Vladimir Radmanovic: The journey from Serbia to the NBA

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Before the 2015-16 regular season tipped off, the NBA announced that 100 international players from 37 countries and territories were on opening night rosters for the second consecutive year.

The continent that provided the largest number of international players was Europe. Despite the Euroleague being a very competitive league in itself, the NBA is still a big draw and has attracted some of the finest talents from the region in years gone by and continues to do so. 

Players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Pau and Marc Gasol, Tony Kukoc and Drazen Petrovic to name a few, have graced the NBA hardwood to great effect. 

One European player who didn't quite hit the heights of those mentioned above, but nonetheless enjoyed a solid 12-year career in the league was Vladimir Radmanovic.

The Serbian made the move to the States in 2001 joining the Seattle SuperSonics from KK FMP, a former Serbian basketball club from Belgrade.

Radmanovic made the move after just five years playing in Europe (he spent four years at Croatian club Crvena Zvezda before he joined KK FMP). 

The move from Europe to the NBA doesn't work out for everybody but it is considered the pinnacle of every professional basketballer's career. 

From Europe to the NBA

So what is the key to making the move and being successful?

"There are a lot of players playing in Europe right now but the most important thing for every player is the timing, when to go and obviously the situation you’re going to go to," said Radmanovic.

"There have been many great players that didn’t have a good opportunity and have been forgotten pretty quick and there were the others that nobody expected to have enormous success and just because they had a good situation around them they were able to grow as players and become great players so it's really hard to know what’s going to happen to somebody when they go to the NBA.

"Obviously, there are only a few super talented players who’s future is unquestionable but for the rest of the guys I think there’s a factor of luck as well as anything else that you have to put into your game."

Basketball in Serbia

During his stint in the league, Radmanovic represented seven teams in total which included the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and Atlanta Hawks.

Of the 100 international players in the league today, only three of those are from Serbia; Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Boban Marjanovic (San Antonio Spurs) and Nemanja Bjelica (Minnesota Timberwolves).

Despite the small number of representatives, Serbia is a big basketball country and is one market where the NBA continues to grow.

"The NBA has always been a part of what people wanted to see back home, Serbia is a big basketball country so it wasn’t something we haven’t seen before," Radmanovic said.

"But obviously with the new technology and things being more available now it's much easier to follow unlike 15-20 years ago where you just couldn’t watch any NBA games in Serbia but thanks to the new era and technology that we have it’s much easier to follow with all the media and social media that we have around us."

NBA moments

After spending over a decade in the NBA, Radmanovic has plenty of memories to look back on with fondness. 

Fulfilling a dream of playing on a stage which featured the most talented players in the world was an already a special moment, but for the 35-year-old, one thing stood out above the rest.

"Playing in the finals with the Lakers in 2008 is probably one of the best memories that I have," he said.

"Having the chance and being that close is something that every player dreams of, unfortunately, we didn’t complete our task but that was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had as a player." 

The Lakers lost out to their biggest rivals the Boston Celtics that year in a thrilling series and Radmanovic certainly played his part alongside Kobe Bryant in that run.

Unfortunately for Radmanovic, he was traded in 2009 to the Charlotte Bobcats and the Lakers went on to gain revenge against the Celtics and win the championship.

The forward played in an era that featured a number of future Hall of Famers and was lucky enough to pit his wits against them and he easily recalls the best players he faced.

"Kevin Garnett is one of the toughest players I ever played against along with Dirk Nowitzki," he said.

"It was just their length and their skills; they were at a phenomenal level. Dirk being able to pull off all those shots, with his height and his touch, he was really hard to guard."

There's something fitting about his admission that Nowitzki, arguably the best European player to ever play in the NBA, was one of his toughest opponents.

Players like Dirk, who is still playing at the age of 37, have paved the way for international players to leave their comfort zone and challenge themselves among the elite. 

European players were traditionally labelled as 'soft' but players like Nowitzki and Radmanovic have done enough to dispel that and the NBA has become a better place for it.

Eastern Conference
Kobe Bryant
L.A. Lakers
Pacific Division
Western Conference
Golden State Warriors

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