Gigi Datome, President of the Euroleague Players Association and Captain of the Italian national team talks to Future Stars about the complexity of the current situation in European basketball, his NBA memories and five years of unprecedented success at Fenerbahce.
You are one of the most respected players in entire European basketball. This was clearly underlined when you were voted by your peers to be the President of ELPA. I would like to start from asking you about the current state of basketball in Europe. Conflict between Euroleague and FIBA is not conducive to the development of the game in Europe and the rest of the world for that matter. How could this issue be solved?
This is absolutely the main issue and needs to be addressed by all stakeholders. They need to find a solution with common sense and desire to collaborate. We as players need to concentrate on the game and the right promotion of the game. For me personally and I’m not speaking here as a President of ELPA or captain of the Italian national team, I’m speaking as Gigi Datome the basketball player I think that this issue with the windows for national competitions is really bad for the entire picture of basketball. We must promote basketball as the best product possible and this is not feasible without the best players playing for their respective national teams. I have heard some positive stories from Asia and Africa where countries managed to have a strong national teams competing in qualifications games. So maybe it is possible there, but if you forget about Europe and America where currently the best basketball is played this is not a smart idea. All the best players must have an opportunity to join their national teams which in the current format is very tough. I hope that they will find solution to this situation very quickly. Otherwise everyone will suffer, players, fans and basketball as a product which we try to sell to the wider public will be damaged.
What do you feel are the crucial factors to be able to build truly financially sustainable European clubs able to conduct long term policies in terms of player development, marketing and growth of their professional team?
This is a very tough question and I’m not sure whether I have all answers. The Covid 19 pandemic has magnified the entire situation. The majority of European clubs are not financially sustainable businesses and of course in case of emergency their problems are multiplied. If we are talking about true sustainability you must have a budget for a development programmes and growth of the marketing. Most of the clubs nowadays spend their budget on their first team rosters because of their short term goals and don’t realise how important the process is of maturing young players to the growth of the club and that of the entire game.
Also communication with the fans needs to be much better, this Is where we can learn a lot of from the NBA. We don’t need to blindly copy the NBA because this a completely different world and European clubs needs to maintain their identity. We need to understand which aspects of the NBA marketing we can adapt to the European environment to promote the game. Improvement of merchandising surely would help with attracting new fans and the general image of the game
What areas do you feel clubs should be exploring to build the profile of the sport?
This is an even more difficult question! You don’t need to be a genius to understand that the game should create the profit. This means engaging more fans, bringing more fans to the arenas, playing more games, more quality games, basketball should be shown on more TV channels and basketball players should participate in more advertising campaigns. Clubs should build their own identity of course that relates also to the players who should have much more higher profiles in the popular culture. I touched on it before but I think the development of young players is massively neglected at the present.
How do you see the future of European basketball especially in relation to the NBA? For example, do you see any formal agreements regulating transfers of young players between the NBA and Euroleague?
I don’t know. Some young players drafted to the NBA are allowed to come back to Europe to develop here further. However once a young player has become ‘property’ of the NBA franchise it is very difficult to expect that they will be loaned back to Europe. I understand that the world property has very bad connotations but I think it reflects the situation pretty well. I must say here that the world is evolving, and the rules are evolving so maybe we can find formulas suitable for all parties. One thing is for sure that any proposed solutions require very careful
Could you reflect on your career in the NBA? How important was it for your development as a player and why did you finally decide to move to Fenerbahce?
It was effectively my first opportunity to go to the NBA and I decided that I really want to learn and try something new and exciting. I don’t regret choosing Detroit which at that time seemed to me was the best fit. However, I was very glad when I was traded to Boston where I had a chance to show my skills and feel like a true NBA player. I have great memories from Boston. After these two years I was drawing some interest from NBA clubs but my point of view changed drastically. With the NBA clubs my main concern was to get as much court time as possible while with Fenerbahce the aim was to win. When you consider the status of Fenerbahce in Turkish sport, the ambition of the club and the fact that people like Coach Obradovic, Maurizio Gherardini players like Jan Vesely and Bogdan
were already there, it made this project extremely interesting. I also knew the
ambitions of the club and that they would be signing guys like Pero Antic, Bobby
Dickson and Kostas Sloukas so I felt it was definitely the right thing to do. I always wanted to play Euroleague at the high level competing for trophies.
I can say now that my decision was definitely right and I have had a lot fun and
satisfaction in the process. It is of course very tough, especially that on a daily basis you are under a lot of pressure with working with a coach like Obradovic but at the same time very satisfying.
You are in the unique position to work with the most successful European Coach, Zelijko Obradovic. How importance was his presence in your move to Istanbul and how fulfilling is it for you to be a crucial factor in a team which rewrites the history of Turkish basketball?
He was the main reason why I returned to Europe. It was something incredibly attractive and charming for me to join Fenerbahce. It was an incredibly tough challenge for me especially considering that I have never played for a Euroleague team challenging for the highest honours. I love the role which coach Obradovic has designed for me and I’m very glad that I was able fulfil this role for five years with incredible results. Four consecutive Final Fours, winning Euroleague, a total of nine trophies both domestically and internationally these are enormous achievements. I’m very proud that we became one of the best European clubs. I’m also very honoured by the fact that I was chosen by Fenerbahce and I’m very glad that I’m still there.
Let’s finish with a question relating to the current crisis affecting the whole world. How do you see the end of the current Euroleague season?
Well we have just reached an agreement regulating the reduction of the salaries during this crisis. I’m very glad that we were able to find a creative solution in negotiations with Euroleague. Actually these negotiations showed that we have a common interest, common vision and willingness to really help each other in a tough situation. Of course everyone wants to come back to playing basketball as soon as possible but first we must create a situation that playing basketball is safe for all of us. Jordi Bartomeu made it very clear during his press conference a couple of days ago that people’s health will be the most important factor in any kind of decision making process. Hopefully sometime soon we will have conditions allowing us to play basketball. We will see. Personally I think it is a very tough and difficult situation. We need to wait and see. This decision surely will not be made by players but doctors and other people with medical backgrounds to decide the best solution.