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Jordan, Kobe, T-Mac, Sloan, Shaq… The crisp NBA memories of Gordan Giricek

Passed by the NBA between 2002 and 2008, without any other reward than a place in the second best five of rookies in 2003, Gordan Giricek is probably a name unknown to many orange ball fans.

But the Croatian shooter, eight times champion in his country with Cibona Zagreb and once Turkish champion with Fenerbahçe, was indeed one of the best European players of his generation. You can’t average 23 points in the Euroleague (with CSKA Moscow in 2001) without being an elite striker…

Moved from Zagreb to Moscow in the summer of 2001, Gordan Giricek quickly made the jump to the NBA the following summer, three years after his Draft at the very end of the second round by the Mavs, in 40th position. It must be said that by finishing second best scorer of the season in the Euroleague, behind Alphonso Ford (who has since given his name to the competition’s top scorer trophy), Gordan Giricek had made a strong impression.

But it is not with the Mavs, nor with the Spurs who had his rights for a while, but in Memphis, that the European rear will settle down in the summer of 2002. At 25, Gordan Giricek felt he was ready to seize the NBA opportunity no matter where he landed.

With 29 points for his American debut, he demonstrated that the transition between the European game and the NBA was not only possible but increasingly accessible to players from the Old Continent. As he also explains in a long and fascinating interview with the Croatian press, for him as for Luka Doncic today, when you play at the highest European level, you have a chance of being able to shine across the Atlantic. Conversely, some European stars don’t have what it takes to make the cut in America…

Rookie maybe, but not a slave…

“At the time, you could still defend with your hands (the “hand checking”) but it was still easier to score than in Europe. But like today, there are differences in the rules that don’t allow defenders to be in the key for more than three seconds. In addition, the field is a little wider, the 3-point line is further, so the space between it and the basket is larger. There’s a lot more leeway if you’re talented and know what you’re doing. In Europe, you can hide in defense because you are protected by tall players who camp in the keyhole. That’s why some of the European legends didn’t make it to the NBA because they don’t play well defensively or are some kind of combo-backs. For instance, [Vassilis] Spanoulis, who is in the FIBA ​​Hall of Fame and a very big champion, did not succeed in the NBA because he was too slow for a point guard, too small for a position 2, and was not not a significantly better shooter than the others. »

Having been able to play against Michael Jordan (but “Grandpa Jordan” rather than “Dad Jordan”) or Kobe Bryant, Gordan Giricek is not the type to be afraid of his opponent. That said, he is also able to assess his opponents well, believing that “His Airness” remains at the top of the hierarchy, with Bryant not far behind.

“A top player, [Kobe] had everything in his bag, I always said he had more talent than Jordan. Jordan is more charismatic and had better physicality, but Kobe had better 3-point shooting and a better left hand. Jordan is, of course, the GOAT. If you look at all the characteristics that an athlete must have and what he has done for the global popularization of the sport, no one can even reach his ankles. He’s a GOAT for me, and Kobe is right behind him. »

A player with a strong character throughout his career, Gordan Giricek encountered some problems in his adaptation to life in the NBA. If he clearly had the talent to survive in the American jungle, with a rookie season with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists on average, he did not however want to comply with the multiple obligations that accompanied his status as a beginner. . The “rookie duties”, very little for him! Or, more accurately, it’s fine, but up to a point…

“I didn’t refuse them but I don’t accept that someone makes fun of me. Imagine an NBA player who arrives in Europe after five seasons and everyone asks him to go get sandwiches. I did everything for the team: loading and unloading luggage from the plane, leaving bags at everyone’s doors in the morning before training, but they started taking advantage of my obligations and I said that wouldn’t work. I talked to a few guys on the team and only one, Michael Dickerson, stood up for me and said I did well. I took on my duties for the team but there was no way anyone would send me to get her some perfume or take her bag back to her room. (…) It would never have occurred to me to exploit someone like that, it’s crazy. I don’t tolerate anyone terrorizing me. As a rookie, I was guilty and I took the consequences. But I couldn’t go against my morals if I think something is unfair. Because of that, I knew I wasn’t very popular among my teammates but I didn’t care. I walked out of it with clean hands, without having to say anything about anyone behind their backs. »

Clearly not a fan of Tracy McGrady

Traded in his first NBA year, from Memphis to Orlando, Gordan Giricek will have a very good start, with more than 14 points and 5 rebounds at the end of the 2002-03 season, before the cold shower the following season. The Magic wanted to build around the Tracy McGrady – Grant Hill duo, but the deal fell through, due to the unfortunate Hill’s repeated injuries of course, but also because of internal troubles, with a McGrady who clearly did not made a strong impression on Gordan Giricek.

