The Toronto Raptors drafted Tucker No. 35 over all in 2006, but he didn’t stick, and headed to Israel for the 2007-8 season. There he led unheralded Hapoel Holon to a stunning victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv, the perennial European club power, for the championship; it was one of only two seasons between 1970 and 2008 that Maccabi failed to win it all domestically.
“To this day, that’s my No. 1 basketball moment,” Tucker said.
It was the start of a five-season odyssey in the international game, with additional stops in Ukraine, Greece, Italy, Puerto Rico and Germany, during which Tucker developed the long-distance shooting touch that makes him one of the N.B.A.’s most productive corner 3-point shooters.
“He used to just bully guys down low,” said Omri Casspi, Israel’s most successful N.B.A. export and a teenager with Maccabi when Tucker was named the most valuable player with Holon. There was “no match” in the league for Tucker physically, Casspi said.
Tucker excitedly recounted how loud the Holon crowds were, calling them the most vociferous fans he has ever played for — “no doubts, hands down, no close seconds.” Yet he said that his current role, as a key two-way contributor for an N.B.A. championship contender, seemed like an unreachable dream for much of his time abroad.
“Back then the league was different,” Tucker said. “Being a ‘tweener’ was terrible. Nobody wanted tweeners. You had to be a wing player that could shoot 3s or a back-to-the-basket big — and if you fell in the middle you didn’t fit. So a lot of times, I was lost.
“Going over there, I learned how to be a team player. I had to grow up. Being the main guy for three or four years, I understood what it took to be the leader. Coming back to the N.B.A., being one of those other guys again, I knew exactly how to do my job.”