Marcin Gortat Puts On For Poland: Visuals of Polish Heritage Night in D.C.
Throughout Marcin Gortat’s initial season with the Wizards, there have been several instances where Polish groups have come to see him play on the road—in Denver, Miami, Chicago, and Charlotte, to name a few. Gortat always makes time to visit with these fans after the games.
Weeks after being traded to Washington, the 6-foot-11 center found himself sitting at the desk of the Polish Ambassador to the U.S., Ryszard Schnepf. As Poland’s lone NBA player, Gortat embraces his role representing an entire country. He told Washington Post’s Michael Lee, “I carry a lot of responsibility. And there is a lot of pressure. So it’s just a lot of people tell me I’m the pride of Poland.”
The kindness he displayed to this young Polish boy and his mother a few months ago is an example of why he is an excellent representative of Poles. Via the D.C. Sports Bog:
About a year later, a member of the Polish military contingent in Afghanistan — Mirosław Łucki, who Gortat believes was part of the group he met — died from injuries suffered in an explosion in Afghanistan. “Any such tragedy — the death of a soldier — touches us in a special way, because it creates a void, which in this family the soldier cannot fill,” a Polish Ministry of National Defense official said at a ceremony in Poland honoring Łucki, according to a translation on the Ministry’s Web site.
Exactly six months after Łucki’s death, his wife and 8-year-old son Konrad were in Washington as guests of Gortat. With the financial assistance of Gortat and his foundation, they stayed in an Arlington hotel for a week during Konrad’s winter break, touring Washington’s museums, spending a day in New York City and watching two Wizards home games — wins over the Pelicans and Magic — from 100-level seats. Gortat planned to bring Konrad to Wednesday’s practice at Verizon Center and to lead him on a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility; he beckoned Konrad onto the court several times before Tuesday night’s game, autographing the boy’s Wizards hat and smiling when Konrad dribbled a basketball along the baseline.
It was only natural for the Wizards organization to host an evening for Gortat, honoring the Polish community in Washington, D.C. (Phoenix had scheduled a Polish Heritage night for their home opener, but it was canceled after Gortat was traded to Washington.) The Polish Heritage Night last Saturday at Verizon Center was promoted by the Embassy of Poland in the U.S., and also sponsored by the American Polish Forum and Gortat’s MG13 foundation.
Ambassador Schnepf was the honorary patron, giving Gortat an award on the court before the contest.
The Polish faithful came out in droves to show their national pride and support for Gortat. They waved flags, held up scarves, donned Gortat’s No. 13 Polish national team jersey, and Wizards No. 4 jersey, layered on face paint, and cheered wildly for any play in which Gortat was involved. There were various Polish-themed jumbotron segments during the game, the Wizards honored members of Poland’s military, and the Polish Cheerleaders Flex Sopot cheerleaders dazzled the crowd. The Chicago Bulls routed the Washington Wizards that night, but that did not eliminate the joy from the Polish contingent. There was a post-game meet up scheduled, and roughly 500 Polish fans stayed to see Gortat.
As most anyone will tell you, Washington is an international city. I have witnessed numerous NBA player meet ups with groups from their home countries. Ricky Rubio and Nene are recent examples. The player usually speaks to everyone for a bit, takes a group photo, and signs a few autographs. This was a completely different experience. Multiple fans were given chances to shoot free throws and 3-pointers for prizes with Gortat commentating on the microphone. The sensational Flex Sopot cheerleading squad performed amazing routines. Gonzaga basketball player Przemysław Karnowski was there along with MMA fighter Mamed Khalidov and Martin Lewandowski, President of the KSW MMA league.
There was a lengthy question and answer segment with Gortat. Most of the dialogue was in Polish, but there were a few done in English.
Gortat’s English is phenomenal, too. A Polish-American teen volleyball player asked Gortat how she could be successful like him.
“To be successful, you have to do a lot of different things. You have to learn, you got to be able to watch your game, watch your practices, gotta work on your technique, work on your physicality, you have to work on every little part of your body and game. To be successful, it takes a lot of different things. You can start doing all of that, if you got a lot of heart. Everything starts from the heart. If you are going to practice because you want to go, that is number one. If you are going to practice because someone told you to go, that is bad. Everything has to start from the heart, if you feel it, you will be successful. You just got to keep working. If you think you did a lot, do even more. If you are not tired, stay at the gym and work even harder. That is what you go to do. That is how I have been able to play seven years.”
Another asked what is like to be a NBA player.
“You can’t describe that. You have to perform every day. You have to bring it every day. If you are not going to bring it, there is a thousand guys right behind your back, waiting for you to trip. Sometimes when I am going to the gym in the offseason time, I have five, six young, talented players that tell me, ‘I want to be in the NBA, I want to be in the NBA.’
“I am thinking alright, let’s go, let’s see what you got. It is not easy, but you have to prove yourself, every day … otherwise you are out. That is why this is the best league in the world. You have 450 players. I am glad that I am one of them. That is it. I’m glad.”
Gortat, who is always dressed to impress, was asked, “Where did you get that sports jacket?”
“I bought it. Custom made. Unfortunately, I can’t find one in the store. The way you carry yourself off the court, this is how you play on the court. I learned that. I have seen veterans, who have 10 years in the league, and they come to the game in sweats or shorts or T-shirt. This is how you represent your name, your family, your team, the best league? You get paid millions for that, you better dress up. You better dress yourself because you represent a lot of people… I hope that I look good (applause), I feel comfortable.”
In a must-read interview by Kyle Weidie for ESPN TrueHoop, Gortat expressed interest on entering politics someday and maybe aspiring to be President of Poland.
If Saturday night was a test focus group, count me in for his campaign.
There is no polish word for “selfie.”
Cheerleaders Flex Sopot
A highlight for many attendees was this Polish dance team, who transcended the inevitable lechery with an outstanding routine that incorporated several props and, unlike their American counterparts, cultivated attention based on their talent. They changed into several different outfits and the home crowd enjoyed their positive energy. During Gortat’s post-game event, Flex Sopot broke out
the following routine, and I almost dropped my camera before soldiering on, and recording it in a state of disbelief.
I have never seen cheerleaders climb on top of the back board and rim in this manner to end their routine. If the Wizards sign Gortat to a new contract, they must get this team back to perform again at home games.