Aleksandar ‘Sasha’ Djordjevic was in Geneva on May 23 and took part in the Assignment Ceremony for the 2014 FIBA World Championship.
Everyone watched highlights of the point guard who shone bright for the former Yugoslavia. In the big tournaments for the Blues or the numerous clubs he played for, Djordjevic always stood as a game-winner. In the European title game of 1995, Djordjevic scored 41 points for Yugoslavia in a gold-medal win over Lithuania.
The playmaker three years later enjoyed one of his finest moments by helping Yugoslavia beat Russia in the FIBA World Championship title game in Athens.
It was evident early on that he would be special.
He celebrated a gold-medal triumph at the 1987 FIBA Junior World Championship in Bormio alongside Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac and Dino Radja. Djordjevic went on stage with another legend, Lithuania’s Arvydas Sabonis, at the assignment ceremony and opened the envelope that revealed Spain would host the 2014 FIBA World Championship following voting by the FIBA Central Board.
He spoke to FIBA.com’s Jeff Taylor after the ceremony.
FIBA: Did you know you would have such a prominent role at the ceremony, Sasha?
DJORDEVIC: I wasn’t expecting it. I was really happy about it. I was surprised to have so many emotions coming back and having my heart beat really strong. It was a nice moment and I have to say thank you to FIBA.
FIBA: When we saw those highlights of you as a player in Athens at the 1998 FIBA World Championship and the other tournaments, it brought back a lot of memories for everyone in the room. It doesn’t seem that long again that you were out there on the court.
DJORDEVIC: Yes, and I’m missing those days on the court, the locker room especially. I will always feel like a player. No matter what else I do in basketball, I will always try to present myself as a player and as an ex-player, whether that is coaching or doing whatever for the team because I think that the emotions players express are the best thing in the sports - in our sport especially.
FIBA: FIBA World Championships are extremely special, and that was evident just taking part in the assignment ceremony for the 2014 FIBA World Championship in Geneva with Spain selected to host the event.
DJORDEVIC: One doesn’t realize until he finishes his career how many opportunities there are to play in the World Championship. I played just one, but I was supposed to play in five. So for one reason or another, the embargo in 1994 for my country, the ex- =Yugoslavia, we were supposed to host the World Championship, but they were designated to Toronto. It felt like something was stolen from you and you don’t know why. If you go out into the parking lot and find your car spot empty and you don’t find your car …it’s not exactly the same feeling. It’s something like that because I had the feeling with the car. You feel like, "Oh my God, why? Why?" You never find the answer. Those World Championships are definitely the best thing that can happen to an athlete, playing for his own country, winning a medal - a gold medal. Getting a Cup, being a captain - those are things I’ll never forget, and I’ll always be proud of for the rest of my life. I’ll tell my children about it, all the other children.
FIBA: Spain won the 2006 FIBA World Championship and they seem to fully embrace what you are talking about. They love playing for the national team. Do you believe it’s like this for all countries, for all international players?
DJORDEVIC: Once you have a generation and the players are really friends on and off the court, and they live all their experiences good and bad together, then they find that thing that my generation had and a couple of generations before mine in Yugoslavia had - winning. So Spain has that “thing” after winning the Junior World Championship with the same generation of (Pau) Gasol, Raul Lopez, Jose Calderon - and they’re continuing to do it. They can’t wait for the first day of the training camp to get together to try and reach another gold medal. That’s the best thing that can happen to an athlete. You forget about sacrifice, you forget about tough times. You think about how good you are going to feel playing with your best friend, your friends on the court and playing for your country. That’s something special.
FIBA: Something you said at the assignment ceremony that really shook up the room is when you pointed out that only one federation was going to win the right to host the 2014 FIBA World Championship and that the reaction of the federations to each other was important. You said it was just like a game, and that the teams that lose need to go and congratulate the team that wins, and the team that wins needs to go and praise the others for having played a good game, and then you need to move on.
DJORDEVIC: Absolutely. The game is over, and you need to start to think about another one. Since I live in Italy, a lot of my friends played with (Italy Basketball Federation president) Dino Meneghin in his last game with the same team and they adore him and appreciate him a lot as both a friend and a basketball legend. He is leading the basketball movement in Italy. What he should do is just move on, right now, to achieve a new goal. It might be (to host) a European Championship in 2013, something that hasn’t been designated yet. So, that might be the goal for Italy. The same goes for China. They had a little bad luck. They just had the Olympics and it was kind of difficult for them to get it. Nevertheless, they are the strongest competitor ever when it comes to organizing any event and not just sports. So China should just look for another goal and I’m sure they will. They have the organization that maybe the Italian Basketball Federation didn’t have until now because of a lot of changes. Congratulations to Spain. They’re the best and I’m not surprised they won it. I played there. I even have a Spanish passport (smiling). When it came to Italy and Spain, I used to say, “I’m winning for sure.” So I’ll be the winner today. I’m happy for them because I know how much (Spanish Basketball Federation) president Saez did for them, what the organization is like to really take care of their teams, the events, the competitions. They are really an example to look at to be as them, or better than them although that’s going to be tough because they are at a very high level.
FIBA: Okay Sasha, we have to look back at that 41-point explosion you had in the goldmedal game of the 1995 EuroBasket against Lithuania. What got into you that day? What did you have for breakfast?
DJORDEVIC: (Smiling) I can’t remember, but I’d have the same thing for breakfast every day of my life if I could. That was a special day in my life, and a special day for my country because we had come out of years of the embargo and we didn’t play as a national team during that time. We won that European gold and all of the people were out in the street celebrating and it was really special. I think it’s (41 points) still a record in the gold medal game, which wasn’t FIND MORE INTERVIEWS ON WWW.FIBA.COM bad. I left something behind.
FIBA: You can still play now, right?
DJORDEVIC: I’m still thinking like a player. I miss those times.
FIBA: If you were a boxer, you could come out of retirement.
DJORDEVIC: (Smiling) Yes, like (Evander) Holyfield or (Mike) Tyson. No really, I’m a skier now. I spend all my time on the slopes. But basketball hasn’t lost me.
FIBA: Your name often comes up when there are coaching vacancies. What’s going to happen with respect to that?
DJORDEVIC: Well, I have two kids - 10 and six-year-old girls. My wife and I have lived in a lot of different countries and places. We want to give them the continuation of a normal life, having a place to go on a Saturday or a Sunday and not just a game - but for them to go and meet their friends and to grow up with their friends, and for us to meet their families in order to enrich our lives. That is sometimes even more important, to know how to be a friend. To make a friend is easy, but to keep it is very difficult. It’s one of the things that makes your life richer. We want that to happen for them (the daughters) and we’re going to think about ourselves. We live in Milan and plan to live there for years to come. From there, we’re close to Geneva, to Belgrade, to Spain. It’s a good place for our two daughters to start their own lives in school.
FIBA: We’re thrilled to have spoken to you, Sasha. It’s great to interview people who see the bigger picture in life. One more thing - did you get emotional on stage at the assignment ceremony and shed a tear? It looked like you maybe you did.
DJORDEVIC: (Laughing) No, but Sabas (Arvydas Sabonis) was because they kept showing a picture of him with a Lithuania shirt after they lost to us in 1995. He was like, "Man, I won so many things and they put that up?" We’re actually going to have dinner now.
FIBA: You won’t bring up 1995 again will you?
DJORDEVIC: Yes, I probably will. Seriously, he’s a great sportsman and knows how to shake hands.