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Final Four Interview: Emiliano Rodriguez, Real Madrid
There can be no celebration of European basketball history without Real Madrid, the most successful team ever in continental competition. Likewise, no discussion of Real Madrid's legacy can exclude Emiliano Rodriguez, arguably perhaps the first basketball superstar at the club during its most dominant decade on the continental stage. To this day, at age 70, Rodriguez works as an ambassador for Real Madrid as the club's honorary basketball president. When he was young, Rodriguez was a terrific scorer who challenged bigger and stronger opponents with his speed and one-on-one skills. He helped break the Soviet Union's hegemony in the European Cup by leading Real Madrid to its first continental trophy in 1964 against Spartak Brno, averaging 29.5 points in the two-leg title series. In 1965, Emiliano joined forces with Clifford Luyk to lift a second consecutive European Cup title. Rodriguez was once again unstoppable in the 1967 European Cup final, scoring 29 points to lead Madrid to victory over defending chamiopn Milano. And his final European Cup title came in 1968, once again against Spartak Brno. With four European Cup titles and three other finals appearances between 1962 and 1969, Rodriguez was nothing short of superstar when European club basketball was first popularized. A living legend and one of the finest gentlemen in the sport of basketball, Rodriguez was chosen this year by Euroleague Basketball Experts Committee as one of the 50 most influential contributors to the first half-century of European club competitions. He spoke recently with Euroleague.net. See
Emiliano Rodriguez video
Mr. Rodriguez, congratulations on being chosen a half-century hero in European club basketball. Was does it mean for you to see your name on that list?
"Thanks a lot. It is something that I am very proud of. I am still in the minds of those who rule European basketball and its destiny after so many years. Because 50 years is a long time, being in the 50 contributors list means a lot for me, personally and for Real Madrid."
You helped Real Madrid to win four European Cup titles from 1964 and 1968, against Spartak Brno, Simmenthal Milano and CSKA Moscow. What do you remember from those days?
"My best memories come from the first European Cup title that we won in 1964. That is the one I am most fond of, the one I remember with more joy. Of course, winning four titles in five years always is a matter of satisfaction, as we got our job done back in the time when European basketball was dominated by Eastern countries, especially by teams from the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia, Poland and Italy were strong basketball countries back then, too. Coach Pedro Ferrandiz coached me for most of those years, and I had the luck of playing for him and sharing all the success that Madrid had in the sixties and seventies."
Before there was television and video scouting, what was it like to encounter some of the great opponents for the first time live, never having seen them before, but having to compete with them immediately?
"Well, of course facing strong opponents that we never saw before came with extra motivation. Sometimes we knew right away that we were facing stronger teams and players with outstanding physical and technical skill. That helped us to give our best on the court and play even better, to push ourselves in day-to-day work to be ready when we faced them again. Everyone can check the results. We reached goals that were simply unthinkable years before."
Back then, players were sports ambassadors. What did it mean to represent your club and also your country abroad?
"Of course, it was a double source of motivation, because not only did you represent a sport that was rising and rising those days, getting more and more popular every day, but you also carried the name of Spain and Real Madrid all over the world. Not many of us had the privilege to do it. I had that chance and you always remember the feeling that comes with it. We were the first Spanish team to play in the Soviet Union, in any sport, back in those days. It was a very positive experience because we were very well received. There were some Spanish people living there that had been sent into exile who were very kind to us all the time. It is the kind of memory you cannot erase, because CSKA, the team we played against over there, always treated us very well, too."
What did you learn traveling to play basketball in places where, when you were growing up, maybe you never expected to see or visit?
"I learned a lot from different cultures, as few people had the chance to see some of the bigger cities in the world back in those days: Moscow, Rome, London, New York, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, Mexico. This is something that you treasure and keep in your mind forever. Sometimes everything was different and you quickly had to get used to habits that had nothing to do with what you were used to."
Why has it been more difficult for Real Madrid to win European titles over the last 25 years?
"Probably it is because basketball has improved in all aspects and at all levels. Without a doubt, basketball is far more competitive these days. The Euroleague is more balanced and there are more teams that challenge to be the continental champion. On the other hand, some generations in Madrid did not have the talent required to win the competition and others were unlucky. Fortunately, Real Madrid got through those days and we are in a new era, one of the best in Spanish basketball."
You are now the honorary president of the basketball section. What has Real Madrid meant in your life? And how honoring has been to be linked to the club for so many decades?
"It is a big part of my life. I have been in this club for many years, and I am really enjoying the new role I have as honorary president of the basketball section. My work is more representing the club than any other duty. And I am very satisfied with that, apart from the fact that it gives me an opportunity to be part of the world of basketball in an active way."
The European Club competitions turn 50 years old this season. What do you think about the Euroleague initiative to look back and remember the all-time European greats?
"I think it is an idea that should be applauded, because it explains and justifies that basketball has been around for many years with the efforts of a lot of people. That work started 50 years ago and continues today, keeping basketball in the forefront of sports, so I believe we all should be happy about that."
Monday, April 21, 2008
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