Pictures that bring back memories: Wayne Brabender had a very successful career. Source: Nebojsa Parausic/Euroleague Basketball/Getty Images
Pictures that bring back memories: Wayne Brabender had a very successful career. Source: Nebojsa Parausic/Euroleague Basketball/Getty Images

The best EuroLeague player you’ve probably never heard of

Basketball OlyBet 01.05.2024

It’s become common nowadays for a US basketball player to possess citizenship from another country, even if they have no career or post-career association with it. However, this cannot be said for Wayne Brabender.

First, let’s clarify why we should even bother writing about Brabender. Without a doubt, to many young basketball enthusiasts, he’s an entirely unfamiliar name, and perhaps even older fans might not have much insight into him. Yet, he’s a 13-time Spanish champion, a four-time EuroLeague champion, the Most Valuable Player of the 1973 European Championship, and a silver medalist in that year’s European Championship. Furthermore, the International Basketball Federation selected him among the top 50 players who had played in tournaments under their auspices in 1991. By the way, the vote was won by Russian Sergei Belov, surpassing Croatian Dražen Petrović and Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis.

Moreover, it’s not wrong to say that Brabender is a trailblazer. As Real Madrid’s official website writes, he was the first American sharpshooter to ply his trade in Spain.

Although Brabender hails from the States, his international career isn’t surprising in a quirky way. After all, he was born in Montevideo, Minnesota (the capital of Uruguay is called Montevideo), and attended high school in Milan, Minnesota (Milan is a major city in Italy).

How did he end up in Spain?

Although Brabender didn’t make a big name for himself in US college basketball, he left a good enough impression to be drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers as the 145th pick in the 14th round in 1967. Yes, you read that right – the NBA draft was entirely different back then compared to today.

However, Brabender never got to play in the world’s strongest league because he was certain he wasn’t good enough for it. This was evidenced by the fact that before the draft, he started working as a physical education teacher.

Today, such a decision sounds crazy. Luckily for Brabender, he didn’t struggle to find a place to play because Pedro Ferrandiz took an interest in him. The legendary former head coach of Real often scouted interesting players in the US despite not really speaking any English.

Although Brabender wasn’t a classic small forward, Ferrandiz liked him a lot. Brabender’s brother, Lyle, recalled that when the Spaniard visited their farm to recruit Wayne, he initially wanted to talk to the elder Lyle. Ferrandiz simply couldn’t believe that the thin kid with curly blond hair standing before him was actually the player who left an unforgettable impression on him on the court.

When Brabender landed in Madrid and began his Spanish adventure, many were surprised. Not anymore that Ferrandiz had brought a player from across the pond, but that Brabender wasn’t a big man.

It was crucial for Ferrandiz to make a wise choice regarding foreign players since Spanish league regulations permitted only one foreign player per team. Alongside Brabender, Real had Miles Aiken as an option that season because Clifford Luyk, who had joined the club in 1962, acquired Spanish citizenship three years after arriving in Madrid and thus counted as a domestic player.

Initially, Ferrandiz’s plan was for Brabender to only play in the EuroLeague. This meant that most weekends, the American spent alone practicing, as the rest of the team was busy with local league matches.

The turning point in Brabender’s career was a tournament held around the Christmas season in 1967. He performed excellently on offense and blended perfectly with Aiken and Luyk on the court. Ferrandiz and Real’s manager, Raimundo Saporta, realized how effective a weapon Brabender could be and started working on getting him naturalized.

The new passport arrived on May 22, 1968, less than six months after the process began. Spain had enacted a law allowing citizenship to individuals who had contributed significantly or could do so to the country in sports. Spanish citizenship meant that Brabender wasn’t limited to EuroLeague games but could also help Real in the local league as a domestic player.

An atypical star

The EuroLeague statistics of the 20th century are somewhat incomplete, but it’s known that Brabender played in 170 games, averaging 20 points per game. In the old EuroLeague, only two men have scored more points than him: Israeli legend Miki Berkovich and the Greek icon Nikos Galis.

Brabender’s blend of effectiveness and self-respect made him one of the cornerstones of both Real and the Spanish national team. After obtaining Spanish nationality he went on to represent the national team 190 times.

Brabender’s former teammate in both Real and the national team, José Luis Llorento Gento, characterized him as follows: “A sticky defender, a relentless shooter. When they ask me who is the best player you have played with, my answer is always the same: Mirza Delibašić, the most classy; Wayne Brabender, the most complete.”

“He was an atypical star, especially because of his modesty. He was loved by his teammates and respected by rivals,” European sportswriter Vladimir Stankovic said in Koš Magazine in 2013, noting how the Minnesota farm kid had embraced his new Spanish home.

“The fact that Brabender still lives in Spain today proves that, unlike the current situation in which passports from different European countries are handed away like lottery tickets, it was a true nationalization,” Stankovic wrote.

Now 78 years old, Brabender still lives near Madrid, and a few years ago, it was reported that the former basketball player is actively involved in coaching and scouting. He has three children with his wife Mayte Pascual, who was hired to teach Spanish to Brabender when the American arrived in Madrid.

One of Brabender’s children is named David Wayne Brabender Pascual. He was born in Madrid in 1970 and played 398 games in the Spanish league. Although he didn’t make it to top teams, averaging nearly 18 minutes per game, 4.9 points, and 2.1 assists over 12 seasons was a decent career.

The son of the Real legend hasn’t left the beloved sport behind after his playing days. He is the managing director and partner of the You First agency, which represents several basketball stars such as Ray Allen, Dominique Wilkins, Serge Ibaka, and Willy Hernangomez. Interestingly, during his playing career, the young Brabender’s path crossed with the son of one of his father’s old teammates: Sergio Luyk, Clifford Luyk’s son, played alongside him in Valladolid.

The Brabenders have surely left a mark in Spanish basketball, especially Wayne. From his humble beginnings in Minnesota to his storied career in Madrid and Europe, Brabender defied expectations and found a new place to truly call home.


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