With European players signing NBA contracts becoming commonplace in present day basketball it is all too easy to take for granted that this would not be possible without the ground-breaking operations of legendary agent Luciano Capicchioni and his agency Interperformances. In 1985 Bulgarian player Georgi Glouchkov joined Phoenix Suns. It is fair to say that Glouchkov who spent only one season in Arizona has not set the NBA on fire but he did something far more important. He opened the floodgates for leading European players to the best league in the world. This great chapter in sporting history was written by Cappicioni who was responsible for the move of both Toni Kukoc and Arvydas Sabonis to the Bulls and Trailblazers respectively.
Without any exaggeration you could be called the creator of the profession of sporting agents in European basketball. How important was your period in the US at Michigan State in forming your professional career? What were the main reasons and inspirations behind becoming a sports agent?
Yes, a lot of people give me the credit for being one of the first sports agents in the World. Michigan State and growing up in the USA obviously gave me some ideas towards this and in forming my professional career. I graduated from Michigan State early in the spring 1967 (should have graduated in the summer of 68). I returned to Italy in 67 but did not really think about becoming an agent till 1972. Jim McGregor was my mentor.
You played a crucial role in creating a bridge between the NBA and European basketball. This was absolutely groundbreaking in the 80’s and early 90’s. Could you tell us how difficult it was to break these initial barriers and the preconceptions that existed about the ability of European players to successfully perform in the NBA?
It was very difficult, most NBA Clubs were afraid to sign non-American players and did not really understand the talent that many European players had. The clubs did not understand that European players could have been an asset to the game and that they could fit in very well into the systems. Stern understood this and my idea and understood that by signing International players he would promote the NBA worldwide. He indirectly helped me and made my job easier as he promoted the idea with NBA Clubs.
One of the most prominent clients of yours from that era was Toni Kukoc. How difficult was it to finalise his transfer? Especially in the scenario when Chicago’s two main stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were very sceptical about this move.
The most difficult part in finalizing the transfer was actually caused by Toni not being too keen in playing in the NBA. Toni convinced himself to go only after he played two games in the Barcelona Olympics against the Dream Team.
Another player whose transfer to the NBA could be a ready made scenario for a political thriller was Arvydas Sabonis. Please explain at what stage you became involved in this process and how difficult it was to move a major sporting star between countries of such opposing political systems at a time when the relationship between them were really strained. I guess your doctorate in International Relationships was very handy?
My doctorate in International Relations was very useful in many moments of my career as an agent. However, in the case of Sabonis I used the teachings of my Psychology classes to convince Arvydas to go to the NBA. As a matter of fact, Sabonis went to the NBA from Spain and not from the former Soviet Union, His problem? As most European players Arvydas saw the NBA like a different planet. I and my associate, at the time Arturo Ortega had to convince him that the NBA was a league in which Arvydas would have played better than in any European League .We finally convinced him at the age of 31 to sign with Portland.
Toni Kukoc and Arvydas Sabonis were absolute stars of the European scene when they moved to the NBA. However, your first client who joined the NBA was a relatively lesser known Bulgarian, Georgi Glouchkov who joined Phoenix Suns in 1985. How did you get involved with him and how did you convince Phoenix that Glouchkov will be a valuable addition to their roster?
Georgi was lesser known but was one of the better players in Europe at the time. The president of Phoenix Suns Jerry Colangelo was the first NBA CEO that looked behind the Iron Curtain and dealt with the Bulgarian State authorities for his transfer directly. Jerry was convinced that Georgi could have played in the NBA for many more years but at the end of the season the Suns decided to waive him, and Georgi signed in Caserta (Italy) where he became a superstar.
What would you consider your greatest success as a basketball agent?
The greatest success as a basketball agent was getting Toni Kukoc drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Firstly, this involved keeping the Bulls interested in Toni while he played with Benetton. Then signing him to an initial contract with the Bulls. After one year with the Bulls we exercised a clause in his contract to finally sign him to a multimillion-dollar deal which, when he signed, was better than the contract of Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen. This required great team work on my part and that of my partner Herb Rudoy.
While the 80’s and 90’s were times of seismic changes in international sport, I would take the view that young players then had a much easier and clearer defined path to professional sport. Teams like Jugoplastica, based on a very young players were able to dominate in Europe. Nowadays its very rare that young players are playing main roles in leading European clubs. Could you share your view with us on the situation of young talented players trying to forge a professional career in todays game?
It is strange …but you are right. It seems that many coaches now, are afraid to risk playing young players. Coaches like Božidar Maljković at Jugoplastica, Bogdan Tanjevic at Stefanel Trieste and Dusko Vujosevic at Partizan had the balls to do it. For instance Tanjevic started Bodiroga at the age of 18 and he had the games like against Panasonic Reggio Calabria when he scored 53 points! Incredible!
What is your view on the current situation in European basketball in the light of conflict between Euroleague and FIBA? Surely the current state of affairs is more than confusing for people working on this market to say nothing about young people and their parents who would like to see basketball as a valid career. What solution do you see to this problem?
European Basketball is in no condition for conflicts. They must iron out their differences, forget politics or personal interests and think and work to promote basketball and to have basketball compete with Soccer.
Following on the previous question how do you see development of European basketball in the near future? How can European clubs build their long term financial feasibility and sensible relationships with the NBA?
European Basketball both at FIBA and Euroleague need CEO’s which are illuminated and are not conservative or bound by their bureaucracy. These CEO’s must work together and through their teamwork bring basketball to the success which it deserves
You have played an instrumental role in the development of a countless number of European stars at the beginning of their careers. What advice would you give to a young aspiring player today?
You should never be satisfied by what you have done. Young players should put the bar of success a bit higher every day. To achieve stardom young aspiring stars must work and try to imitate and, if possible, improve on what stars have done and accomplished.