans, the late Margo Dydek is their Polish Machine. Dydek was the first overall pick in the 1998 WNBA Draft and played 11 seasons here in the United States.
- What else is Poland known for? Pierogi, kielbasa and vodka are some of the easy picks on the food and drink front. But Poland is also known for being the birthplace of many famous scientists like Marie Curie, Nicolaus Copernicus and Daniel Fahrenheit.
- Capital: Lisbon
- Official/De Facto Language: Portuguese
- Population: 10,276,617
- Who are some famous Portuguese NBA/WNBA players? Ticha Penicheiro is the most famous Portuguese basketball player. She played 15 years for the Sacramento Monarchs, Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky from 1998-2012. Also, she spent her college years at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Penicheiro retired as the WNBA’s career leading assister until Sue Bird broke it.
- What else is Portugal known for? Portugal is certainly famous for being the birthplace of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, but it’s also the home of port wine and Piri Piri (or Peri Peri) chicken and a lot of scenic coastlines along the western Iberian peninsula.
- Capital: Bucharest
- Official/De Facto Language: Romanian
- Population: 19,414,458
- Who are some famous Romanian NBA/WNBA players? Gheorghe Muresan played six seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Wizards from 1995-2000.
- Isn’t Ernie Grunfeld Romanian? Yes, the Wizards’ former President of Basketball Operations was born in Romania. However, he naturalized as an American citizen and was a member of the 1976 USA Basketball men’s national team that won the Gold Medal in Montreal, Canada.
- What else is Romania known for? Vlad the Impaler ruled Wallachia in the 15th century at various points. He’s the origin of the Count Dracula myth. In fact, Vlad was known as Dracula as well. Before the United States became a women’s gymnastics power, Romania was one of the powers. Nadia Comanci was their star back in the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games.
- Capital: Bratislava
- Official/De Facto Language: Slovak
- Population: 5,450,421
- Who are some famous Slovakian NBA/WNBA players? Richard Petruska played for the Houston Rockets in the 1993-1994 season and won a championship that season. Washington Wizards assistant coach Kristi Toliver acquired Slovakian citizenship and played for their national team in EuroBasket Women 2015.
- What else is Slovakia known for? Slovakia has a very picturesque landscape with the Tatra mountains that border Poland. You can also see historical sites like the Spis Castle while you’re here.
- Capital: Ljubljana
- Official/De Facto Language: Slovene
- Population: 2,080,908
- Who are some famous Slovenian NBA/WNBA players? Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is the most well-known player from the country where he became the 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in 2019-20. Heat guard Goran Dragic is still going strong.
- What else is Slovenia known for? This central European nation is known for its vineyards and Lake Bled, which is in the Julian Alps or the northwestern part of the nation.
- Capital: Madrid
- Official/De Facto Language: Spanish
- Population: 46,937,060
- Who are some famous Spanish NBA/WNBA players? Pau Gasol is the most famous Spaniard in the NBA. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2002 and is a six-time NBA All-Star. Gasol’s most successful run was with the Lakers from 2008-2014 when he won two NBA titles. His younger brother Marc plays for the Raptors. Among Spanish women’s players, Mercury forward Sancho Lyttle is their most famous WNBA player. Lyttle naturalized as a Spanish citizen in 2010 and played a major role on their 2013 and 2017 EuroBasket Women titles.
- What else is Spain known for? Spain is known for cultural activities like flamenco dancing and the annual running of the Bulls in Pamplona. The most famous Spanish brand I can think of is Santander. Spanish food is getting more popular in America too with tapas bars becoming a popular spot for many. My favorite Spanish dish is paella though.
- Capital: Stockholm
- Official/De Facto Language: Swedish
- Population: 10,230,185
- Who are some famous Swedish NBA/WNBA players? Jonas Jerebko played ten NBA seasons and was a solid rotation player, even if he was never a starter for most of his career. New York Liberty center Amanda Zahui B. is the most famous Swedish WNBA player where she played for the Tulsa Shock in 2015 before coming to New York the next season.
- What else is Sweden known for? Furniture brand Ikea, car manufacturer Volvo and apparel retailer H&M are the most notable Swedish brands. That said, Ikea is headquartered in the Netherlands for tax purposes.
There is one country that was part of the European Union but left this year. I just left it below for reference.
The United Kingdom joined the European Union on January 1, 1973 and left on January 31, 2020. Their information is below but styled accordingly.
Official/De Facto Language: English
Who are some famous British NBA/WNBA players? Luol Deng is the most famous British player. Deng is best known for his long run with the Chicago Bulls from 2004-14 where he was named a two-time NBA All-Star.
What else is the U.K. known for? The U.K. is well known for having the most famous monarchy in the world with Queen Elizabeth II being the U.K.’s head of state and in many countries throughout multiple continents. The British are also famous for those red telephone booths you see in London, the Union Jack flag and fish and chips, just to name very few.
To our readers in the EU, we hope you have a Happy Europe Day!