Marcin Gortat on the Gortat Brand and 100 Ideas Per Hour | Wizards Blog Truth About

Marcin Gortat on the Gortat Brand and 100 Ideas Per Hour

Updated: December 19, 2014

[Ed. Note: TAI’s Polish correspondent, Bartosz Bielecki (@bart__92), returns with—you guessed it—a translated Marcin Gortat interview. For the October-December 2014 issue of “Champion” magazine, Gortat, in his hometown of Łódź, sat down with Grzegorz Miecugow (and photographer Marta Wojtal) in late-August to discuss an array of Gortat things: his brand, entry into the NBA (and later mutiny), life in Poland, and a hundred ideas an hour. Enjoy the read. —K.W.]

[Mr. Gortat. Photo credit: Marta Wojtal, for Poland's "Champion" magazine.]

[Mr. Gortat. Photo credit: Marta Wojtal, for Poland’s “Champion” magazine.]

Grzegorz Miecugow: Where are you flying?

Marcin Gortat: Home. Orlando, Florida. I have a big house there where I’ll rest a bit, and then I’ll fly to Washington, because the season is soon starting.

So by “flying home,” you mean America?

Gortat: Yes, it is a bit like that. And that’s because America has given me practically everything. The job, the opportunity to develop myself, and the possibility to make my dreams come true. And all of that at the highest level. That’s why, unfortunately, I’ll be calling this place home for many years to come.

Why “unfortunately”?

Gortat: Unfortunately, because I’d like all of that to be in Poland. So that the living conditions would be as they are in America, so that the environment in Łódź would be as it is in America, and so that the mentality would be a bit different, so that ambitious people, that are striving and fighting for a success, would be perceived in a different way.

Do you remember your first encounter with the United States?

Gortat: I do, because it was a real shock. It was 10 years ago. I was invited by the Orlando Magic for a one-month workout, in preparation for the Summer League. And I have to say that it was amazing to live in Florida—in a hotel that was a 10-minute drive away from the arena, to dwell among the Americans and to workout regularly. It was amazing. Fantastic experience.

You were 20 then. Did you speak English?

Gortat: I did—very well, and that was probably that big advantage that enabled me to not only communicate, but also to get to know America on my own. I’ve always been curious about new places, and I’ve always been a loner, so that’s why I was able to zip around all of Orlando: the clubs, restaurants, parks. I was looking for interesting places. The first day I set foot in Orlando, I said: ‘I could play here, I could see myself here.’

And so it was.

Gortat: Three years later, I signed the contract (with the Mavericks, which was matched by the Magic).

So you’re landing in Orlando and thinking, ‘It’s so cool in here, I could live here.’ Nothing disturbed you? Nothing made you nervous?

Gortat: No, nothing made me nervous. Someone could have said: ‘You’re far from friends, far from family—it has to be hard.’ But I was there to follow my dreams, such dreams that could guarantee me a standard of living that would allow me to bring my friends and family there. Orlando fits me great. It is said that Orlando is more of a resort for tourists, and more for older people who want a break from living in the huge cities like New York, Los Angeles, or Miami. Even though I’m still young, Orlando suits me.

For people my age (59) the name ‘Gortat’ is not unfamiliar. I was cheering for your dad, who was an excellent boxer and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. How does your father perceive you today?

Gortat: I think that deep inside, he is happy for me. Unfortunately, the truth is, he is not very talkative. He saw me play maybe two times for the national team. He’s never seen me in an NBA game.

He doesn’t have a TV?

Gortat: He does. He watches me on TV, but I’d rather him to come to the game to watch me play live. Unfortunately, these days, my dad is a man tired of sport, of life, and it’s very hard to make him leave home.

Is Marcin Gortat today not only a man, but also a brand?

Gortat: You can say so. I think so. I’m sort of a small corporation.

How many people do you employ?

Gortat: I was counting it recently, and it turned out that I employ 14 people. They are marketing managers, sports agents, assistants, PR people, and people responsible for my Web pages. There are also my business partners who check on different investments for me that are offered by some different, strange people.

So somebody says: ‘Marcin, I have an offer for you. Let’s do this, and that,’ and then you say to your partner, ‘Take a look at this.’?

Gortat: Pretty much. Usually, more than 50 percent of those offers are turned down immediately, and I don’t even hear about them because my people know me well enough to know that it’s something that won’t interest me. Because it doesn’t coincide with my aims. And I’m not even talking about the profit.

Who taught you to live in business?

Gortat: I think that living in a special community… Almost every day I’m meeting NBA veterans, different business people. That’s how it is in the States, and how it was when I played in Germany. That’s hundreds of contacts and a lot of experience. I think that it’s the reason why the Gortat brand is developing every year. I told you that I employ 14 people, but if you would count the school that’s working under my foundation, then it turns out that I employ over a hundred people.

