Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Since last month’s NBA draft, a pack of Japanese media members has followed Rui Hachimura’s every move on the basketball court. Longtime NBA reporter and editor-in-chief of The Athletic Washington D.C., David Aldridge, recently compared the Hachimura frenzy to when Ichiro Suzuki joined Major League Baseball.
Hachimura, 21, became the first Japanese-born player selected in the draft when the Wizards took him with the ninth overall pick. The son of a Japanese mother and Beninese father, Hachimura, a Toyama, Japan, native, is already a legend back home. A tweet from the Wizards welcoming Hachimura in Japanese generated the most interaction of any tweet in the Wizards’ social media history, according to the Washington Post.
But Hachimura isn’t the only foreign-born pro athlete in town. The local athletes below were born in other countries—from future hall of famers to fellow first-year players—but have made their impact in the nation’s capital.
NHL: Alex Ovechkin (Russia)
We can't make City Paper without you
The 33-year-old Moscow native cemented his place in D.C. sports history after leading the Caps to a Stanley Cup title in 2018. Known as “the Great Eight,” Ovechkin became the NHL’s top scoring Russian-born player in February, breaking his tie with Sergei Fedorov, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
NFL: Kelvin Harmon and Jehu Chesson (Liberia)
Only three Liberia natives have played in the NFL and the Washington football team currently has two of them on its active roster. The team drafted wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, 22, in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Another wide receiver, 25-year-old Jehu Chesson, joined the team last year after being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017. While both players moved from Liberia to the U.S. at a young age, Harmon said on the team’s website in April that he credits his Liberian roots for his work ethic and spirituality.
WNBA: Emma Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh (Belgium)
With the 19th overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, the Mystics selected a 6-foot-4 Belgian named Emma Meesseman. Two seasons later, she became a WNBA All-Star. The 26-year-old’s return to D.C. this year after a one-season absence to play for the Belgium national team at the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup tournament helped make the Mystics pre-season WNBA title favorites. Fellow Belgian Kim Mestdagh also plays for the Mystics.
MLB: Juan Soto (Dominican Republic)
After Bryce Harper departed D.C. for the Philadelphia Phillies in March, the presence of one young player on the Nats made the move more palatable: 20-year-old Juan Soto. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Soto signed with the team as an international free agent in July 2015. He made his MLB debut on May 20, 2018, and finished the season with 22 home runs, 70 RBIs, and a .292 batting average. That September, a column by Thomas Boswell of the Post called him “the best teenage hitter ever.”
MLS: Wayne Rooney (England)
Few players would’ve tried what Wayne Rooney did last week. Even fewer could’ve pulled it off. Collecting the ball near D.C. United’s goal, Rooney sent a 70-yard strike over the head of Orlando City’s goalkeeper. It was vintage Rooney. His arrival in D.C. last June instantly transformed D.C. United from one of the worst teams in the league to a playoff contender. Born in Liverpool, England, the 33-year-old is the all-time leading scorer for the English national team and Manchester United.
NWSL: Chloe Logarzo and Amy Harrison (Australia)
When the Washington Spirit began its season in April, the team trotted out five players to speak to the media. Three of them—Mallory Pugh, Rose Lavelle, and Andi Sullivan—have played on the U.S. national team, but the other two, first-year Spirit players Chloe Logarzo and Amy Harrison, may not be as well known to American soccer fans. But there’s a reason they were chosen to speak. Logarzo, 24, and Harrison, 23, are among the best women’s soccer players in their native Australia. Both recently returned from the Women’s World Cup in France, where they helped the Australians reach the knockout stage.