I sit on a bus, somewhere between France and Spain, in the midst of a ten hour trip to chase down a European Championship. My cell phone is dead, so I rest my eyes and reminisce about my time in Europe playing basketball. All my teammates are texting, tweeting, or catching a few minutes of sleep after a 4:45 A.M. wake up call. I’m listening to music, but I couldn't tell you the name of the song. I've watched the film on our opponents to the point where my iPad is nearly dead.
I’m alone with my thoughts, memories, victories, and defeats - both personal and professional. Having come up short of the ultimate prize in Chicago, Madrid and Rome during my playing days, I replay those moments in my mind. Is this my last chance to hoist a trophy? My last chance to be acknowledged as one of "the best"? This is one of the most difficult tournaments our sport (wheelchair basketball) has; 5 games within a window of 2 and a 1/2 days. Since European countries are the home of the only professional leagues, some of the top teams in Europe, along with the world's best players, will be on display.
The tournament often is more a battle of attrition than anything else. The regular season is a distant memory, and ultimately a player is judged on what they do when championships are on the line. No one remembers your struggles in September, as long as you deliver in April and May. We are heading back to Spain, and the team that I left, for a chance to chase that illusive championship.
My decision to leave my team in Getafe was a difficult one. The team took a chance on a no-name American player, with no national team credentials. I matured as a player and as a person during my time in Getafe. I owe a lot of my professional and personal growth to the folks of Casa Murcia. But I realized if I was going to accomplish the one thing left missing on my basketball resume, it was time to go. As the saying goes, "Father Time is undefeated,” and I'm closer to the end of my career than I am the beginning. So I left and I went to a new environment, new country, new language, new culture, new teammates, and a new style of basketball.
The professional sports world is a tough business. There is no such thing as loyalty. You’re only good as your last game, tournament and season. Personal feelings don't matter. It is a business and the objective is to win!
It is a bittersweet feeling going back. It will be an awkward to walk into the arena, where I spent countless hours in preparation for a moment like this, and head into the visitor’s locker room. I put that all aside because now I've gotten the chance to chase down the top prize - maybe for the last time!
We drew a tough pool, featuring one team from Turkey and two strong German squads as well. My former team is in the other bracket, meaning the earliest I would see them would be in the semi-finals, but there is a lot of work to be done before pondering that.
I am now on a flight back to France, having stayed in Madrid a few days after the EuroCup finals to promote my foundation’s basketball camps in Spain this summer.
Our bracket was as tough as advertised. We ended up beating Besits (Turkey) in overtime after being down the entire game.
After losing the second game against the eventual champions, we found ourselves playing a strong team from Hamburg (Germany) in a must-win situation. The game turned out to be a very physical affair and my new top end chair is going to need some welding! We battled, and once again squeaked out another overtime victory!
This lined us up with Getafe (Spain), my former team, on their home court for the right to play for the championship. To be honest, I was more fired up to play this game than almost any other in my career. I felt that the team got an automatic bid as a host city, in part for what I have helped them to do over the last several years. That gave me more motivation than ever! It was a close match for roughly 30 minutes, the home team played well, but they had run out of bullets. It was a bittersweet 12 point victory, but it landed us in the finals!
We ended up making a strong showing in the EuroCup including beating my old team in the semi-finals. We won 2 games in overtime and unfortunately got matched up with a German team that was really on its day. They put on a clinic and went home with the EuroCup championship! Once again I received another silver medal, another second place finish in a career full of them.
So, now returning back to France, we turn our sights to the French League Final Four. With the team playing its best basketball at this point in the season, the objective will be to win two more games!
While in Madrid this past week, I took a moment to promote my foundation’s camps in Spain with ACB Estudiantes. We organized a press conference to announce our new sponsor, HISPASAT for those two weeks! We are excited to be returning to Madrid this summer to run our second year of camps! It's always a pleasure to return to see the athletes from the previous year and welcome new athletes to the program!