I was never good at farewells.
Saying, or waving good bye, bringing out the person to a hidden inner personal element. At uncovering or exposing myself. Especially in this case,. In AEK’s case. It’s not a simple one.
People understand and recognize what they see on the court. The energy, the strength, the dedication, the professionalism. They know that you hate to lose, and you do whatever it takes to win, even at the very last second. For what? Just to make yourself happy as well as the people around you, in your team. Your teammates, the fans, the club.
However, the court is a very tough place to be. It offers only a slight opportunity to show the material you're made of.
Thinking about it... My wife said to me once: "Do you know why I love you? Because you're a very emotional person”.
Oh God, that’s why i love her. It took her so little time, to acknowledge what kind of person I am. Yes, I would say that i am an emotional dude and for that reason, I don’t like farewells.
This is not a good bye letter to Athens. You know why? Because one day I'll be back. In Athens, for sure. Maybe in AEK too. Who knows? So this is not a good bye, it’s just a “See you later Athens”. No goodbyes.
I was sitting in my hotel room, in Belgium, when my phone rang. I was very disappointed and sad after the loss to Antwerp. It was almost midnight, in Greece (23.00 CET) and all my attention was there. At midnight and one second, I wanted to call my wife, to wish her for her birthday, which was coming.
Imagine… The clock was ticking to midnight and at the other end of the line, my agend was ready to tell me something so very important. It was confusing.
“Hey man. I'm really sorry for the defeat... I know ... Maybe it's not the right time, but look man... There is something serious we need to talk about. Actually you got an offer. From CSKA. Would you like to tell me what to do?”
Frankly speaking at that time, my mind was completely out of order. We had already lost an important game, my wife’s birthday was coming up in a few minutes and suddenly, a phone call comes in to change my life.
“Hey… Please. Can we talk a little bit later because right now, I need to call my wife who has her birthday? Would you mind please?”
Few minutes later, and after receiving my wife's blessing, I contacted my agend again…
“Go ahead, buddy. We accept!”.
At that time, it was very difficult to analyze all the side effects. Trust me man. It was incredibly difficult. All I knew then was one and only thing: My dream is coming true. I had put so much effort, i had so much patience, work, dedication, i had so many miles traveled... Everything for this moment… For the moment a team would come to give me the opportunity to play in the Euroleague. This moment has come. Finally!
The night went by rapidly. Really fast. I wasn’t really able to feel how time flew by.
I called my mother. You know what? I'll never forget that. I heard her cryin’ out loud listening to the news. Just next to her was the second most beloved person of my life, my grandmother. She was laughing so loud that I'm sure the whole neighborhood was listening to her, but in the same breath, she was trying to nail down couple of words. Those words she was expecting to shout her whole life.
"I knew it. I knew it. I knew you would do it. You deserve it. You deserve it as much as anyone does”.
Amidst the tears, the laughter and the voices, I started to think a lot of things. But I'll talk to you about that later. As the time went by, there was another part of my life, a very large community of people who had become part of my daily life the last year, who i supposed they were sad.
I understand, i get their point. Absolutely. I couldn't ignore it. At all. No matter what.
Just in case you didn't get it, i am talking about AEK fans. They loved me, and that was a strong feeling for me. Right after the news being spread i knew what was going on in their heart.
It's very difficult to be away from them. They were the ones who patted me on the back after the hard times. It was them, shouting my name at the good times. Those who, whatever might happen, had a good reason to express their respect for me: For the energy I put on the court, for my mental approach, for the way I play. How could I say, so easily, good-bye to them? No! At least not me!
