"I'm Living My Dream" — Satoransky Talks Life in the NBA with Czech Forbes | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

“I’m Living My Dream” — Satoransky Talks Life in the NBA with Czech Forbes

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Updated: July 5, 2018

At the beginning of April, Tomas Satoransky did an interview (titled “I’m Living My Dream”) with Czech Forbes magazine in Washington, D.C. It ran in the June edition. Satoransky offered some interesting comments about being a rookie in the NBA, life on the road and making a name for himself on the Wizards. Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow), TAI’s Czech correspondent since 2011, translated the lengthy interview. Part One is below. Part Two is coming later this month.

Forbes Česko: At the moment, you’re the only Czech in the NBA. What does it actually mean for you?

Saty: I don’t want to praise myself much, but it is a fact that I didn’t come here from fully a basketball country, so it’s that much more interesting. When I look back at it, it’s pretty sick. We’ve had four players in the NBA and I’m one of them. Here in America I maybe don’t quite realize what it means, but when I come home, I feel it. Hoops is not that much popular in Czechia, so I hope that I could help to change it.

Forbes: What’s the biggest difference between Czech basketball league and NBA?

Saty: I don’t know where to begin. I played in the Czech league when I was 15, which is maybe the answer to your question. It’s an unreal difference, NBA is at least five levels higher. The biggest difference is that the Czech league lacks the drive. I don’t want to criticize it, but now I cannot really imagine that one day I could end my career there, even if that was my plan originally. More likely I’ll probably go back to Spain.

Forbes: The Spanish league is not that much worse than the NBA?

Saty: Of course, there’s still a difference between those two, but the Spanish league is mightily approximating to the NBA. According to me it’s the second or third best competition in the world, and thanks to it the Americans respect the Europeans more. But let’s face it, Americans don’t really care anyway what we accomplish in Europe. In Barcelona I had an excellent run of play, but here nobody cares about it, so I was starting entirely from zero anyway.

Forbes: That has to be challenging – in Barcelona you were a star, but here you’re just a rookie.

Saty: Yeah, that was quite a blow. But again, it wasn’t such a shock, I counted on it happening. Every European goes through it in the NBA. It doesn’t matter what position I had in Europe, here it it means nothing. Here the mentality of people is different, Americans start respecting someone the moment he proves to them that he really has what it takes to play at their level.

Forbes: What else surprised you in the NBA?

Saty: How huge business it is. Sometimes the sport completely disappears from it and it reminds more of a business. There are statistics about absolutely everything here, Americans are possessed by it. A lot of things are then about the money, for example, who plays and when he plays. In the beginning I was a little struck by it.

Forbes: It’s not important to win, but primarily to make money?

Saty: Not to that extent, but when you have a star on the roster who sells lots of tickets, he just plays more minutes and has a bigger role on the team. Who has a good image in the eyes of fans, it doesn’t happen that he wouldn’t play, even if he wasn’t exactly in a good form. This doesn’t happen in Europe. And now another factor coming into this is the height of player contracts, which the NBA has one of the highest. It has sold television rights for an unbelievable amount and because of that the player salaries shot up, and suddenly a lot of teams deal only with money.

Forbes: So the guy with a higher salary plays?

Saty: I hope that this doesn’t completely play a role – actually, owing to my salary, there is nothing else left for me than hoping, but it’s a fact that sometimes that’s how it works here.

Forbes: Which is a disadvantage, because you earn 3 million dollars per year and John Wall 18 millions.

Saty: John is our biggest star, fans come to games to watch him play. Fortunately, he plays really well, so this doesn’t apply to him, but of course his star image is a plus for him. In Europe it’s usually not a custom that the starting five would be set in advance, the guy who is a better fit for the game plan simply plays. But not here.

Forbes: Doesn’t it create bad blood on the team, that those salaries are published? It’s not like that in Europe.

Saty: At times it is a bit of a problem. Of course, it’s not talked about much publicly, but salaries are known, so every player knows it about his rival. When they asked me in one of my first interviews how much I make, I was so puzzled by that that I was shying away from the question, even though beat writers knew it anyway. It can have some effect on the thinking of a player, but I try not to think about it in order to not getting distracted by it.

Forbes: Can the NBA make you financially secure to the end of your life?

Saty: I hope that when I’ll be smart, yes. When I see what kind of contracts are signed here and what kind of money a guy can make here, I tell to myself that it is possible to make yourself secure here. But you can’t be stupid and start throwing those money about. In America, when someone receives big money, a plenty of people then stick to him and they want to borrow some money. Therefore the NBA tries to educate players and increase their fincancial literacy, so as a rookie I had to take part in the three-day Rookie Transition Program. Sometimes it was quite humorous.

Forbes: How come?

Saty: The most humorous thing was when they were fully seriously explaining to us that we shouldn’t beat our wives up at home, because NBA players used to have problems with home violence. That was an amusing advice which I didn’t exactly need from anyone, but when there was a talk about finances, I was paying attention. According to the regulations, 18,000 dollars of everyone’s salary automatically go to the savings account, to which the NBA adds another $21,000 for us. And the NBA will start paying out these money to us when we are 50 years old.

Forbes: Because a lot of players are bankrupt after the end of their careers.

Saty: Yes, I looked at the statistics, according to which it’s up to 65 percent of players. They end their basketball career and all of a sudden they don’t have an input of money, but at the same time they still have the same lifestyle. There have even been cases when those guys had to sell their NBA championship ring due to debts. I told to myself: you work hard the whole life to get one and then you have to sell that ring. So yes, the NBA is able to secure you financially, but you have to approach it smartly.

Forbes: Three million dollars per year is not few dollars. In comparison with Barcelona, it is an improvement? 

