Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson is bi-racial and bi-cultural with roots in both Mexico and the United States. Though born and raised in Oakland, his basketball career took him back to Mexico where he connected with his heritage and culture.
During his three-plus seasons down south, he came to understand what he represents to Mexican people. As he said in a postgame interview after his NBA debut: “I get a lot of support and a lot of love from people in Mexico and Mexican people here, so I just carry that and I honor it.”
“Being in a league where we’re not represented at all is an honor.”
He also does not forget those of Mexican backgrounds who blazed a path into the NBA before him as well.
“There’s been four before me: Eduardo Nájera, Horacio Llamas, Jorge Gutiérrez… (and) Gustavo Ayón.”
Though just the fifth player of Mexican decent to make it to the NBA, Toscano-Anderson continues a long, strong tradition of Latino representation in the league.
The inclusion of Latino players in the NBA began with Alfred “Butch” Lee. Born in Puerto Rico, Lee started gaining recognition at Marquette University from 1974-78. If this rings a bell to anyone in Dub Nation, it may be because Toscano-Anderson also played his college ball at the school from 2011-15.
Lee received a number of Player of the Year and All-American Honors while leading the Golden Eagles to their first ever NCAA Championship. He would go on and be selected 10th overall in the 1978 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. A knee injury limited him to just two years in the league, but Lee ended his career on a high note by winning the 1980 NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lee’s acceptance into the NBA opened the doors for many notable players to realize their NBA dreams, including some with long, successful careers.
Perhaps the most well known player of Latino decent in recent memory is long-time San Antonio Spur Manu Ginóbili. The Argentinian played 16 years in the league before retiring in 2018. Ginóbili’s career included four NBA Championships, two All-Star appearances, two All-NBA team honors, and the 2007-08 Sixth Man of the Year Award.
The Warriors received help from a duo of Brazilians during the first three of five straight seasons that resulted in trips to the NBA Finals. Guard Leandro Barbosa, who last week returned to the team as a player mentor coach, was a key scoring threat off the bench for the Dubs for both the 2015 Championship team and also the NBA-record setting 73-win team in 2015-16, while Anderson Varejão played in 36 games over two seasons (2016-17) with the Warriors.
Their careers included individual accomplishments as well. Barbosa’s 14-year career included being voted the 2006-07 Sixth Man of the Year while with the Phoenix Suns. Varejão, a 13-year vet himself who spent 11-plus years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, was named to the 2009-10 All-Defensive Team.
Other Latino hoopers have provided contributions to this past season and into the 2020 NBA Playoffs, too.
Long-time point guard for the Dallas Mavericks J.J. Barea is originally from Puerto Rico. The 2011 NBA Champion continued to provide a consistent perimeter shooting presence (37.6 percent on three-pointers) through the 2019-20 campaign as he has through his entire 14-year career.
13-year veteran and five-time All-Star Al Horford is of Dominican decent, and he just completed his first season with the Philadelphia 76ers. At 34 years old, Horford continues to average over 30 minutes per game while being a presence in the paint.
The above is a small sample of Latino players who have demonstrated sustained success at the NBA level.
Toscano-Anderson, 27, is currently the only Mexican player in the NBA. But if it’s up to him, he certainly won’t be the last.
“Hopefully I can continue to inspire other Mexican kids… hopefully I can be that image that they want to grow up and be like and follow their dreams and somehow get to the NBA,” said Toscano-Anderson.
“I just want to continue to raise the bar for them.”