Last week, Marcin Gortat wrote a column on The Players’ Tribune which centered on his development as an NBA player. In the column, he tells his story on why he became a basketball player and gives some valuable insight on how the sport is in his native Poland.
Gortat’s journey from a high school soccer player to NBA rookie
Like many Polish athletes, Gortat hoped to become a soccer star. But watching NBA games and longtime European basketball star Dejan Bodiroga on TV inspired him to pick up the sport as a teenager. In fact, he started playing basketball at the age of 17 and never looked back.
Gortat first played for ŁKS Łódź, a team based in his hometown. He joined the national team system soon after where a Vince Carter-esque dunk in a contest played a factor in German club RheinEnergie Köln’s decision to sign him.
In 2005, Gortat was the 57th pick in the NBA Draft to the Phoenix Suns, but was traded to the Orlando Magic. He credited then-head coach Brian Hill forcing him to improve and wait for his right moment.
Poland’s challenges in basketball
Gortat also lamented about the state of Polish basketball and its place within Europe. Though Poland has made five consecutive EuroBasket tournaments, they haven’t made an Olympics since 1980 in Moscow, Soviet Union.
The main reason why Polish basketball isn’t as strong as other European countries like Spain or France is because of a lack of youth development. To that end, Gortat has sponsored youth camps and sent their best players to the United States to play in the AAU circuit. It may be “a few years” before we see the fruits of his efforts.
Gortat’s NBA career has lasted almost an entire decade, thanks to a combination of hard work, and playing for more established clubs in neighboring Germany.
Reading the column also gives us some insights that NBA players face when they are from countries that don’t have strong basketball cultures or development systems. As an American, I take things for granted when players put on their jerseys and play each night.
For players like Gortat, however, being in the NBA means more than just earning a paycheck. He’s not just wearing a Wizards jersey every time he’s out on the court. He’s the face of Polish basketball when he’s out there. When he does well, it inspires more Polish children to play basketball, which could help turn around their youth development system as well.