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All-Decade interview: Dejan Bodiroga
He was one of the few candidates no longer playing, had not reached a Final Four since 2003 and never made the playoffs after they were introduced in 2005. But when the fans and media put their votes together to choose the Euroleague All-Decade Team, one player topped both of their lists: Dejan Bodiroga. As back-to-back Final Four MVP for two different Euroleague champions - Panathinaikos in 2002 and Barcelona in 2003 - Bodiroga left an indelible mark on anyone who saw him play and anyone who met him. If he was a classic performer on the court - ready, willing and able to lead in the most high-pressure situations - he was just as classy a professional off it. What is clear more than three seasons after he retired and seven years since he last raised a tropy is that Bodiroga is remembered by many as the quintessential Euroleague star. On the occasion of his selection to the Euroleague All-Decade Team, Bodiroga tells his fans thanks for the memories, too. "I think that basketball gave me a lot," Bodiroga told Euroleague.net. "And I tried to give it back to the game, the fans and the people who follow our sport."
First, Dejan, everyone wants to know what are you up to these days, and does it involve basketball?
"I am enjoying all those things I couldn't enjoy during 20 years as a player. And I must say, I am enjoying a lot, too. I am in Belgrade, and after so many intense years, I am taking some time to dedicate to family and other things like my summer camp. This will be our fifth year, and it's truly something I do with pleasure, much like when I started as a player. Each year we have 300 to 400 kids there from 20 countries, so it's very international. It's great to see those young players and to be part of basketball in that way, making new friends and contacts."
Of course, this week the media and fans made you part of the All-Decade team. What do you think of the honor?
"Of course, I am very happy. To be on this team and form part of such an important group of players is just that, a great honor and a pleasure. I can say thanks to all the fans and media who voted for me. It's something nice and precious because it was something that was considered over 10 years' worth of results, which is a lot. So it shows consistency and for that reason it's something to be proud of and makes me happy."
You were not only a part of the All-Decade team, but the top vote-getter from both fans and media. How does that feel?
"Well, I certainly appreciate it. My years as a player were very intense and, I think, consistent. I think that basketball gave me a lot and I tried to give it back to the game, the fans and the people who follow our sport. With my teams at Panathinaikos and Barcelona last decade, we did some good things. And to be voted for in this way after three years without playing, I guess the voters think I left a good mark. When I stopped playing, I was happy because I had done all I wanted to do. The fans are first in this sport, and we, the players, have transmit enjoyment to them, so if they think I did that, and therefore voted for me, it makes me happy. All the hard practice was worth it."
You were chosen along with two former teammates, Juan Carlos Navarro and Sarunas Jasikevicius. Does that make it more special?
"Looking back on the last 10 years, there have certainly been many great players in such a great competition as the Euroleague. I believe there are few events in sports that transmit the same feelings that a Euroleague Final Four does. Now, to see a guy like Juan Carlos, who was young when we won, progress year by year to become a leader of Barcelona and his national team, is very nice. And Saras, after our years together, repeated in Maccabi and kept winning with Panathinaikos. To see have played with them, and to be with them and the others on the list, just tells me these are great players who showed it in the most important moments."
You are the only retired player on the Euroleague All-Decade Team. Do you miss playing at all?
"No, I don't, because I left basketball at the appropriate moment. I could have played more. Physically I was in good condition, but I left when I thought the moment was right, and I left happy. I always gave 100 percent and more during many, many years, not only with my clubs, but with the national team in summers. I had my goals I wanted to reach with both, and I reached them all. We won and I enjoyed it, and for that reason I don't miss it. Inside me, it's a great part of my life, and always will be. I can't get away from basketball, and I don't want to, but I am happy as I am."
What are the highlights of your memories of the decade?
"Winning with Panathinaikos in Bologna, where we played against perhaps the best Kinder team ever - perhaps alongside their teams with Danilovic - to do it on their court, with them as favorites, I can never forget. With Ginobili, Jaric, Rigaudeau, Griffith, Abbio, Granger, Smodis and others, there were a really complete team, and even stronger with Ettore Messina as head coach. They were the favorites for sure, but we won an incredible Final Four and won against all prognostications. It was very important for Panathinaikos and to confirm ourselves as one of the great clubs of Europe, very important. The next year, in Barcelona, we had a lot of pressure. We had a good team, not so deep as they have now, because we only played eight or nine players. We had Svetislav Pesic as a new coach of a new project, but in the end we got the title that was lacking for a team as important as Barcelona. And the pressure was there, for sure, after they played and lost in something like seven finals, with so many great teams. It was very difficult to take on that added pressure and win the title, so that is also one to remember forever."
Another signature moment for you came a year later, when you returned in a Barcelona uniform to play against Panathinaikos for the first time at OAKA. Did the tribute from the fans that night make it hard to play after such emotions?
"Yes, it was very difficult and we saw that on the court in my performance. It was one of the moments in my career when it was most difficult to concentrate 100 percent. Still today when I remember it, I get a lump in my throat. It was my first time back in Athens with another team, and something I will never forget in my life. Those fans were special for me all my years there, and they gave me an incredible welcome back. I repeat, it was something unforgettable. And only those fans could do something like that, so special. After all the years we spent together, I have them in my heart."
What were the keys to your changing from team to team and keeping so successful as both team leader and winner?
"Above all, a love of basketball. That is most important thing. Second, that I am a competitor. I want to play to win. In addition, I believed in trying to improve always. Also, the fans always motivated me in a great way to give my best. But to keep going so many years, it's a lot of work. When you win, you have to look for new motivations. Inside me, each practice, I played like a final. And when I was home, I was imagining the important moments and how I had to be ready again to give the maximum. That's how I practiced and that's how I thought when I was at home, and in those ways I found new motivation."
What do you think of the current Euroleague season?
"I think it is still a great competition. There are great teams. In some, you see players with more star quality than others. But I think there are six or seven teams who are strongest and can think about the title. As always, there are very interesting players impacting the competition who could be future stars. I see a high level of play and I think it will be interesting from now until the final."
Friday, March 19, 2010
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