Select Cuts from the Polish Hammer (Before He Met the ‘Biggest Hero’ of His Life: Steven Seagal)
If the season ended today, Washington would be sending the 17th overall pick to Phoenix in exchange for Gortat. Missing out the ‘deepest draft in years’ (according to often inexact pundits)? At 17th, that’s probably OK, assuming that one season of Gortat not only helps the Wizards into the playoffs for the first time in six years, but also gives Washington the inside
track to retain Gortat’s services. Of course, this is also contingent on price tag. If Gortat went home with a four-year, $40-43 million contract with the fourth year non-guaranteed, would Wizards fans be happy? (Likely a resounding yes, along with team brass.) Would Gortat’s agent and perceived value be happy? (Probably not/we’ll see.)
Note this: Only LeBron James and Kevin Durant finish better than Gortat within three feet of the rim; he leads the Wizards in plus/minus per 48 minutes (+5.4); and his on-court presence provides team-high boosts in metrics like eFG%, Assist Ratio, and fast-break points. Also, in Miami the other day, Gortat met the “biggest hero” of his life: Steven Seagal. So there’s that.
Head over to ESPN TrueHoop to check out the trimmed-down version of my recent interview with Gortat, “Throwing Down the Polish Hammer,” where he talks about performing pick-and-rolls with John Wall, aspirations to become the president of Poland, pre-game hype music, ripping towels, the difference between “Polish Machine” and “Polish Hammer,” and what it will feel like to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
Below on TAI, cuts from the raw interview, including Gortat on: finding his offensive comfort zone; what Polish pride (and the forthcoming Polish Heritage Night in D.C. in April) means to him; finding his ‘sweet spots’ in the District; gold coins and food harvesting; and what he really thinks about the comparisons of John Wall to Kyrie Irving, or even Wall to his former teammate, Goran Dragic.
With Bradley Beal and the two-man game, your involvement is different than from with John Wall. Beal is moving off the ball around you a lot, and you are the screener with the ball giving hand off or dump off passes to him. Tell me about how that specific action is designed for him.
With Bradley it’s a totally different story, because first of all he’s a true shooter, he’s an incredible shooter. A defender is always going to follow him and go over the screen, which is crucial in situations like that. And what’s good about Bradley is he’s in constant, aggressive mode, and the good thing for him is that he’s got such an incredible, quick first step and changing direction—it’s so amazing and so fast—that he’s able to lose his defender in one step just by changing direction. And if he’s going to shake the defender off his body for a least half a foot, I’m able to get him a screen and get him open. So, that’s made him super dangerous. And obviously my big man is staying low because he doesn’t know which way Bradley’s going to come out, and there’s a lot of times that the guard is just stuck on me on the screen, and Bradley is stopping right off of my screen and he’s able to pull up and shoot the ball.
So, it’s a totally different ball game. But both of them, I’d say they are unique. John has incredible speed, incredible agility, fast, and you gotta admit—we gotta be honest—his jumper is getting better. His jumper is getting way, way better. And he’s still got so much room to improve.
With your own offensive game—and being new to the team there’s certainly an adjustment period— but you said that you were uncomfortable in the beginning, trying to find your role. What has transpired to make you comfortable up to this point now?
“I think it’s just time. I think it’s just time to spend some time with people in the locker room, people around the organization. You know, go out to the restaurant and go out to the club with them. Spend some time on the plane and in the hotel, it just takes time to get to know people, get to know their habits, what they like to do, what they don’t like to do. At some point you got to figure out in the basketball game where you can find a situation for yourself to be able to score.
And obviously now with Nene being out, a lot of things have opened up for me and made me the number one option inside. I want to continue. I don’t want to stop. I really feel comfortable doing it. The most important thing is I’ve got a lot of confidence and it looks like the team is trusting me even more and more. Coach is giving me more touches, and I don’t want to disappoint them. I want to stay aggressive. And it all depends how I’m going to come into the game, if I’m going to come aggressive, if I’m going to come with the mindset: catch the ball and attack the rim, then I’m going to be a threat and then automatically the team’s going to be a danger.”
