EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|"It's a very nice award and you feel great when your colleagues put you in that spot, especially when you have so many other guys who really deserve the award." |
By Dimitris Kontos
When FIBA Europe announced lon Tuesday that Andrei Kirilenko was the winner of the vote for the 2012 Men's Player of the Year Award, the sun was yet to rise across the Atlantic and the Russian star was fast asleep in Minneapolis.
A journalist working for a Russian newspaper called the Minnesota Timberwolves forward with the news in the early morning.
"Andrei, congratulations, you won the award," said the journalist.
"I thought I already did," replied the still half-asleep Kirilenko, who had already won the award once before, in 2007.
"No, no, it's official now," said the voice on the phone speaking in his native language.
"It definitely felt nice [to hear the news]," Kirilenko told FIBAEurope.com.
"It's a very nice award and you feel great when your colleagues put you in that spot, especially when you have so many other guys who really deserve the award.
"I think [Pau] Gasol and [Tony] Parker really had a great season last year and it's very nice to be first."
"There are a lot of great guys who could be the winner for the last year but I think it's very nice to be around those guys and be among them.
"I think it's a very valuable award."
Kirilenko got more votes from the experts' panel than Gasol in second, Vassilis Spanoulis in third and Parker in fourth.
Despite the fact Russian fans did not vote in considerable numbers, he also came in fourth in fan voting, a fact that confirms he is enormously popular with fans all across Europe, regardless of nationality.
"The fans are great but sometimes they are very subjective," Kirilenko said.
"They have their preference and they like somebody and I think the guys that are around basketball always see who had a good season.
"It is very tough to count how many fans I have but I always have a strong idea.
"We players are playing for the fans. When we are playing a game we can't forget about the fans.
"I think we should really entertain them and give them our best effort not only on the court but off the court as well.
"I don't like the word job, but it's our responsibility to be involved with the fans; signing autographs, talking to them, cheer them up and encourage them.
"They pay you back with the same coin. They go to the games, they cheer for you, they are involved with everything that is going on, it's a back-and-forth relationship."
Surprisingly, the most vivid memory of 2012 in the mind of the Player of the Year award is not one of a moment of triumph, but one of disappointment.
"Losing in the final in the Euroleague game," Kirilenko recalls with no hesitation.
"It's a really huge experience and it is sad, but losing by a buzzer-beater is like a lottery."
Kirilenko spent last season on the books of CSKA Moscow, a super-team that was put together to win the Turkish Airlines Euroleague title, but lost to Olympiacos in the final in Istanbul.
"It was a great season," is Kirilenko's overall assessment though.
"The Olympic Games, a bronze medal and a lot of memories. The whole season with the Russian team was an unbelievable experience.
"I had never played in Europe in my prime and it was a great season to remember."
|Aleksey Shved plays alongside Kirilenko in Minnesota, as well as Russia. The Timberwolves are renowned for their plethora of international players |
GASOL, NOWITZKI AND STARS IN A TEAM SPORT
Only Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki and now Kirilenko have won the coveted FIBA Europe Player of the Year award twice.
The Spaniard and the German star have all but secured their legacy as two of best European players of all time.
Does this mean the Russian forward has now also reserved a place in the European basketball pantheon?
"It's not that important if it puts me in that category, but it is important if other people remember me," Kirilenko offers.
"I can think whatever I want but it's always the side from the people's perspective [that counts], so if they think like that, so be it, but if they don't think like that, no different."
Kirilenko turns 32 on Monday, so he still has plenty of time to collect a third award and go ahead of both Gasol and Nowitzki.
"I hope so, I will do my best," he says.
"As I said, those guys play tremendous basketball and it's going to be very tough to beat them.
"Plus they are very good friends of mine!
"Basketball is a team sport.
"It's very hard and I don't understand how people really think [decide] who the best is, because those guys had tremendous seasons and to be one of the best is hard to describe.
"I wish them luck and I think they deserve this prize."
Following the season with CSKA and the Olympics in London, Kirilenko returned to the NBA for the Timberwolves joining Spain's Ricky Rubio, Montenegro's Nikola Pekovic and his fellow Russian Alexey Shved on the team.
The Minneapolis team has become a firm favourite with European fans.
"Cheer for us," Kirilenko urges fans in the old continent.
"We have a lot of European guys on the team and a lot of international guys.
"We are going to try and do our best to make the play-offs but again we have a very young and promising team.
"We are going to keep working and try and make our fans happy."
FIBAEurope.com would like to thank the media department of the Minnesota Timberwolves for their assistance in conducting this interview.