“The team was great. Grant Hill contributed immensely as a man but also as a great player. Darrell Armstrong was a fantastic player and teammate, as was Jacque Vaughn. He was a great guy and a good leader. The second year was another lemonade with new players coming in who weren’t team players. First there was Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue. They were the backbone of the team but not in terms of character. I would never have taken them on the team, no matter how talented they are. McGrady was scoring 30 points per game but he was not a leader. He didn’t want to win at all costs and it showed in his career afterwards, because he never passed the first round of the playoffs. [sauf sur sa fin de carrière avec les Spurs, quand il était au bout du bout du banc, ndlr]. »

Conversely, Giricek has very good memories of Shawn Kemp, who was nevertheless at the very end of his career, almost unrecognizable after his glory years (and the NBA Finals) under the legendary Sonics tunic: “A great character, I was blown away. I don’t know how he was at the height of his popularity, maybe he was more arrogant, but he was a legend to me. A very funny and interesting character. He was fine with me and I was fine with him. I have only had positive experiences with him. »

Traded to the Magic in his first year by the Grizzlies, it was Gordan Giricek himself who quickly asked to leave Florida in his second year in Orlando. His relationship with the self-proclaimed “leaders” of the team had deteriorated too much, reaching a point of no return against the Mavs.

“We were playing a game in Dallas and we were losing 20 or 30 points, we were playing really badly. McGrady was desperate, I think he had 10 loose balls and was shooting at 30%… He asked me for the ball at the head of the racket but he wasn’t open, so I waved him to move. He motioned for me to give him the ball but I didn’t because there was already (Juwan) Howard in the post. Coach Rivers called a time-out and McGrady told me he was going to hit me if I didn’t pass the ball to him again. I told him to shut his mouth and sit down and of course everyone heard me. In the end, McGrady and Howard blamed me for causing the loss and I said, ‘Congratulations guys, you’re shooting 25 times a game. I play 35 minutes, I kill myself in defense and I shoot five times, and you have the nerve to tell me that this defeat is my fault!’. That’s how it ended and I asked for a transfer right away because I didn’t want to be in this atmosphere where I’m being accused for no reason. »

An unlikely catch from the Shaq

Sent to Utah in exchange for DeShawn Stevenson, Gordan Giricek will spend most of his NBA career in Salt Lake City, in a role of 3-point shooter off the bench. He will notably be part of the great adventure of the Jazz until the Western Conference final in 2007, bringing 6 points to 54% behind the arc during the playoffs.

But, to listen to him, Gordan Giricek did not really like in Utah. “I should have had a better career statistically speaking, but I rotted in Utah for three years. If I had been able to have a real role, where I would have played freely, I would have had a better career individually and collectively because, from experience, when I arrived and I had my hands free, we played well and we were winning. But I was put in the way, both in terms of minutes but also limits on the pitch. I would have preferred them to trade me much sooner than that, but in each of our conversations with [Jerry] Sloan, it always ended with, ‘I’m the coach so it’s gonna be like this’. His remarks were always that I wasn’t physically ready, that I wasn’t defending hard enough and that I was short-circuiting actions in attack. I said, ‘Jerry, I train like a dog all summer and I’m always ready. I can’t admit that I’m not defending because you always put me on the best opposing players to put the chestnuts out of the fire. »

Then passed by Philadelphia, Gordan Giricek will still be entitled to a last more pleasant experience before leaving the NBA for good, with the Suns of Steve Nash. Quickly participating in the rise of the Phoenix of “8 seconds or less” put in place by Mike D’Antoni, he will remain best known for a good while for this rather crazy anecdote revealed by Grant Hill on the Shaq.

Before an important match against Dallas, broadcast nationally on TNT, Shaquille O’Neal finds nothing better than to take the Croatian shooter a little too voluble by the neck. Fan of wrestling, the Shaq thus makes a choke key to Gordan Giricek, holding his position a little too long, Grant Hill returning from the toilets to find one of his teammates on the ground, surrounded by members of the staff. Only 18 minutes before the in-between!

“I didn’t even see him approach behind me. He weighs 150kg, how do you get rid of a guy like that? If it had happened face to face, it would have happened differently. Ok, he would have beaten me if he really wanted to hit me because he is strong as an ox, but he could not have lifted me like that. I didn’t necessarily want to come back to this story but yes, he approached me from behind, he took me by the neck and strangled me. I slapped him to let me go but he still held me and I started to feel bad. But I didn’t fall down and I didn’t pass out either. Let them tell the story like that, I don’t mind. »

His debut at 29 points

A 22-point performance against Kobe Bryant’s Lakers

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