[At one point during the interview, Nene walks by the open doorway for the room in which we are sitting. Gortat comments on how Nene is “flying now” on his crutches. Nene responds, saying, “I see you’re passing the ball, now [phrase that rhymes with brother trucker], I see you passing the ball.” The two formed an immediate bond upon Gortat’s arrival, especially because it allowed Nene to more often avoid playing center. The two exchange some smiles, laughs. “This is how you’re going to do me now?” Gortat says as Nene crutched himself away.]
On ESPN TrueHoop, Gortat answers a question about his bench celebration style. He focuses on his actions after a recent Al Harrington dunk, but there are also these choice cuts of
exuberance from this season: after a John Wall dunk, post-Andre Miller to Al Harrington layup, or even on the court after a jam by Nene.
Gortat is not only a motivational celebrator on the court, but he is also confident enough to challenge teammates in the locker room. In early-December, Gortat implored Nene to play through a minor injury because the struggling Wizards were dire for his services. Gortat told the Washington Post, “I know he wasn’t happy with me. I know he was in pain. But it’s better he’s angry with me and he plays. You know why? Because our team needs him.”
The Wizards are going to host Polish Heritage night on April 5 (when the Wizards play the Bulls at the Verizon Center). What does that and Polish Pride mean to you?
“First of all I’m the only Polish player in the NBA, so it means a lot. There’s a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders. I feel like I have to perform every night because there’s a lot of people watching me, not only fans around the world, but also fans in my country. So I have to perform. I’ve got a lot of people coming in, a lot of kids watching me every day. So having Polish heritage night here is going to be huge for the Polish community here in D.C. We’re going to have a lot of important people coming in. We’re going to have the Polish ambassador, we’re going to have the minister of sports, we’re going to have one big MMA fighter from Poland coming in, Mamed Khalidov. We’re going to have the owner of the federation of MMA coming in here, too. I’m saying ‘MMA’, the real name is ‘KSW’ in Poland. So there’s going to be a lot of famous people here, a lot of people coming in. It’s just going to be big. Hopefully we’re going to have about a 1,000 people here, we’re going to sell out of tickets. I’m going to give away a lot of tickets. We’re going to have a lot of kids. We already started promotional campaign a few days ago, so it’s going to be big.”
You started your foundation, MG13, in 2009, you’re active with Polish troops, you had a young boy whose father died in Afghanistan over for a game in Washington, you’ve visited Polish troops in Afghanistan yourself. What prompted you to start this foundation?
“When I made it to the NBA, I realized that I would like to do a lot of different things in Poland. And there was always a problem, ‘How do you do it? We need to find the people.’ And it was kind of a problem for me at the beginning. But then, when I made it to the NBA, I met a lot of different guys, and I think the guy that had the biggest impact on me was Adonal Foyle, a veteran who taught me a lot. Up to today, he’s my big mentor. He’s teaching me a lot of things. The most important thing is that he had a foundation and he told me how to do it, how to open up, how to manage the foundation. And today, I got to be honest, my foundation grew to ridiculous sizes. We have a lot of different projects, we have a lot of people working for us, we have a lot of different sponsors for us, partners, and we are definitely grateful for that. Every year we are sending between 30 to 40 people to the States, all different kids, all different families, all different soldiers. We do camps, coaching clinics, the list goes on and on.
The most important thing is that it gives me a lot of fun to do that. I see a kid or I see a family in pain or people in need, I can help them without even saying my name. So I can just tell my people from my foundation to call these people and help them and take care of them, make sure they are all set and good for life. And that’s what they do. Nobody has to know about me or anything. And this is the best thing. I don’t need that publicity that I’m the guy who’s going to help. I don’t want to be the Robin Hood that’s going to steal from the rich and give it to the poor. At the end of the day, the worst part is when somebody’s going to find out that you actually did help, you’re going to have additional hundred people calling you with the same problem. And the problem is to say no to these people. Obviously we can’t help everybody. We have to select who we can help. There’s obviously a lot of scums who are trying to get money, people acting like they’re poor or they need surgeries or something. Like I said, you have to be careful but at the end of the day we do a lot of things and I have a lot of fun. I’m grateful that the president of Poland actually recognized that and commended me for founding my Foundation and helping out people.”
