News broke recently of the Dominican-born Hungarian basketball player Vincent Valerio-Bodon signing a short-term contract for the pre-season with the 17-time NBA champion Los Angeles Lakes. Valerio-Bordon, who spent his career so far playing the Hungarian basketball teams Budapesti Honvéd, Atomerőmű SE, DEAC, and Sopron, alas did not make the cut and was not offered an extension by the Lakers. He did play a pre-season friendly game in their famous purple, gold, and black jersey—they ended up losing 108–97 to the Milwaukee Bucks. While the Hungarian player scored no points in the game, he did manage to make two rebounds.
So, it seems that he will not be playing in the NBA after all. Had he been able to do so, he would have made it into a very exclusive club of Hungarian basketball players.
The top-tier North American professional basketball league, the NBA, started in 1949. In its nearly three quarters of a century, only one player from Hungary was able to make an appearance in the men’s championship.
It was Kornél Dávid, who played for four different teams in the world-famous league: the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors, and the Detroit Pistons.
Between 1999 and 2001, the Nagykanizsa native made a total of 109 NBA appearances, averaging 5.0 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. The former power forward, just like Valerio-Bordon, started his career at the Budapest-based Honvéd’s basketball club. He was first signed by the NBA side Chicago Bulls in 1997, but he was eventually waived without playing any games, thus he returned to Hungary. There, Dávid won the national championship with Albacomp Székesfehérvár in 1998. The next year, in 1999, he got another chance with the Bulls—this time, he succeeded. Wearing the #18 jersey, he played 50 games for the famous Chicago team in the 1999–2000 season.
11 years later, Ádám Hanga got very close to becoming the second Hungarian man to get on the court in an NBA match. In 2011, he got drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, as the 59th overall pick in the draft. However, he too fell short of a long-term contract that would have allowed him to make an NBA debut. Instead, he joined the roster of the Spanish club Saski Baskonia, and went on to have a great career as a small forward and point guard on the highest levels of European professional basketball. Interestingly, Hanga even played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, despite the famously fervent rivalry between the Spanish clubs. He is still active, currently playing for the Serbian side Crvena Zvezda.
While that concludes the list of Hungarian NBA prospects as far as male players go, we also have some connections to the WNBA as well, where the most talented female basketball players tend to compete.
Hungarian Players in the WNBA
Andrea Nagy, born in Budapest, Hungary in 1971, played for the WNBA teams the Washington Mystics, New York Liberty, and Sacramento Monarchs. She played a total of 102 games in the WNBA before retiring in 2003. While born in Hungary, she moved to the US at a young age and studied at Florida International University, where her basketball talents were discovered and cultivated.
Nagy is still considered one of the greatest players in the FIU women’s basketball team history—she won four consecutive NCAA MVP awards in a row between 1992 and 1995,
and the club even retired her #11 jersey after she left.
There are two Hungarian citizens who have played recently in the WNBA—one of them still is active in the league currently. However, they were both born in the United States and became naturalized citizens later in life, during their stints at Hungarian clubs. Point guard Courtney Vandersloot hails from Kent, Washington; while point guard and shooting guard Allie Quigley is from Joliet, Illinois. Out of the two, Vandersloot is the one who is still active, playing for the New York Liberty.
Both Vandersloot and Quigley were part of the WNBA-winning Chicago Sky side in 2021, and have both made appearances in the Hungarian National Team. However, they are a lot more connected to each other in their personal than in their professional lives: the two WNBA champions married each other in 2018, near Vandersloot’s hometown of Kent, Washington.
The Current State of Hungarian Basketball
While football is undeniably the most popular sport in Hungary, basketball is certainly in contention for the second spot in the popularity contest, along with handball or water polo.
The Hungarian Men’s National Team managed to qualify for the last two EuroBasaket tournaments in 2017 and 2022, after an 18-year hiatus between 1999 and 2017. They have also won this title once, in 1955.
While our Women’s National Team is yet to win a EuroBasket championship, they do have two runner-up finishes from the 1950s (1950, 1956), and put on a great performance in the last competition in 2023 in Israel and Slovenia, coming in fourth. Additionally, Sopron Basket became the first Hungarian team to take home the Women’s EuroLeague title in 2022, beating the Turkish side Fenerbahçe 60–55 on their home turf in Istanbul, Turkey.