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50 Years interview: Larry Wright, Banco di Roma
It is easy to think that 50 Years of European Club Basketball history lives on mainly in the minds of fans and players from the Old Continent. However, the fact that European basketball has consistently attracted great talents from around the globe has enriched the sport in many directions. One such case is Larry Wright, who came to Europe having already won an NBA title in his native United States, and eventually became one of the few men to win titles in the world's top two competitions. Although he was a dominant point guard throughout six years playing in Europe, his big moment came in the 1984 continental title game when he led Virtus Roma to its one and only champions' trophy. Roma was losing by as many as 16 points in the second half against F.C. Barcelona before Wright led one of the great rallies in title-game history. More than two decades later, Wright is back home in Louisiana, coaching his old university, Grambling State, but when his mind thinks back to his time in Europe, the memories are all good. "It's certainly an honor for me to know that people in Europe consider me one of better players to have played there," Wright told Euroleague.net recently. "I don't have words to explain it. It makes me feel good that they appreciate what we did."
Hello, Mr. Wright. First of all, which are your memories on the 1984 Euroleague final against Barcelona?
"It was a situation where we wre down at the half and no one thought we could come back and win that game. As the leader of that team, I remember saying to the guys at halftime in the lockerroom that the first half was over now, that we needed just to focus on play flawlessly in the second half if we wanted to be champions of Europe. And everybody seemed to buy into that, because when we can out, everybody played that way and just wouldn't give up."
You became a hero in Roma, hitting all the critical shots in the second half of that title game. At one point, Roma was down by 16 points in the second half, but you led your team back almost single-handedly. Did you believe that the game was over at any point?
"From my experience in the NBA and in college, I knew that no matter what happened, a game is never over until it's over. Basketball is a game of runs, and in that game, we never had a good one in the first half. I felt that if we could have a good run in the second half and get close, when I got in that situation, I could take over the basketball game. But we had to get close first. And once we did, I was able to direct traffic and carry the team to victory."
You had a great partner in Clarence Kea, one of the best rebounders of all-time in European basketball. What do you remember about Kea and all your teammates like Renzo Tombolato, Enrico Gilardi or Fulvio Polesello?
"Clarence was something, because he always outplayed much taller opponents. Barcelona had Marcellus Starks and Mike Davis, who were much taller, but Clarence led the inside game for us outrebounding them. Fulvio Polesello also player really well that night. And I also remember that Stefano Sbarra, who was a young kid and didn't play a lot normally, came in and did a great job. There was Gianni Bertolotti, a veteran guy who made some big baskets. And Marco Solfrini and Enrico Gilardi and Renzo Tombolato, everyone contributed. And that's because we were a team that felt we could get contributions from everybody,"
You came back to Roma for the 2006 NBA Europe Live tour and could see you are a living legend for the club. How does it feel to be remembered that way by all Virtus Roma fan?
"I always said that Italy was my home away from home. When I returned to Rome, the people showed they cared about me and still remembered me and the hard work our team in Rome put in a long time ago. That made me feel real good."
You were an NBA champion with the Washington Bullets in 1978 and came to play against Euroleague powerhouse Maccabi in Tel Aviv in a big battle. What do you remember of that big game in Tel Aviv, that Maccabi won?
"Yes, I remember coming over there to play them. They were so excited to play. It was a big thing for them. We were like on vacation a bit, because it was the first time traveling that far for some of us. But Maccabi wanted to show they could play against the best team in the world then, and they played well and beat us."
You averaged more than 38 minutes per game in 6 seasons in Italy and scored over 25 points per night. In those days it seemed even normal, but now this would be almost impossible. How was the game rhythm and the playing style in the eighties?
"It was kind of difficult for me, playing 38 to 40 minutes a game, because that was different for me. Now that the European game has changed somewhat, with more Americans allowed on teams, the workload is not the same. Back then, you got maybe more quality players and the foreign players had more experience and understood basketball at a high level. The team wanted guys who understood the game at a high level because they wanted you to be the leader of their team. They would get veterans from the NBA that could show younger European players the way. And I think that's why we see so many European players now in the NBA, because of the guys way back who went there and demonstrated to younger European players what was necessary to be a good pro. That helped the young foreign players then, and now we're seeing the fruits of that."
Things have changed in the last 23 years, of course, but basketball has become global and some European players are worldwide superstars right now. Did you expect anything like that when you played against some of the best international players in Italy like Drazen Dalipagic or Oscar Schmidt?
"I always expected it because I saw those guys play, and the way they could shoot the basketball. And then watching the younger players in Europe, I knew that if they continued working well, they would be able to play in the NBA. You take guys like Oscar Schmidt and Dalipagic, and they could have played anywhere. They could have played in the NBA then, but they didn't have the opportunity. Guys are getting the opportunity now and you see what they can do."
You, along with Clarence Kea, have been chosen as two of 100 nominees for the most important players in European club history. What does it mean to you to be included in such a select group of legends?
"It's certainly an honor for me to know that people in Europe consider me one of better players to have played there. There's no doubt about that being an honor by itself. I don't have words to explain it. It makes me feel good that they appreciate what we did when we were in Europe, and I'd like to take a moment to thank them."
You are now coaching in the United States. Are you able to follow European basketball these days, and if so, what do you think about it?
"It has definitely grown a lot from when I played. The European players are much better, and it's good for me to see this. To see their young guys develop into NBA players is an accomplishment. And it's not just European players. You see these world games now, and it's only too evident how much European basketball has really improved, because every time in international competition, they do really well now. It goes to show you that they are doing things right. "
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Frank Lawlor, Euroleague.net