I’m 30, the school was founded three years ago, so you can say that at the age of 27, I was employing way over 100 people. It’s not easy to live with the awareness that if I slip, all those people may lose their jobs. But today, I can proudly say that we’re not mediocre, we’re a big brand and we’re still growing. This is a responsibility, and you have to pay a toll for that. For instance, my relationships with family and my closest friends are hurting because of that.

When you were talking about the school, you smiled. When you were talking about the profits from the business, there was no smile. What’s the measure of the success for you then?

Gortat: I think that it’s fulfilling the things that make a man happy. For me, it’s being one of the best basketball players in the world, it’s to be a dominant player in a game—that’s what makes me happy. But it’s also fulfilling that I can go to a school, build a gym for the kids, that I can meet a hundred kids on the camp, talk to them, dribble the ball with them. It’s not only giving, because I’m also taking energy from it. I know that there are kids who can’t sleep for three days before the camp, because they’re so excited to go and play with Marcin Gortat. There are kids polishing their shoes all week to be well prepared to train with me. And that’s what motivates me, what drives me. I can see the stubbornness with which they’re practicing, often just because I pointed something out to them. That’s a huge responsibility. Sometimes in the NBA, I feel that I’m at a breaking point, and it’s really tough. But then I remind myself of the kids that could also say they’re giving up, but are still training, they are still trying hard. Such thoughts give me energy. And the money? Obviously it’s also a measure of success. People sometimes say that money won’t give you happiness. That’s not true. Money gives happiness, but you have to know how to use it.

And the little things, do they make you happy?

Gortat: Obviously. There are days when I go to the dealer to buy myself a new Porsche. But it’s not often, let’s say it happens every five years. More often I go to the store to buy a PlayStation video game. People probably think that if someone has money, then he buys planes and flies them somewhere. I don’t need to go to the Caribbean Islands or Bahamas. I prefer Poland, and when I’m here, then I go to Sopot, Cracow, Łódź or Warsaw.

In Poland you’re very recognizable … well, you’re recognizable anywhere. Does it bother you?

Gortat: There is no denying that I can be noticed from a distance. I’m 7-feet tall. In the past I was ashamed of my height, but today I’m walking proudly because that height gave me everything. It made me who I am. Today, I’d add some inches if I could. There is no denying that my fame is tiring to me. There are some moments that I’d really like to be invisible, or to pull my hoodie over my head and sit peacefully in a restaurant among hundred people. Because it’s not like I go to a hotel or a restaurant for fun. Usually I’m there for a business meeting or some other important for reason. And when somebody approaches me and says that he or she doesn’t want to interrupt me, but does it anyway, I don’t understand it. Recently I had a situation when I arrived to a hotel in which there was a wedding at the same time. One of the wedding guests took a picture with me. I asked him not to tell anyone that I was there. Meanwhile he’s going back to the wedding and yells to everyone that Gortat is there, and suddenly 150 people are running toward me. It’s really uncomfortable. I try not to refuse the requests for a picture or an autograph, though.

You said you’d like to be taller. But it’s not only the height that makes you a successful player.

Gortat: Yeah, obviously. I went to the Eugeniusz Lokajski sports school. I had two hours of P.E. every day. I worked hard from the very beginning. I regularly ran relay races, hurdles, I high jumped, threw javelin, and practiced shot put. And also my mom was a volleyball player and my dad a boxer. I had excellent genes, but parents can only do so much for a child’s development . I’ve always been stubborn, always wanted to be even better. I wanted to dominate, even when I left Łódź. I practiced with the best coaches in the NBA who told me how to develop myself—not to practice only my right hand, but also the left; to work on my long-range shot; work on dribbling with both hands; learn how to take off using both legs, not just one; to build up not only the upper body so you have nice biceps and triceps when you go to the beach, but also to have strong legs, which would help me move someone under the basket.

At the same time, I was learning how to behave in the right way off the court, how to tie a tie, which fork to start eating with when sitting at the table with someone important, how to break off a piece of bread in a way that won’t bring you shame, when, for instance, you’re sitting next to the president. I was also polishing my English. That was the entire eight-year process which otherwise is still ongoing.

Did you have moments of breaking down, perhaps when you were starting to play in the NBA and you were only averaging two minutes per game?

Gortat: There was such a moment in Orlando, in the third year of my career when I signed a contract and felt like I could be a starting player. I started to say aloud that I want to play more, and I think the coaches and the staff then realized that I started a mutiny.

Did you think you were underrated?

Gortat: Yes, and the staff realized that they either had to find a spot in the rotation for me, or trade me, and so they did. There was a similar situation with the Polish National Team. The coach who brought me from ŁKS (Gortat’s hometown team) to Cologne, Germany, a year or two later became the head coach of the national team. He got his job largely thanks to my recommendation. And then I skipped my vacation for the national team, but I was spending only two, three, four, or five minutes on the court.

The loss of vacation is such a big toll?

