As the training in Bosnia and Herzegovina approaches, the employees of the Lanxess Arena are busy in the stand reserved for the ultras from the Balkans on Sunday afternoon. “The greatest victory in the history of Bosnian basketball” left scars inside the beautiful colonial enclosure: dozens of seats were not bolted, making the place inaccessible for the opposition between France and Hungary . Nothing is invincible, however, in a room where it is said that nothing can surpass the European coronation of Vardar Skopje (handball) in 2019…
The wonderful scenes of joy observed at the end of the Bosnian exploits relate to everything that this team had to endure since the beginning of the summer: the hotel rooms divided into four, waiting for the development of the Estonian federation to be able to travel to Tartu for preparatory matches, air travel in economy class for colossi over 2.10 meters, the threat of withdrawal from the EuroBasket due to financial difficulties .. .« At the end of August, the Council of Ministers promised us a payment to our bank account in the first week of August. This did not happen, and for this reason the men’s team left for a tournament in Estonia, as well as the participation in EuroBasket, was questioned “, wrote the Bosnian federation on August 10.
— Jusuf Nurkić (@bosnianbeast27) August 29, 2022
Finally, the check arrived and the Bosnian delegation put their suitcases on the banks of the Rhine, in Cologne. A happy result because the Dragons look more like the best surprise of the EuroBasket by going to the gates of the round of 16, with a game and a unity that aroused the general praise “Watching them play is inspiring” lined up in particular Rudy Gobert, left again for a big duel on Tuesday with Jusuf Nurkic.
The star pivot of the Portland Trailblazers agreed to stop for five minutes in front of the microphones of French journalists, taking advantage of the opportunity to deliver a new lively message for the Bosnian people, more than simple sporting considerations. For several months, a violent war has engulfed Bosnia and Herzegovina, from which the Republic of Serbia has threatened to secede. 30 years after the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo, the longest in modern history, the scars of the conflict still exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country still divided between three ethnic groups: Croats, Serbs and Bosnians. In fact, the country has three presidents, one for each population group, and the one of the Republic of Serbia, Milorad Dodik, has several times referred to the dissolution of the central state this year, suggesting the threat of a return to tragedy… In this context, while the presidential elections are scheduled for October 2, Jusuf Nurkic calls on his fellow citizens to go and vote to change things.
Jusuf, your EuroBasket preparation is marked by…
(he cuts her off) I’m tired of this story! It hurts me to repeat that our country has a problem with the government and normal people do not want to suffer. We represent the real country. Whether you are from Bosnia or Herzegovina, I am convinced that we are one and that is what we show on earth. Our preparation was hell! Consider that the French team has no hotel to sleep in or food for its players. In fact, I can’t even find the words to express it. But at the very least, we can say it’s silly to have to manage that. Now here we are, we are excited to get to Cologne. When we are on earth, we don’t think about it anymore. For a young team like us, what we did at the Euros will be very useful for us!
Can this exciting preparation explain the unity that emerges from your team and the quality of your performances?
It is very difficult to find yourself in such a situation! For most players, it seems normal to be in such an unstable environment, but for me, having played in the NBA for many years, it is not at all. That’s what I’m trying to tell the Bosnian people: this is not normal. We should not worry about that, we should only worry about whether our game is good or bad. I hope that changes one day.
“We try to put aside our pride and our ego:
we play for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina”
Can your good results contribute to this? Are you playing it too?
No, we don’t play for… (he interrupts) Of course, we play for better training conditions, better gym, etc. But we play for the people, we don’t play for politicians or people like that. I never played for them! You can see that what our win yesterday (against Slovenia) means for the country, it means a lot. When we see that, we try to put aside our pride and our ego to be the best team possible. So can EuroBasket change the vision of our politicians? The war (in Yugoslavia) did not change their perspective, nor did the pandemic. I don’t think anything you can do can change anything, even if you win a gold medal… That’s been the truth for 30 years. I don’t trust them, most people don’t trust them. Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina should go to vote, there will be a presidential election this year. We must understand that something must change after 30 years: we cannot continue with the same government and the same regime for many years. We need to achieve something more modern, people need to live. Our children are constantly leaving the country… It’s not too bad but the population migrates to other places, the youngest continue to study abroad where they have many opportunities. 30 years later, people no longer want to hear about the war. And now, we have politicians coming out of the woods to say that a return to war is a possibility? But we don’t want to hear about that! I don’t want to hear about that, 99% of people don’t either. This is our mentality: we want to give the country something positive, to let them forget everything for a day.
Celebrating your success against Slovenia with your supporters is more than just basketball?
Really, it’s bigger than basketball. All sports here are more than just basketball. We didn’t come here to make money. I did not come to the Euros to enrich myself, nor did my 11 teammates. What is important for us is to represent our people. That’s what I told the boys before the start: even if we lose, we have to look like a team! We don’t want people to say we don’t fight or we don’t play. But, since the beginning of the summer, in all our games, I don’t think anyone can say that about us. And that is our goal!
You beat France nine days ago in Sarajevo in the 2023 World Cup qualifying. What are you looking forward to for tomorrow’s reunion?
Now you know it’s not a lucky day. We deserved this win. Tomorrow is a completely different game. We know them, we know them, we can’t hide anything. I think it was a good meeting. They have very good players and very good players. For us, France is a big country, we have 3.5 million inhabitants. One thing is for sure: we will play hard and we will be ready!
Interviewed in Cologne,
September 5, 2022 at 4:25 am