Washington, D.C. is a more internationally diverse city—especially in comparison to Phoenix or Orlando—so how have you found yourself connecting with the city so far after several months?
“First of all, you just gotta find your sweet spots, if I could put it this way. You just gotta find a few restaurants that you like … few spots, bars, restaurants, clubs, and places where you feel comfortable, like the Polish embassy or my own apartment where everything is made just the way I like it and make sure that I feel comfortable in it. Polish church, Polish schools, if you find all that, automatically you feel better. It’s all about the relationships you have around. And I believe I’m the guy who can start relationships really fast and build those relationships for years. Thanks to that, I’ll always feel comfortable in any place I am.”
What are some of your favorite spots to eat?
“I have my own chef, a Polish chef, that cooks for me. He actually cooks for the ambassador, too. When I’m in town, which is usually a week or two weeks, he’ll find a day where he cooks for me for two or three days up front. And I’m fortunate enough, thanks to Mr. Ambassador, I’m able to eat Polish food and really good food, great quality food.
But there are also places like Fogo de Chao, the steakhouse. Matter of fact, I was there Thursday, it’s a greeeat spot. I love this spot. And I have to say it, a Five Guys burger. I mean, you can’t go wrong with Five Guys burger and Cajun French fries.”
What happened that time when your Twitter account started spitting out dozens and dozens of tweets about collecting gold coins, harvesting food, and achieving the ‘Dino Leaser’?
“That was Tribes. I played that game probably about a year ago. And one of my friend’s kids grabbed by iPad and I said, ‘Go ahead, play, kill the time.’ And unfortunately Twitter was connected to that. I get messages, ‘Somebody broke into your Twitter.’ I check and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s crazy.’ “
How important are these two factors: being in an international city like Washington, and knowing that they have an up-and-coming point guard like John Wall?
“It’s huge. For me as a center who likes to play pick-and-roll, it’s huge. You need to have a good point guard who wants to play pick-and-roll, who wants to pass the ball. I ain’t going to lie, I played with Goran Dragic in Phoenix—he was a pick-and-roll player, but he wasn’t a willing passer just like John Wall. Goran is a great player. He’s a scoring point guard. But John is a scoring point guard and a passer. He can score 30 but he can still drop 15 for you. It’s huge, and as a big man I’m going to look at that. And obviously being in a city where you have a Polish community, that’s huge, too. Being on the East Coast is huge for me, being closer to my country and being closer to Orlando where I live in the offseason.”
Recently, after a win in Cleveland, John Wall said that Kyrie Irving was “probably a better offensive guy, skill-wise, and can basically take over games with his skills,” but that he (Wall) was “more of a point guard that likes to get his teammates involved and am blessed with the talents and abilities to get hot and able to score the ball. Richard Jefferson also told me before the Jazz game that he sees John Wall improving to the point where free agents are going to start to be willing to take less money to come play with him. Is that they progression you see?
“Yea, I definitely see this. Well, maybe not yet—he’s still got to win something, he’s got to take the team somewhere — but I definitely see that. If you’re going to build this team, then this is a great person to build around because he is improving. He’s definitely improving. With all respect for Kylie (sic—talking about Kyrie Irving, but Gortat always calls him Kylie instead, seemingly unintentionally), Kylie’s a great scorer, he’s a great shooter—he’s a better shooter than John—but end of the day, John is the better point guard. I believe John is the better point guard. He’s leading the team better. He has a winning team. And numbers don’t lie. I mean, he’s winning, he’s passing the ball, he’s scoring, he’s doing everything.”