Saty: My salary did improve, but again not so much that my head started spinning, because before I went to the NBA I signed a good contract for the next four years in Barcelona. And I didn’t go over here because of money, what drove me forward the most was the dream of playing in the NBA, for because of it I started playing hoops once upon a time.

Forbes: Describe from the inside the NBA world to me.

Saty: It’s a perfectly well-oiled machine. Everything is at the highest standard that you can imagine. The service which I have is the highest one I’ve ever experienced. For example, we have three times more members of the coaching staff than players. That indicates something. Players are just maximally taken care of.

Forbes: How does it look in practice?

Saty: The NBA has special airlines for teams, so we have our plane where there’s more space for players. Travel is probably an area where there’s the biggest luxury. For instance, we can leave our cars right beside the plane, we go through only minimal control, so I spend barely five minutes at the airport. Everything is awfully fast. But the worst thing is when we have an extended trip of away games, then I have problem remembering even the number of my room.

Forbes: Every day you are in a different city.

Saty: Exactly. We play 82 games in six months, half of it outside Washington, D.C. So in a hotel in Cleveland I go to the 17th floor where I realize that I had the 17th floor yesterday in Chicago and that today I sleep three floors below. We stay in the best hotels, only I don’t take notice of it anymore, because on the one hand I’m not even able to remember the number of my room, and then I’m mostly glad that I have a bed into which I can plonk and fall asleep. Another interesting thing: in comparison to Europe, in the NBA everything’s much more individualistic. That was kind of a novel feeling for me.

Forbes: What do you mean?

Saty: In Barcelona I was used to doing everything with the whole team, but here we fly in to some city and the only thing which we have to adhere to is the time of departure for practice. They let everyone do what he wants, as long as he behaves as a professional. We don’t even have breakfasts, lunches or dinners together. Before a trip everybody gets pocket money and we have to obtain a meal by ourselves. So initially I always ordered room service, but then I realized that generally it’s not exactly the healthiest diet, moreover for that room service you pay an extra 15 dollars, so now I try to eat in a hotel as few times as possible.

Forbes: Are you a thrifty type?

Saty: On the whole, yes. I’m not cheap, when I like something I’m able to enjoy money. I spend most of my money on fashion and food. My wife Anička is a daughter of a food critic Pavel Maurer, so she taught me to enjoy good restaurants. But I definitely don’t throw money around. And as far as room service in a hotel is concerned, it’s mostly a surcharge for nothing, so I’d say I deal with this.

Forbes: By the way, I noticed that every player warms up by himself before the game.

Saty: That is true and in the beginning I had quite a problem with it. In Europe the whole team goes to warm up together at one time half an hour before the game, but here everyone warms up by himself in predetermined time. I go on the court two and a half hours before the game. I warm up for quarter of an hour and then I still have more than two hours until the game starts, so I somehow have to shorten the wait.

Forbes: Why is it like that?

Saty: I don’t know. Probably so that every player has maximum service. I shoot at the basket and I have five assistants around me, so I can focus only on my routine. It works like this: the bigger the star, the closer to the tip-off he warms up. My position on the team has improved, but on the other hand no rookie came to the team, so I still have my warm up at the same time. The worst thing is that I have nothing to do two hours before the game. The adrenaline fades away, your body cools off, so I try to go to the weight room in order to keep myself in operating temperature.

Forbes: Don’t you think that the NBA is primarily a big show?

Saty: It’s definitely a show, which you can see at timeouts. The play stops but the spectators have to constantly have entertainment, so they devise everything possible for them at the arena. Teams are convinced that fans pay a lot of money for tickets, so they have to get the best show.

Forbes: It’s a fact, from what I watched, that during the game there wasn’t any real break.

Saty: Exactly! When I played my first NBA game the whole arena exploded with excitement in the fourth quarter and it completely startled me. I didn’t understand at all what’s happening, but after a while I got it. The opposing team didn’t make two free throws and that meant that every fan gets a free chicken sandwich. Americans just cheer the most when they can get something for free, in comparison with Europe there isn’t such a tradition of cheering here. First and foremost, they just have to enjoy the game. For example, courtside tickets at our home games cost 2,500 dollars per game, that’s over two million Czech crowns per season. And when someone pays such money, he’s got a feeling that he can afford anything. For example, a waitress brings them beer during games – I watched this with open mouth. I’m running on the court and suddenly a lady with a tray of beers is walking next to me.

Forbes: How can you concentrate in this environment?

Saty: I block this stuff out. When I play, I’m able to concentrate only on the game. I didn’t play much my first year and I sat on the bench, but it worked to my advantage a little bit, because I could watch and learn quite a lot. In short, the NBA is a huge show, which is also connected with money that are around the game here.

Forbes: What do you enjoy the most about it?

Saty: I’m living a dream which I had when I started playing as a little boy. A lot of people probably doubted me at that time, when I was telling them that I would play in the NBA one day. So yeah, sometimes I slow down a bit and I try to enjoy that I’m here. That is what I enjoy the most about it. I’m awfully competitive, so I don’t want to just sit on the bench here for the length of my contract. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I’m able to play an important role here, and not just survive here. And perhaps I’ve already managed to do that.

Forbes: If we are judging it by the fact that before the end of the regular season the Wizards official store started selling jerseys with your name, then yes.

Saty: Really? They have my jerseys there? I didn’t even have a hunch.

Forbes: Yes, although so far only in the least expensive category for $69, but your jersey is there.

Saty: That is great. Previously they had jerseys only with the names of three, four players there, but as I started playing more they probably printed my name as well. I’m glad that my performances get noticed. In Czechia too, people started talking about me more and, paradoxically, I’m also known by people who otherwise don’t watch basketball at all. Yeah, I’m enjoying that I’m in the NBA and that I can compete here with the best players in the world.

Lukas Kuba