As the NBA community watches turmoil unfold between Russia and Ukraine, the history between Ukraine and the league comes into focus.
Basketball is a global sport, and the America-based NBA is seen as the most competitive professional basketball league of all. Athletes from all over the world endeavor to play in the NBA for maximum exposure and more lucrative deals.
While the NBA is dominated by Eastern European stars such as Luka Dončić and Nikola Jokić, several athletes born in Ukraine have also made it all the way to the NBA. Historically, there have been 9 NBA players who were born in Ukraine, although as the current conflict implies, the history between Russia and Ukraine makes national identity rather complicated.
Viktor Khryapa exemplifies this: he was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 1982, but he is listed as a Russian national and played for CSKA Moscow before and after his time in the NBA. Despite Ukranian birthplace and inclusion on this list, he is considered one of the greatest Russian NBA players of all time.
Are there any Ukrainian NBA players in the league right now?
At the moment, there are two active NBA players who were born in Ukraine: Alex Len and Svi Mykhailiuk.
Len was the No. 5 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and has now played for five different NBA teams, including two stints with the Sacramento Kings. The 28-year-old center is currently with the Kings again, although Len was considered a potential trading piece for a Cavs deal before the deadline. Len made headlines in 2020 when it took him more than 24 days to recover from the coronavirus, demonstrating how destructive the virus could be to professional athletes.
Sviatoslav “Svi” Mykhailiuk is a sharpshooter who was initially drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018. Since then, Mykhailiuk has been on four different NBA teams, his current one being the Toronto Raptors. While Mykhailiuk reportedly chose the Raptors over a return to the Lakers in 2021, he has been underperforming this season despite having more room to shoot, which put the Raptors in an impossible situation.