One of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague’s top stars in recent years, Mike James of AS Monaco, recounts some of the key moments of his career on the newest edition of The Crossover podcast with Joe Arlauckas.
What comes out of their animated conversation is an understanding between like-minded athletes of how a stone competitor like James can be loved by his teammates but misunderstood by others.
59:20 “I’m the villain, man,” James joked. “I’m like the villain that you like in the movie. You like him, but he’s still the villain.”
Nonetheless, James wouldn’t change much of what has happened to him along the way.
4:48 “It’s all part of the journey,” he says. “For people who had it a little bit easier, maybe they don’t appreciate it as much when they get [success]. I think I’m very appreciative. Just the work I put into playing basketball and how much I love basketball, I think that kind of shows.”
And if he isn’t the person smiling most on the court, James says there is a reason for that:
3:24 “To be at a high level you have to have a certain moxie or swagger or attitude about you. I think if you don’t have that, you just don’t reach your full potential as a basketball player or in any sport in general.”
James has starred for five different EuroLeague teams over eight seasons – Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, Panathinaikos Athens, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, CSKA Moscow and Monaco – leaving a remarkable trail of exploits along the way, especially for someone who wasn’t sure he would become a pro.
7:30 “Short answer is no, I didn’t think I would be a pro or play basketball for a long time,” he says. “At each stage, I was skeptical I would go to the next one.”
Instead, it was a matter of just six months between when James was playing in the Italian third division until he debuted in the EuroLeague in late 2014 as a mid-season pick-up by Baskonia. In his first full EuroLeague season, James was a key factor in Baskonia reaching its only Final Four in the last 16 years.
(19:50) “I don’t think we actually sat down to appreciate how good we were and the group that we had together,” he recalls. “But that being said, it was amazing to go to the Final Four. I haven’t been back since, which is upsetting.”
James cycled through Panathinaikos, Milan and CSKA since then, winning a Top Scorer Trophy and an All-EuroLeague nod in the 2018-19 season. He has scored more points during his time in the EuroLeague than anyone except Nando De Colo. But his return to the Final Four has been stopped in the playoffs and by the pandemic, among other reasons. James talks about his departure from a couple of those teams, but he’s content now to have landed on his feet in Monaco, leading a debut EuroLeague team into its current playoff series with Olympiacos Piraeus.
1:00:30 “We’ve got options,” he says of the best-of-five series, tied 1-1 before Game 3 on Wednesday in Monaco. “One of the main things about me playing [against Olympiacos]l is a respect thing… As much as I’ve been the opposition to them in the past, they play basketball the right way. They play hard, they play as a team, and they’re good. So a lot of respect to them.”
By his own count, though, the 31-year-old guard might have few such opportunities left, because his competitiveness won’t let him limp off into the sunset as an older player.
1:03:30 “I’ve got one or two years left,” James tells Arlauckas. “I can’t ever be bad at nothing. I can never be considered less than I am right now. Once I start feeling like I might go down, I gotta get out of here.”
That competitiveness was evident even during his turn on the show’s EuroLeague quiz.
1:06:00 “This is going to make me so mad if I don’t get a high score,” he said. “This is going to stress me out for a long time.”
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Guerschon Yabusele, Nicolo Melli and Vasilije Micic, coaching greats such as Georgios Bartzokas, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others.