Felipe Reyes, Real Madrid: 'It's beyond a dream'

Sep 28, 2020 by Frank Lawlor, Euroleague.net Print
Felipe Reyes, Real Madrid: 'It's beyond a dream'

Age, they say, is just a number. It's not how old you are, but how old you feel.

And that sentiment would certainly be echoed by the man who – with 352 appearances and counting – has played more games in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague than anyone else: Felipe Reyes.

The Real Madrid center reached a memorable milestone during the enforced break in play as he celebrated his 40th birthday, making him the only player in this season's EuroLeague in his fifth decade. Reyes is not, however, the oldest player in the history of the competition. He has a long way to go before he catches up with Dan Gay, who was 45 years old when he played his last EuroLeague game for Climamio Bologna in February 2007.

"When you are happy outside the court, it helps you inside the court."

By a strange coincidence, adding in Reyes's 48 games in the EuroCup (mostly for his first club, Estudiantes) means he arrived at his 40th birthday on March 16 of this year with exactly 400 appearances in continental competition: 400 in 40 – pretty impressive.

For Reyes, though, statistics of that nature are a mere footnote to his main consideration when it comes to deciding how long his career will continue: enjoyment.

During the summer he agreed a new contract with Real to return for another season and, asked why he keeps on coming back, he has a simple answer:

"Because I love this game! I play with a great team, and we're always fighting to win the most important titles. For a person like me, I like to compete and play hard every day, so for all these reasons I carry on playing."

Perhaps surprisingly, the league's most veteran of veterans says the biggest challenge he faces to prolong his career is not a deterioration in his physical fitness, but the psychological difficulties presented by his profession.

"I feel very good physically, but mentally I have some tough moments," he says. "Sometimes it's difficult to come back to practice again and again after losing a big game or missing out on a title. I've been doing this for so long, and sometimes it can be difficult."

Reyes believes he is able to overcome those situations thanks to the support network around him, both within Real Madrid but even more so through the joy he derives from his wife Kirenia and their two young children, Chloe and Axel.

"I'm very happy with my family, which helps me so much," he says. "When I go home after a tough defeat, they always help me come through those bad moments. My family makes me happy, and when you are happy outside the court, it helps you inside the court. This is so important. Being a father has really helped me, giving me so much happiness. And when I lose an important game, I only need to go home and see their faces to help me overcome those tough moments.

"The people who are around me every day at Real Madrid are also very important. All my teammates, coaches, medical staff, equipment managers… everybody around us does everything they can to help the players and make our lives easier."

Reyes missed 16 games last season with a shoulder problem and then a muscle strain, but he returned to action in Round 19 and showed that he can still be a significant factor on the court by averaging nearly 8 minutes per game during his seven subsequent appearances. And in the home win over LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne immediately before the enforced suspension of the league, Reyes produced his best performance of the season: 4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in less than 12 minutes. That proved that he is still more than capable of making a strong contribution to his team's new challenge this season as he goes past his 40th birthday.

He is thankful to the good fortune that has allowed him to keep on playing for so long, explaining: "I'm lucky because during my whole career I've never had a really serious injury. Mainly for this reason I'm still in good shape. I have always tried to work hard every day, ever since I was young. I give 100 percent and work hard, and away from the court I try to live a healthy life. I like to look after myself, eat well and don't have any excesses."

Having achieved so much, Reyes could be forgiven for looking back with pride at his career and all the trophies and individual triumphs it has delivered. For such a strong competitor, though, it's no surprise to hear that he prefers to focus on what lies ahead, rather than what he has already done.

"I only think about the past when people ask me!" he laughs. "Normally I only think in the present. I try to practice hard and not think about what I did years ago."

He does, however, allow himself to admit that he has achieved far more than he ever dared to believe possible.

"I'm very happy to be playing for Real Madrid at the age of 40," he says. "When I was younger I never dreamed of this. It's beyond a dream to be playing for the best team in Europe at this age. When I was a kid, I would have been happy with just one season playing for Real Madrid. So to have 17 seasons is amazing. I never expected this."

"It's beyond a dream to be playing for the best team in Europe at this age."

So exactly how long will he continue? At the moment, he is unsure when the day to retire will arrive, saying: "I don't know. When you're 40 years old you should only think in the present, not the past or the future. It's very difficult to play for so many years with such a great team, because every year you always have to be fighting for every title. Every game brings so much pressure.

"If my body and my mind can let me play for longer, I will do it. But I don't know yet. The most important thing is that at the end of the season I feel good. My body and mind will decide!"

Every fan of European basketball will hope that his body and mind keep on going for a lot longer yet.