Coming into the 2020/21 NBA season, the Charlotte Hornets – a team owned by the legendary Michael Jordan – made a rather innocuous signing, adding the undrafted Nate Darling to the franchise via a two-way deal. Teams around the league regularly do this, often to pad their NBA G-League affiliate.
Still, this was a big occasion for basketball fans in Halifax, and even Nova Scotia as a whole, as comparatively few Canadians – let alone Atlantic Canadians – have a shot at making it into the NBA. As it turns out, Darling would go on to make history in his first season with the Hornets, and can now only further his legacy this season.
Darling makes history for the province
Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Darling’s 6’6’’, 200lbs build is very much that of a basketball player, with his position of preference being shooting guard. After attending UAB and the University of Delaware – to play for the Fightin’ Blue Hens, the Canadian went undrafted in 2020. Still, that didn’t stop the Hornets from spotting his talent.
Perhaps it helps that Charlotte’s assistant manager, Jay Triano, is Canadian himself, but in any case, Darling showed enough to get his foot in the door of the NBA. He signed a two-way deal to play between the Hornets and the Greensboro Swarm, and towards the end of the season, on March 13, he was called up to the big leagues.
Making his debut for the Charlotte Hornets cemented Darling in the history books. He became the first-ever Nova Scotian to play in the regular season of the NBA. He went on to play seven games, averaging just under four minutes and 1.3 points per game. Doing this at 22-years-old, he’s still got plenty of time to extend his legacy.
Taking another step after finding his footing
Last season wasn’t ideal for any newcomers to the NBA. Darling, along with the likes of Grant Riller, Vernon Carey Jr, and Nick Richards, had to do their best without the Sumer League, limited practice sessions, and a reduced training camp. This isn’t to say that the Halifax-native would have made it onto the team out of the gate, but it does speak to the resolve and effort required to get called up within one year of signing.
The Hornets themselves have enjoyed a very strong offseason, so the chance of Darling being a part of the NBA team from the early games seems unlikely. That said, even adding Kelly Oubre Jr and Mason Plumlee to LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and Terry Rozier hasn’t enhanced their chances of winning their division. In fact, the NBA betting on bet365 has the Hornets at +1400 to win the Southeast Division.
Perhaps the factor that’s more likely to hold Darling in the affiliate league for a while longer is his unfortunately-timed injury. Just as the Canadian was about to experience the Summer League, to compete against fellow rookies, sophomores, and affiliate players, Darling picked up a right knee injury, ending his offseason availability.
Still, once he returns, and if he can continue to develop his game, Darling could well be brought back up into the NBA fold. Should this happen, he’ll continue to improve the example already set by Atlantic Canadian ballers.