Sometimes sporting careers can appear to unfold along a fateful path and Martin Hermannsson's move to Valencia last summer certainly felt like a date with destiny. Hermansson's uncle and mentor is Jon Stefansson, a former Valencia player who represented the club in 2006-07 and again in 2015-16, and one of Hermannsson's happiest childhood memories is a trip to visit his uncle there.
"I came here in 2006," Hermannsson remembered. "I was 11 or 12 years old, I went with my family to Alicante. My grandpa has a house there, so we went to see him. We called Jon to see if he was in town because we wanted to see Valencia as well, so we took the drive here from Alicante and went out for dinner with him. Unfortunately, he was hurt so he wasn't playing at the time, but I got to see the city, I got to come with him here to the arena to check it out a little bit. It was a lot of fun and ever since then, I always had a little dream of hopefully playing here one day as well. So it's kind of funny that it's happening right now."
"Jon was like Jordan to me. I tried to copy most of the things he did on the court, outside the court, the way he dressed, the way he looked."
That trip made a big impression on the young Hermannsson, partly because it was the first time he had visited such warm and sunny climates.
"The first thing I remember is the weather!" he laughed. "For me, it was a little bit different, with palm trees and everything I wasn’t used to seeing in Iceland! My family used to travel a lot and we went to the States, London, Germany, Denmark, but I had never been to this kind of climate before."
Far more than the weather, though, the highlight of the trip was the chance to spend time with his uncle Jon, who was already firmly established as Hermannsson's idol.
"I was playing basketball already; my father was a professional as well so I touched my first basketball before I could speak! And Jon was like Jordan to me. I tried to copy most of the things he did on the court, outside the court, the way he dressed, the way he looked. We had the same hairstyle and everything!" said Hermannsson.
"He was my biggest role model for sure. Just seeing his career was so impressive and something that I really wanted to do myself. Play at the biggest stage against the best players. I tried to copy most of the things he did, whatever it was. And that wasn't only me but every young basketball player in Iceland. He was the only player we had at this level. He was our Michael Jordan for Icelandic kids. So just imagine for me, an 11-year-old kid to come and see his biggest star in Valencia! I talked about it for the next four or five years straight, so it was a big moment for me, for sure. I was bragging a lot when I came back home!"
Hermannsson's dream of following in his uncle’s footsteps duly came true, and he even had the joy of playing alongside his idol for several years on the Icelandic national team. And throughout his journey as a professional, which included a stint in France before landing in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague when he joined ALBA Berlin last season, the point guard has been able to call upon the best possible advice. So when the opportunity came for Stefansson to recommend his nephew to his former club Valencia, and vice-versa, everything fit together perfectly.
"I've known about Valencia’s interest in me for the last two years," Hermannsson revealed. "Jon has good connections with the club and knows a lot of people, and he's been telling me for the last two years that Valencia was always talking about me and was interested, so Valencia has always been in the back of my mind.
"He basically called me one morning and told me: 'You’re going to Valencia.' So I didn't have anything to say about it! Ever since I became a professional, I've been talking to Jon about every decision I've made, so he's been involved in all my decisions. And when the GOAT of Iceland calls you and tells you that you have to go to Valencia, you just follow whatever he says!"
Of course, Hermannsson didn't solely rely on the word of his uncle, but found a lot to like about Valencia once he started to meet with the club.
"We also had Tryggvi Hlinason, another Icelandic player, who is now in Zaragoza. And there is another Icelandic kid on the youth team, so it's almost becoming like a new Iceland team! They contacted me pretty early after the end of last season and everything about the club – how it's run, the organization, the facilities, the city – was something I was really excited about, especially seeing who we were signing this year, adding to the players we had before," he said.
"When the GOAT of Iceland calls you and tells you that you have to go to Valencia, you just follow whatever he says!"
"I was really excited to join the club and hopefully bring something to the table. After speaking to the coach, finding out what he thought I could bring to the team, it felt like the right decision – the same feeling I had when I signed for ALBA, although I guess I was also following my heart with this decision."
Stefansson is now still playing at the age of 38, having signed for Icelandic team Valur at the start of this season.
"He's still making a run for it. Even though his body probably doesn't want to continue, it’s hard to stop forever," Hermannsson said. "So he's giving it one more year – he's been telling me one more year for the last four years!"
When it was suggested to Hermannsson that many young players will now regard him, not his uncle, as the 'GOAT of Iceland', he joked: "I'm definitely coming for the crown! But no, the most important thing is we're showing kids in Iceland that anything is possible. Even though we're from a small country, if you work hard and are determined, you can play with the best in the world. That's what I'm focusing on, showing kids that anything is possible."