Gortat: It’s not about the vacation, during which I could rest. I lost a vacation during which I could practice individually at home and work on my weaknesses. That was the nail in the coffin for my play for that national team. I said, ‘I’m sorry, if I’m not the best, I won’t play, ‘cause it’s a waste of time for me.’ I don’t like when somebody makes an arrangement with me, but doesn’t live up to his words. That was one such moment of breakdown, as in Orlando, but I have people around me who can fix me quickly.

You’re in Poland very often, but you live in the U.S., so you’re looking at our country from some distance. Are we changing?

Gortat: I think we are slowly moving forward. I left Poland 12 years ago. I was in Germany for four years, I’m starting my eighth year in the U.S. now. I’m inviting different American friends to Poland because I don’t think we have to be ashamed of anything. We will not soon have highways or restaurants like there are in America, but really we got nothing to be ashamed of, we are developing. But it doesn’t matter who will rule Poland, no matter how many Gortats there are in the NBA, we won’t make a jump to a higher league if people won’t start functioning a little better. Everyone should start the change from within themselves.

What do you mean by “functioning better”?

Gortat: I think it’s high time we stopped looking at the people around us and started concentrating on ourselves. Unfortunately, in Poland still, if someone achieves success, people are pointing fingers at him and talking behind his back. People start nitpicking and speculating how, of course in an illegal way, he achieved the success.


Gortat: Jealousy and constant complaining. If I followed down this road, like most of the people in Poland, I’d have never made it to where I am now. Don’t look who’s in front of you, but do something about yourself, improve your abilities to get ahead. I learned it abroad. Largely I learned it from my mentor, Sasha Obradovic.

Who’s Sasha Obradovic?

Gortat: Former Serbian National Team basketball player, and my coach in Germany.

Oh, so that’s why you know Serbian?

Gortat: Yes. Sasha taught me to start from myself. I once laughed that if I ran for the president my slogan would be: ‘Focus on yourself. Start from yourself. Stop complaining. You have to go to work for 12 hours—change that so you only have to go for four hours, and so that is enough to provide for your family.’

That’s quite a long slogan.

Gortat: True, maybe I’d need a shorter one, but the point would remain the same. Today people are saying with jealousy that Gortat makes $12 million a year, $60 million in five years, and that he’s become big-headed. When somebody’s working for $800 and finally changes his job and starts making twice as much, does it entitle me to say that he’s becoming big-headed or that he has a huge ego? If somebody wants to improve his life, he has every right to do so.

You’re wearing rubberbands that say “Polish Machine” and “Polish Pride.” Do you feel like you are an ambassador of our country?

Gortat: Yeah, definitely. I feel like an ambassador, like a person who’s being watched by 40 million pairs of eyes. I’m the only Pole in the NBA, and I not only have to play well, but also represent our country off the court. On the other hand, when I’m in Poland I have to represent the NBA in the right way. Since I was 18, I started paying my own bills, buying bread with the money I make. Life and the books I read taught me the rule: “Be a leader, do not be a follower.”

You’re 30, that’s a mature age for an athlete. You’ll play for five more years, that’s how long your contract is, and you will retire as a still young man. There will be still 50-to-60 more years to live for you.

Gortat: Let’s hope so.

Do you have a plan for the future? Will you know what to do with yourself when you will stop training so hard, and when you’ll only play ball occasionally?

Gortat: We, the NBA players, are being prepared to jump into a new role once our careers are over. To, for example, become a coach, or a commentator, but we are also getting prepared not to become depressed when we will suddenly stop being in the limelight. We have to realize that once the lights go out, we will suddenly stay at home and no one will call us. That’s a difficult moment, because it may turn out that you don’t have any goal in your life. But I’m building the brand of Marcin Gortat, and that’s why I’m creating the Marcin Gortat Foundation, so that I can have the satisfaction that, once my career is over, I’ll still have many options ahead of me. Today, trust me, one month I’m thinking about becoming a president, another month I’m thinking about becoming a trainer, and then I’m thinking that maybe I’d like to have three or four kids and devote all my time to family.

Hundred ideas per hour.

Gortat: Yes, a hundred ideas per hour. Even though I’ve always been crazy on the court, I could play and run until I fell over, now I have a lot of ideas and plans on my mind. Sometimes I wonder if I will have enough time for all of that. I’d like to change a lot of things, but I’ll start from my home city.

Home city here or there?

Gortat: In Poland.

So your home is in Poland?

Gortat: Yes. In the States there is a house in which I’m living now, but the USA has so many heroes and athletes that I’m not needed there.

But you’re needed here.

Gortat: I think there are a lot of things to do here, and I can get a lot of satisfaction from it.


Bartosz Bielecki on Twitter
Bartosz Bielecki
Polish Correspondent at TAI
Bart is TAI’s Polish correspondent, covering all things Marcin Gortat from the mother country, including transcribing Gortat interviews with Polish media.