In the 2002 NBA Draft the Houston Rockets used both first round picks on globally recognized international talent: Chinese center Yao Ming and other guy Slovenian small/power forward Bostjan Nachbar.
Yao rode an illustrious yet unfulfilled career to the Hall of Fame. While Nachbar rode an unprecedented basketball journey across several continents to his current role, gunning in Spain’s Liga ACB, advocating for youth with learning disabilities and hosting podcasts from his native Slovenia.
Yes. Bostjan Nachbar, a 36 year old Baloncesto Sevilla forward, has two active podcasts. One in English and one in Slovene. Guests have included Clippers sharpshooter J.J. Redick and the dude who can withstand any temperature from the Columbia outerwear commercials.
Approaching the end of a nearly two decade playing career Nachbar has accumulated a U-20 European Championship, seven years in the NBA, a German league title and a Spanish league title. Those accolades far eclipse many of his better-compensated Rocket teammates like Mo Taylor and Kelvin Cato.
Nachbar: Houston’s International Tryst
Yao Ming’s selection took the NBA and the Houston Rockets into the world’s largest market, but Nachbar’s selection put the Rockets smack in the middle of the NBA’s run on international draft picks.
Today, NBA general managers practice “draft and stash.” The practice of picking a young international player to keep overseas at no cost to the NBA franchise. It saves money. It saves a roster spot. And it means a franchise holds the player’s rights should they develop into an NBA ready talent. It hasn’t always been that way.
In the early 2000’s every string bean 18 year old with a foreign passport and a few grainy mixtapes was bona fide draft material. The 2002 draft alone included Yao Ming, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Nene (Hilario), Bostjan Nachbar, Jiri Welsch and Nenad Krstic in the first round. Each selected with a ‘draft and play’ mentality fueled by a 2002 all star game roster filled out with Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Peja Stojakovic.
Drafting Nachbar defined where the Rockets were as a franchise in 2002. A team dipping their toe in the latest NBA trend to stave off a budding sense of insufficiency.
The Rockets were good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to make a run. Drafting Yao Ming made clear the team would be markedly different in two seasons. And Steve Francis was proving to be a superstar with a career mirroring Stephon Marbury or gulp Tracy McGrady. Outstanding individual talents with highlight plays that didn’t always translate into wins or playoff success.
Nachbar was a real NBA prospect, but Carroll Dawson was searching for a spark that could come online along with Yao. The NBA had just witnessed Dirk Nowitzki transition from no-name draft pick to all star in a handful of seasons. Why couldn’t the same hold true for Nachbar, Tskitishvili or Nene?
Nachbar’s Most Memorable Houston Moments
If you’re still reading this article, you should know why someone wrote 1,000 words about Bostjan Nachbar.
Because Ethan wrote his memories of Rockets talisman and good dude on Twitter Moochie Norris. Ethan’s article included the following photo that prompted a call from my father, ever the fastidious Dream Shake reader, “who wore number nine for the Rockets when Moochie Norris was on the team?”
The answer, dad, is 2002 first round pick Bostjan “Boki” Nachbar.
The Slovenian forward’s numbers in Houston were far from special: 75 games, 2.9 ppg and 1.5 rpg. Measured by statistical product, Boki’s time in Houston was three years too early for a career that didn’t take off until 2006 when Jason Kidd and Vince Carter opened up the throttle on the New Jersey Nets.
As a rookie in Houston, Nachbar was a human victory cigar glued to the bench by a rookie-averse Jeff Van Gundy first and an international prospect overshadowed by a seven-foot-six cultural icon second.
As an NBA sophomore Boki featured in his most famous five minutes as a Rocket. It includes the following keywords and phrases: Playoffs. Faking out Kobe Bryant. Roughing up Karl Malone.
That’s a real quote. From Al Michaels. The same dude that called the miracle on ice. He said that. After watching five minutes of basketball. Featuring Bostjan Nachbar.
The Rockets would go on to lose this first round playoff series 4 - 1. But anyone following the NBA was forced to acknowledge Nachbar had the wherewithal to stick in the NBA if he kept developing.
Everyone gets caught out of position. It just happens.
Unfortunately Boki found himself in the poster factory at printing time while a young, almost unrecognizable, Gerald Wallace was on the clock:
Gerald Wallace was able to jump like that at one point? Who knew.
Quick side question for you. What’s your opinion on yams? Do you love them?
New Jersey Nets Bostjan Nachbar loved yams.
Remember a few hundred words ago when we reviewed that Boki found his footing on a New Jersey Nets team with Jason Kidd and Vince Carter. Cause it happened.
Do you want two full minutes of Nachbar yamming on no-namers like Jermaine O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Elton Brand to the song “Express Yourself”? Because the Internet has that:
After three seasons in Houston Nachbar had shown some signs of life, but failed to breakthrough into the Houston rotation. Between Boki’s second and third seasons the Rockets made a decisive move seeking playoff success, they traded for Tracy McGrady.
McGrady’s acquisition moved the Rockets from a team willing to develop talent to a team that had to win. That left Nachbar with a one way ticket to New Orleans for David Wesley the following offseason.
Boki found his way to the Nets after New Orleans and then wrote an interesting page in NBA history. He eschewed the NBA in free agency and signed a three year deal with Dyanmo Moscow in Russia. The deal paid more than he would earn in the NBA and was unquestionably more valuable due to the strength of the Euro.
Much like Josh Childress and Andrei Kirilenko the move from NBA to Europe wasn’t meant to be. Boki’s new Russian team proved unable to make good on it’s contract, but unlike the others, the NBA’s door closed on Boki before the age of 30. He found himself unable to join an NBA team despite whispers and rumors and ended up adding some European hardware to his collection instead.
There’s little expectation that a Rockets fan in a James Harden jersey would or should know who Nachbar is. His time in Houston was short and would be best described as an acclimation period.
The chance the Rockets took on Boki was a prelude to the team’s new management philosophy. As the Rockets continue a standoff with Donatas Motiejunas, as fans prepare to watch Twitter for Zhou Qi statlines and as Daryl Morey prepares an annual tradition of doling out as many two year contracts as possible. This Houston Rockets adage stays true: You’ve got to take shrewd risks in search of a big payoff.
And Boki, if you see this. We’d love to catch up.