Part II: Satoransky Talks Life in the NBA with Czech Forbes | Wizards Blog Truth About

Part II: Satoransky Talks Life in the NBA with Czech Forbes

Updated: July 19, 2018

[Photo from Czech Forbes]

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. This is Part Two of the interview. Part One is here.

Forbes Česko: What is it like to negotiate a deal with an NBA team?

Saty: A player is not present at negotiations, I only dealt with it from afar. I had never played in America, so my starting position wasn’t entirely ideal. The Wizards knew absolutely everything about me, but they had never seen me play in America, so they didn’t know how I would fare against tougher competition. Moreover, another thing that matters are the other salaries on the team, because in the NBA there’s a set salary cap. So when a team has high contracts on the payroll, it can’t even offer you more money. But nevertheless we managed to increase the original offer.

Forbes: To 3 million dollars gross per year, which is still a below-average salary in the NBA.

Saty: I don’t mind it. If all I cared about were money, that would be bad because it would be affecting me. I’ve never envied others their money, I don’t have it in myself. I do it for the love of basketball and if all I cared about were money, I would be only cheating the game. I just always assure myself that as long as I play all-out and I give all I have every game, those bigger money will eventually come.

Forbes: When did you start playing basketball?

Saty: Probably in the second grade. I loved Michael Jordan, probably like everyone else then. I was seven or eight and I was watching him dunking all the time. I was fascinated by his athleticism.

Forbes: Have you ever met him personally?

Saty: No. He owns the Charlotte Hornets franchise and they say that he always sits right beside the bench. When we played there I didn’t get on the court, so I at least kept peeking at their bench trying to spot him somewhere out there. But he wasn’t there. His business is probably so big that he doesn’t get to games much.

Forbes: Back to your beginnings.

Saty: I started in USK [Prague], where they opened an after-school basketball group back then. I have always done ball sports, I probably had talent for them – namely, in our family everyone plays volleyball. My grandma always doesn’t like to hear it but I considered volleyball boring. But those two sports are kind of similar.

Forbes: Were you a natural talent at basketball or did you have to work hard to master it?

Saty: I certainly had talent. And luck as well, because I could take something from everyone in the family. For example, grandpa and mom always played fierce volleyball and put a lot of heart into it, and I probably got it from them. I go into everything at full blast and I hate losing. My mom was a teacher in the kindergarten, where she must have had fun with me because for me every kid game was a life or death matter.

Forbes: Are you still the same today?

Saty: Yes. My wife could tell how tough it sometimes is with me after a game, when we lose and I’m frustrated. But we play so many games that I gotta calm down, there’s no time for it because tomorrow we play again. But it’s a fact that I have a bit of a problem with it from time to time.

Forbes: So the first season must have been tough for you. You came to the NBA as a Barcelona star, but you didn’t get many opportunities and playing time as a rookie.

Saty: It was tough. It was a frustrating period. I pondered what might have been, if I had made the right decision coming over to America. I came here because of basketball, but then I didn’t play. But I’m not the type to give up quickly, that also helped me.

Forbes: Did you expect such a scenario?

Saty: I expected that it would be complicated, but I didn’t realize how much until I came here. Without direct experience, you can’t really imagine it. I expected some of it, but I didn’t really expect what I would have to go through and what my position on the team would be.

Forbes: Maybe they just wanted to test your character by making it rough on you?

Saty: I didn’t care in that moment, it bothered me, but maybe it could be one of the explanations. That’s how Marcin Gortat, a Pole who’s been in the NBA for 11 years, was explaining it to me. He kept reiterating to me that I have to be patient. What also made it more difficult was that there’s a difference between being a 25-year-old rookie and being a 19-year-old one. At 19, you know that you have lots of time in front of you. I was telling myself: I’m in my best years, I have the best period of my career, but at the same time I don’t play. Several times it has crossed my mind if it wouldn’t be better if I was elsewhere.

Forbes: Has it crossed your mind that you could become worse at basketball by not playing?

Saty: Such thoughts popped into my mind too. I didn’t play and we also didn’t practice much, so I had to maintain myself individually. Even when I had a free day, I went to the gym alone to work out in order to keep myself in game shape and be ready if I got a chance to play. It was not an easy period at all, but I was telling myself that if it doesn’t give me anything playing-wise, at least it is perhaps going to steel me mentally-wise.

Forbes: Last year, an influential Washington journalist Adam Rubin thought up a hashtag on your behalf, #FreeSato, and was clamoring for more playing time for you.

Saty: I knew about it also because fans were tagging me on Twitter and adding that hashtag. It probably had not much big influence on the team, but it helped me in self-confidence, because I felt that I had the support.

Forbes: Describe that stress when you sit on the bench for half a game and then you have only couple of minutes to prove that you deserve a bigger opportunity.

