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Rediff.com  » Sports » 'Winning an NBA title is like becoming a father for the first time'

'Winning an NBA title is like becoming a father for the first time'

October 08, 2013 08:09 IST

'Winning an NBA title is like becoming a father for the first time'

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It was an endless wait for Peja Stojakovic.

The Serb seemed destined not to win the NBA Championship.

For a decade-and-a-half he kept changing teams with the hope of laying his hands on that elusive piece of silverware. In the between, besides battling various injuries, he won the European (2001) and the World (2002) Championships with the erstwhile Yugoslavia.

However, in the twilight of his career came a ray of hope.

Stojakovic was signed by Dallas Mavericks in 2011, and, in his lone season with the franchisee, he won it, in what turned out to be the final season of his professional career.

In this exclusive interview with Bikash Mohapatra, Stojakovic talks about his career, his growing up years and why he prefers to watch a football game over basketball.

Your first NBA Championship came in your final year as a professional. How frustrating was the wait?

Actually, it wasn’t frustrating. I was happy that I got it.

Throughout the career you get frustrated, having worked for it. But those things happen in sport. I was very fortunate that at the end of may career I was able to win one, with Dallas (Mavericks).

It’s an amazing feeling. It’s the same thing like when you become a father for the first time. It’s like you have been hearing everybody talking about it but don’t know what to say because you haven’t felt the same yet. And when you win it you know what they are talking about. 


Image: Peja Stojakovic
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra

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'I chose to sign for a team I could have an impact on'

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Do you think you could have carried on a bit longer? You retired a little too soon…

I don’t think about that any more.

I made my decision while I was still playing. I thought it would be much better for me to step aside, especially knowing the injuries that I had and the way I was performing.

The defence of the title, to add one more to it, wasn’t it motivation for you to prolong your career?

Well, it was a different situation with that Dallas team. We were all at the end of our careers. That was our last run, I would say.

We were all 10-plus years in the league and we dedicated everything to that season. And we accomplished our goals.

I think not only the players, but also the owners knew that was it. They needed to go in a different direction to rebuild, maybe to attract a few free agents, to build a team around Dirk (Nowitzki) and get to another level.

How would you assess Dirk as a player, as teammate?

Amazing! A very good player, a great teammate, a brilliant leader.

He was in great form, particularly in that year. He had put so much work and focus that it made it easier for us. He is a true superstar.

You signed for only a year with Dallas Mavericks…

I could have signed with somebody else, with better chances of winning. Dallas wasn’t exactly the favourites at that time. 

But I chose to sign for a team I could have an impact on, where I had a role to play.

It did help my psychology. Once again I felt I could perform and help a team win. 


Image: Peja Stojakovic with cheerleaders
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra

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'I lived a dream for 15-plus years'

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Take us through your initial years, when you played in the erstwhile Yugoslavia and Greece…

Those were innocent years (smiles). In those years it was all about pure love the sport of basketball.

You start playing in the backyard, in your school, with the friends and one thing led to another. Your love for basketball kept pushing you to get better, to dream and to try and become one of the stars you watch on TV.

It all happened so quickly. Being a professional basketball player was an amazing experience for me. It’s like a living dream and I lived that dream for 15-plus years.

Many in the erstwhile Yugoslavia took to sports as a way out, of penury, joblessness and strife. Was this the case with you as well?

Not really. In my generation we didn’t think that way. Maybe the following generation probably think like that.

I always wanted to be in sports but I never imagined I’d end up in basketball.

I played football and volleyball as a kid. But when I started playing basketball it just clicked with me. I started loving the sport.

When I told my father I was keen on taking up playing basketball as a full-time career, and that it takes time in establishing yourself in the sport, I remember him agreeing to it only on the condition that I complete my education.

Education was a priority back then. But things have changed since. Now people finish studying in universities only to realise there are no jobs. So they exercise other options. 


Image: Peja Stojakovic
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra

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'Nowadays it is normal for NBA teams to draft overseas players'

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You were one of the first players from Europe to be drafted into the NBA. How was the experience?

I came in quite early, but there were a few before me. When I was drafted in 1996, it was like ‘who is he?’

I think the first Yugoslav players to be drafted happened in 1989 – Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic – and there were a few guys in the late 1980s and early 1990s who came in and opened the doors for us.

In the mid and late 1990s many international players came to the league and the NBA just expanded globally. It ended up in the living rooms of people around the world and that also helped the international players get recognition.

These international players, in turn, gave confidence to the management to go back and look for more.

So it was fun times. Nowadays, it is normal for NBA teams to draft overseas players.

Sacramento Kings don’t particularly have an enviable history. But they enjoyed arguably their best phase in the years you played. How do you look back to those years?

We really had a very good team. We clicked from the very beginning and had great chemistry on and off the court.

Everything kind of worked in our favour. We had a system that worked to maximise our potential and make us better.  

We managed to beat Utah (Jazz) and Portland (Trailblazers) but we had Lakers in front of us. We were very close but it was hard.

One year we thought we had a great opportunity but it didn’t go our way. In the hindsight, we all look back and feel bad that we didn’t win one championship.

But it was a great experience. We had a great time playing together and hanging out.


Image: Peja Stojakovic with cheerleaders
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra

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'Vivek Ranadive saved Kings from moving out of Sacramento'

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Are you aware that Sacramento Kings is now owned by an Indian (Vivek Ranadive)?

Yes, I know that. And we are all very excited about that.

He has actually saved the Kings from moving out of Sacramento. He is a very proud owner and he is proud of the fact that he is from India. It’s exciting times for Sacramento.

It’s a new chapter. I think they are going to build a very competitive team in the next couple of years.

You just see commitment form the new management and it is a good thing for the fans. They are excited.

Considering you come from Europe, football must be a passion…(interrupts)

Yes. Even to this day I’d watch a game of football than a basketball game. It’s natural.

I’m a big football fan. I’m a Red Star (Belgrade) fan. We were the European champions in 1991.

These days there’s no specific team that I watch, but I like watching the Champions League.

I also like the Bayern Munich team. I was really impressed with the way they played last season. And with the new coach (Pep Guardiola) they are going to do even better.  


Image: Peja Stojakovic
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra

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