The hangover of the 2014 Euroleague Final Four is wearing off for the majority of basketball fans that descended on the Mediolanum Forum in Milan this past weekend, with the Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv fans still reeling from their celebrations the night before as hoards of supporters still clad in the yellow shirts that they proudly wore on Sunday still on their backs en route to the airports.
One person boarding a flight back to Tel Aviv from Milan this past Monday morning was winning coach David Blatt. A man, who over the years has been one of the most audible coaches not just in the Euroleague, but also in world basketball. His post-game press conference was no doubt one of basketball’s great lectures as Blatt, who holds a degree in English Literature from Princeton University quoted the late Apple owner Steve Jobs and shared past stories about his old mentor Pini Gershon, who guided Maccabi to their last Euroleague championship in 2005 before Blatt, who was his assistant nine years ago equalled that feat.
“One of the great quotes was from the last moments of Steven Jobs’ life … he said before he passed away, he said ‘WOW’,” Blatt said as he opened his press conference after their overtime win against Real Madrid. “In basketball, and in sport everyday isn’t a great day. You have tough days, you have disappointments, you have obstacles, you have problems and the way that you deal with those things and the attitude that you take from that determines how you’re going to go forward and how you’re going to be successful and as a coach whether you’re going to lead your men to bigger and better things or lead them out the dark when they don’t see.”
For first timers listening to Blatt, they would think that he was rambling on. But this is he all over. From his statements at Eurobasket and at the world championship, even to the Olympic Games in London back in 2012, Blatt’s wisdom and profoundness in his speeches are near enough unparalleled.
“Blatt’s knowledge has no boundaries,” Maccabi guard Ricky Hickman said. “He gets mad at us sometimes, but it’s only because he wants us to be better team players. He is incredibly intelligent in his approach to a game and how he coaches us when we’re playing. We all trust his judgment 100 percent and we love playing for him.”
The Maccabi players indeed love working and playing for Blatt. And for good reason, the American-Israeli is a winner. In Europe, he has done everything he has needed to do. He’s a winning coach internationally. Guiding Russia to what some would call a surprise win in the gold medal game against Spain at Eurobasket back in 2007 in their own backyard of Madrid, in the very arena that will host the Euroleague Final Four in 2015. He has led that same nation to a bronze medal finish in Lithuania three years ago and in his final tournament as Russia’s national coach, helped them to a third place finish at the Olympic Games in London in 2012.
At club level, he has won Israeli titles both as an assistant and as a head coach. But this victory on Sunday night, as the clock approached midnight was the sweetest of them all.
“This is certainly one of the greatest accomplishments that I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “And it’s because I get to coach players like [Tyrese Rice], that’s what makes it so special. Basketball is a team game, it’s about winning as a team, it’s about finding quality it’s about finding guys with character, it’s about them accepting coaching and it’s about continuity, keeping them together over time. Now we have a chance to keep them together because we got guys like Tyrese Rice.”
Euroleague Final Four MVP, Tyrese Rice had just entered the room at the time of Blatt’s speech.
Blatt, along with his team arrived at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to a sea of yellow shirts and faces of pure joy. The Israeli flag waving proudly as ever and the celebrations continuing into the night over at Rabin Square where thousands of people had gathered to celebrate with the Maccabi Electra players.
Sure, the players made it happen on the court, but the mastermind behind this and the man that brought these thousands together, was Blatt.
So what now for Blatt? The off-season rumour mill is already spinning with him being linked to CSKA Moscow for next season. Something that the playcaller hasn’t been notified and saying himself in the Final press conference, he hasn’t had a call from CSKA but they have a great coach already in Ettore Messina.
The moment Blatt was asked that question, his eyes lit up, much like they did when he had just won Russia Olympic bronze in London two years previous. There is no doubt that if any team in the league called him up, if the terms were in his favour, he would accept.
Blatt, almost putting himself down, admits that he is no-one’s first choice. And yes, there is a strong chance that he is right. NBA team directors seemingly have a fear of looking for coaches beyond the NBA. If they haven’t coached in the league, to them they are not up to the task. Blatt though is a different story. A chance to prove himself as an assistant coach first would be the ideal opportunity for Blatt to see where he fits in. After all, it’s worked for former Great Britain coach Chris Finch, who went from coaching in Belgium for Mons to D-League success, and now he’s an assistant to Kevin McHale in Houston.
“I’d love to one day make my way back to the United States, to be in the best league in the world,” Blatt admitted. “You got to have somebody who wants it and there is a lot of great coaches in the NBA, a lot of great coaches. And there’s a lot of great coaches who want to coach in the NBA.
“I’m just another guy who wants to do it, has the ability to do it but I don’t think I’m necessarily anybody’s first choice if somebody comes up and calls my name or calls my phone I’m going to answer it but I know I’m not the only guy out there. I know I’m not the top guy on anybody’s list at least [before Maccabi’s Euroleague win].”