Saty: This was the biggest challenge I’ve experienced in America. Coming off the bench and subbing for the biggest star of the team is quite stressful, because in such a situation mistakes are not forgiven. If I made a mistake, I would get subbed out quickly. I had to be mentally prepared for this. The NBA has taught me that I have to be prepared to immediately take advantage of the opportunity.

Forbes: Which you exactly did, when John Wall got injured at the beginning of this year.

Saty: Yes. I had the advantage that this was my second season here, so I was a little bit more experienced. Last summer I played with the Czech national team and I worked on the things about which I was convinced could help me in the NBA. I felt that I was ready.

Forbes: And you surprised everyone with your performances. Which compliment pleased you most?

Saty: Last year we played well and thanks to it we played more nationally televised games on ESPN or TNT this year, so thus more people noticed me, people who until then didn’t have a clue at all who Satoransky is. So I was probably most pleased by praise from Isiah Thomas, former Pistons star player, who said on one broadcast that I’m kind of a glue guy. Literally a glue which cements a team together and improves its performance. That was a nice thing to hear.

Forbes: What kind of relationship do you have with Wall?

Saty: We are cool. We are definitely not the best buddies, but I communicate with him quite often. We play at the same position so every so often I come up to him for advice.

Forbes: Do you have a rivalry with him?  

Saty: The NBA is a big business and the rivalry on the team is bigger than I was used to from Europe. But with regards to John, I don’t have any rivalry with him. I know how the roles on the team are distributed – and John’s role is unshakeable. So if I want to be on the court more, I have to get better playing at other positions than point guard. So now I’m trying to get better and take advantage of John’s speed in order to open new opportunities for me when we are on the court together.

Forbes: By the way, what is it like when you are on the court and a player who’s 20 kilos [44 lbs] heavier and 20 centimeters [8 inches] taller is running at you at full speed?

Saty: It sounds scary, but in that moment I cannot think much about it. So I rather go headlong into it. I’ve learned that showing fear is the worst thing I can do. In the NBA, the players sense it and then they go after you even more. Obviously, it is hard not to have awe when I go against LeBron, who weighs 130 kilos [287 lbs] and is physically an incredibly strong human, but at least it must not be seen on me. It would be my weakness.

Forbes: Is the NBA still more difficult for a white man?

Saty: Well, it’s known about me that I was a very athletic type of player in Barcelona. But this athleticism of mine isn’t so unique here like it was in Europe. Let’s face it, everyone in the NBA is athletic. I probably have advantage in the understanding of basketball. I read the game differently. But regarding foot speed and quickness, it’s a lot more difficult here.

Forbes: How have the NBA and America changed you?

Saty: Not in any way fundamentally. Rather, they gave me another view on the world. I enjoy Washington, by American standards it is a very European city. Even so, I rather prefer Spain than America.

Forbes: In what specifically?

Saty: On the one hand, I’m still not used to American units. All those pounds and ounces. So when I refuel I just rather say “Full tank.” But that is amusing. What I don’t like is that it’s a land of awful wasting. Americans waste a lot, perhaps leading the world in this regard. It’s terrible, in a store they give you a plastic bag for everything, even if you don’t need it. In the NBA we always have a lot of food around us and sometimes there’s so much of it that it just gets thrown away. That awfully bothers me and I can’t put up with it. And moreover, I miss that Spanish warmth a little. Americans are warm, too, but I never know when it’s sincere.

Forbes: You still have one year left on your deal with the Wizards, but staying in the NBA is much tougher than, say, in the NHL.

Saty: Probably, yes. In comparison with the NHL, in the NBA there’s probably a bigger competition. Moreover, in basketball there’s usually a roster turnover of 30 percent after every season, which is not usual in other sports, either. So the road to the NBA is awfully tough, and going back [to Europe] is terribly easy.

Forbes: So is it important to take advantage of every moment you’re in the NBA?

Saty: Yes, this is probably the most important message that we get at the beginning at all those courses [like the RTP]. That it is good to meet as many behind-the-scenes people as possible, because perhaps one day it can be helpful for your own business. So I try to get to know as many people as possible and to learn something new. When you’re here and you have the label of an NBA player, even important people talk to you differently.

Forbes: What drives you forward now, when you’ve already fulfilled your dream of playing in the NBA?

Saty: I still want to get better and to have an even bigger role on the team, that’s the goal for me now. And there’s one more thing that drives me forward. I’ve been on famous teams but at the same time I’ve won quite little. When I was in Barcelona, Real Madrid was just dominating in the Spanish league, so we won only one cup (Note: Spanish Super Cup in 2015). I know that this goal is awfully tough in the NBA, but it’s already high time for me to win something.

Lukas Kuba