Yao Ming makes history as first FIBA player selected No. 1 in NBA Draft

MIES (Switzerland) – The 2002 NBA Draft will go down in history as one of FIBA’s most iconic moments because Yao Ming of China was selected by the Houston Rockets with the No. 1 pick becoming the first international player to be picked number one overall in the draft.

Yao immediately became a legend in China and world basketball on June 26, 2002 when NBA Commissioner David Stern called out the center’s name first on the night at the New York Theatre at Madison Square Garden.

Yao played international basketball for over 10 years, playing in both junior and senior World Cups as well as numerous Asia Cups and Olympic Games.  

Many international players had been drafted into the NBA prior to Yao, but the previous highest pick for an international player was No. 3 overall in 2001 when Spaniard Pau Gasol was chosen by the Atlanta Hawks.

Yao is one of only two players without competitive experience in the United States to be drafted first overall – the other being Andrea Bargnani of Italy in 2006 by the Toronto Raptors.

Australian Andrew Bogut was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 by the Milwaukee Bucks, but he had played two seasons of collegiate basketball at the University of Utah. Australian-American Kyrie Irving played at Duke University before going first in 2011 while Canadians Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins played at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and University of Kansas, respectively, prior to being picked first in 2013 and 2014, respectively. And Ben Simmons of Australia went first overall in 2016 after one season at Louisiana State University.

The performances of Yao and the others led NBA teams to bring in more and more international players. Prior to the 2021-22 season, there were 109 international players from 39 countries on NBA opening-night rosters. It was the eighth consecutive season in which at least 100 international players made opening-night rosters. The number of international players in the NBA grew from five in 1946-47 to a record 113 at the start of the 2016-17 season.