By Antigoni Zachari / [email protected]
NBA Champion with the Miami Heat and member of the golden era of the French national team Ronny Turiaf visited Athens, Greece over the weekend, as a guest speaker of the Antetokounbros Academy at Onassis Stegi.
Turiaf attended the Academy’s Basketball School session alongside the Academy’s coaches and was invited on stage for a Q&A with the head coach of the Academy, Evina Maltsi, and the young athletes in attendance.
Eurohoops caught up with Turiaf in the framework of the event, and he opened up about his inspiring journey, the evolution of French basketball, winning an NBA title, and his connection with the late Kobe Bryant.
Shortly after being selected by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2005 NBA draft, Turiaf was diagnosed with an aortic root in his heart and had to undergo surgery to treat that. He had to overcome a mix of emotions, but as he said, his return to the basketball court on Kobe Bryant’s Lakers was all worth it.
“I don’t know if we have enough time to talk about the impact that Kobe had on me and also on a generation of basketball players,” Turiaf said. “What I can tell you is, I remember vividly, I think it was February 7, February 8, 2006. It was my first game against the Houston Rockets. I remember feeling like I was too slow, it was moving too fast. But what I remember the most is after the game when everybody jumped on me in the locker room. They threw Gatorade at me, they threw powder, it was just so exciting and they were telling me “welcome to the NBA, now you’re officially an NBA player”. I remember the excitement from my teammates, my peers and myself. Having seen me six months ago, prior to that, having to go an open heart surgery. I remember being so happy, so grateful and feeling like, okay, all of the efforts that I made were all worth it to experience that. Even though it was only like 52 seconds”
The French big shared some of his memories with Kobe that to this day he endears. “My fondest memories of Kobe would be the time away from the basketball court. We got to share moments, enjoying food and dinners, having meaningful and deep conversations about life and also about what we’re trying to do on the basketball court”.
After his two-year stint with the Lakers, Turiaf moved to the Golden State Warriors where he played between 2008 and 2010 and was then traded to the New York Knicks in 2010 before a historic moment in NBA history, the 2011 lockout.
“The 2011 lockout was very interesting. I was not involved in the negotiations, but I was fortunate that I played with Roger Mason, who at the time was part of the negotiations,” he commented.
“I ended up playing for three weeks with Tony Parker in ASVEL, who has potentially the No.1 draft pick by the way (Victor Wembayama) (smiles). What I remember the most about the lockout is what happened afterwards. I feel like it was the turning point in understanding, as basketball players, how do we want to be seen, how do we want to be involved in the game of basketball, and understanding how that works. If there is one key takeaway from the NBA lockout that I feel grateful for is the fact that, because of that, now retired NBA players, and guys that retired 20, 30 years ago, have life insurance. Which was something that was not implemented before the lockout. After that, everybody got on the same page and just trying to find a greater cause. It was a positive thing for the business of basketball”.
Shortly after the lockout ended, Turiaf returned in the NBA with the Washington Wizards in 2011-12, before being traded once more to the Miami Heat, with which he won the NBA title in 2012.
“I didn’t really dream about becoming an NBA champion,” Turiaf, who took interest in soccer at an early age said. “Everything that happened to my basketball career was a bonus. I almost didn’t really make it. My perspective maybe has shifted a little bit when I went from not being able to play to then having the chance to play again, to losing an NBA final and then I had the chance again to win an NBA final. So many times you hear the same, people will talk to you about “the journey” and how they’re supporting the journey, it’s not the goal. What I think about it is that, yes, I won an NBA championship, yes I’m so thankful, so amazing. To me the most fun part, it was the most difficult, which was the 60 days that it took me to get there. I remember those days like it was yesterday. Besides raising the trophy, it’s really what it took for us to get there. The moments and the emotion that we had to go through to get to the goal”.
A former member of the French national team, Turiaf also looked back on his presence at the selection and how this journey helped him build connections and a community.
“I dedicated my summers for 10+ years for the national team and it was an amazing experience. It’s one of those things that… when you hear the national anthem, when you just go and play against other countries. It’s very fun,” Turiaf stated. “For example, I was just walking in the streets of Athens earlier and I met someone that I played against when I was 15 years old. I was just telling them of having the fond memories of playing against [Nikos] Zisis and [Vassilis] Spanoulis. We are the same age with those guys. It’s not just for yourself, it’s also about all the other guys that you meet at a young age and then you grow with them and you become fan of them.”
Besides the national team, French basketball is now resurrected. AS Monaco qualified for the EuroLeague playoffs in their inaugural presence in the competition in 2021-22, Paris Basketball recently joined the 20-team lineup of 7DAYS EuroCup for the first time ever and there’s a strong representation of France across all competitions.
“What I think it’s super interesting is, I feel like France is at another crossroad of growth, popularity, development of sports business,” Turiaf said. “What the federation and the league have done has been tremendously successful. They have been trying to put the practices together. You have professional guys in Europe, overseas in the NBA, at different levels of success. With Nando De Colo being super successful for Fenerbahce… I feel like the growth of France and French basketball is only going to get better. Because of the fact that now, the generation that used to be players, are going to be key stakeholders into the world of basketball. As an investor, like Tony with the Academy, or Boris Diaw that is involved with the national team. But there’s not just those two guys, there’s also Nicolas Batum that is invested with Tony. Ian Mahinmi invested in the north, Nando is invested as well. You see that there is eagerness for us to give back, and share the experiences that we’ve had all over the world. French basketball is poised for another generation of successful players”.
He took the difficult decision to retire from professional basketball in 2016, and ever since, Turiaf has been involved in several endeavors, from investing to social media and arts. Now, he aims to inspire with his story and convey a message to the younger generation of players.
“Time means everything to me. Just thinking about time, it triggers me about what’s important to me,” he commented. “My dad asked me the same question a couple of years back. It was more of a statement. He said, “Ronny, now that you retired, you are going to be responsible about trying to figure out how does your day look like”. And he was right. Now it’s who do I want to spend my time with, doing what. That’s really what I think about every day. Right now I’m so thankful to be here, thanks to the AntetokounBros Academy and Onassis Foundation. It shows me that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, which is to share my experiences with kids, the same way that other people have shared their experiences with me when I was 14, 15 years old”.
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