Petteri Koponen had just made a major change in his career. In the summer of 2016, the Finnish guard had signed for one of the biggest clubs in the world, FC Barcelona Lassa, and was eager to take his new team back to the heights to which it was accustomed. One night late that summer, however, barely a couple of weeks before the start of the season, a speeding car that was running from the police in Barcelona crashed into the taxi in which Koponen was a passenger.
"My first thought was that I was thankful I was alive," Koponen says now.
The outcome of the accident was not good. Aside from two other injured people, Koponen suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that, in the early hours, made some fear for his career and even his life.
"Of course, with this kind of injuries you never know how it's going to turn out," Koponen explains. "I remember that I could not believe when the doctors said it could maybe take up to three months to get back on track. But they quickly reminded me how lucky I was to be alive. I still remember when they told me that."
The police could finally arrest the driver, who would return positive results on alcohol tests, while Koponen was rushed to the hospital. After being under observation for a few days, some spend in the intensive care unit, Kop was out of danger and was sent home under strict orders to rest.
"I had just arrived to Barcelona so I was anxious to get on the court and play," Koponen remembers. "But you know, you cannot rush these things. You have to take it easy."
Uncertainty was now the main thing. There was no way to know how long the process would be: one week, one month, three months... Koponen had to stay home, laying down and with barely any light hitting the room where he was resting, or dizziness kicked in. "The first three weeks were kind of scary. Every time I stood up or did something I started to feel dizzy," he says.
He was not allowed to use the cell phone, watch TV or even read books: he was literally forced to do nothing: "The doctors didn't let me do anything, and it was boring, let me tell you. I had to be laying down on the sofa or in my room. At the beginning, I slept a lot so I guess that's how my brain recovered."
Things progressed as the patient followed the doctors' orders, just not as fast as Koponen would have desired: "After about two weeks I remember going to have lunch right next to my home, a hundred meters. I started to walk there with my wife and mother, but after a couple of steps I felt so dizzy with pressure in my head that I had to go back."
Little by little, day by day, the situation began to stabilize and 40 days after the accident, Koponen was back to the court to make his first appearance with Barcelona in the EuroLeague, playing 15 minutes against Brose Bamberg. During that period he received support from everybody around him, especially his teammates.
"Everybody sent messages and some players came to the hospital to visit," Koponen says. "The club and the fans were great. They all helped a lot with everything. I received many messages on social media but since I was not allowed to use the phone, I could not reply! It was really touching when later I saw how many people cared."
More than one year has passed since the accident, but Koponen does not forget it and, in fact, acknowledges that the situation made him change his mindset on life and the smallest things.
"I was so happy to play basketball again. After this kind of thing, you appreciate things much more. You do not take anything for granted. Life is too great to worry about small things. Try to enjoy each moment," he says.
"You never think this can really happen to you. But then you realize it can happen whenever. It makes you realize how happy and blessed you are to play basketball and live your normal life."