I am well aware that they are very disappointed. And it's one of those cases where people want to have the last word. Because their emotions leads them to it. It's instinctive. They will probably protest to the club: “But what are you doing? Are you crazy? Why is this guy leaving? Why don't you keep him?”. But it is more difficult for them to see the bigger picture. What I would like to say is only this:
“Guys, you have to know that I am and I will be grateful to AEK. AEK didn't let me go. They just did not try to hold me back from my dream. Would you be able to know how much important this is? Try to think: A club, no matter how much it loves you, no matter how much they need you, no matter how much it hurts them, has the emotional intelligence to understand that they should not cut your wings, nor hold you as a hostage. The bottom line is that AEK did not cut my way. And that's why I'll always love this club. Sometimes people only see the results. Victories, defeats, the scoreboard. And they're right. Sometimes. Who can blame a sports fan if he is frustrated with me? I wouldn’t. But it is one of those cases where everyone shares shares a part of what it is considered to be the right answer. But at the and of the end, not everyone gets to be right".
My personal perspective is that it's very important for a team competing in the BCL to be noticed for providing a player to a Euroleague team.Without any restrictions. Especially when thew other team is the European champion. It’s also great for the competition, for BCL. Players will find it easier to trust AEK in their future choices. I imagine you know that the business world of basketball is not an idyllic one. AEK (I believe and I hope) will be a team that is respected and appreciated team by its future players. And the BCL, will also has a chance to highlight through this transfer, how great and competitive a competition it is.
Also, I feel like saying a big thank you to my coach, Elias. I want to thank him for everything: For the summer discussion we had, for the fact that he kept his word, because he did everything he said to me, because of the confidence he showed towards me personally, for the opportunity he gave me to show who i really am. That confidence, even when I made mistakes, was the most important thing I had in my hands while i was trying to prove myself as a point guard. The coach knew it, he understood it, as he did the coach I had in Nimburg, where I was playing with the ball in my hands. Elias worked very hard with me to make me a better player. Thank you Elias.
Have I told you that i don’t really like the snow? Probably not yet! Hmmm, yes i hate it! But that wouldn't be too hard to predict, right? After all, when born in the sea, next to the beach, how could i have a love relation with snow? But, in Moscow, I'll adjust. After all, i like to sit at home a lot. Of course, if I could get some feta cheese, or a tzatziki from Athens, it would be the finest. Please don't tell me that in Moscow I still can find feta, or tzatziki, because you know better than anyone else that a substitute can’t be as tasty as the one made in the city it comes from. Let's be serious, right?
I will miss Athens. I will miss feta and tzatziki. But I will miss the reactions of the fans. You know, there were a lot of times when I was walking down the street, and fans coming to me, regardless of their favorite club, saying to me: "Hey Ross... I'm a Panathinaikos, or Olympiacos fan (no matter, AEK is in a great rivalry with both) but I really appreciate the way you play”. Priceless. Will miss it. Thank you guys for all that.
In the last hours, my personal social profiles were on fire.
"Tell the truth, be honest: Did you want to go? Could they keep you?”
The answer is not easy. I respect AEK a lot, my teammates, my coach. I respect the fans and the demands they had on me and my teammates. But, frankly speaking and straightforward... From the first day I played basketball, I was dreaming of this moment. I fought hard to reach one day the European Champion, to play in Euroleague. That was my goal all those years ago. Wouldn't I be stupid if I turned down this challenge? A challenge brought to me, not by any team, but from CSKA, we all know what CSKA means. I want to stress again and again and again: I am grateful to AEK. With all my heart. AEK drove me there and when the time came, however painful it was, they didn't stop me.
I admit it. I'm still nervous. And there are still times, even today, that I feel the same goosebumps as I felt when the whole situation had been finalized and it there was no doubt that I was going to be a CSKA player. Goosebumps man. Goosebumps. I was talking on the phone and I was shaking with happiness. It was happiness. And nervousness. In the same time. In Moscow I will meet another world. It's my great opportunity, but I'm not going to change as a person. I promise that. The humility that comes from the way I grew up and the way my mum and grandma raised me, is not an just an element of my character, it's a way of living. You should always remain humble and focused on your goal, because it is very easy to get carried away.
Did i tell you, that, yes, finally I'm emotional?
I'm not afraid of Moscow though. But I'm not hiding that I'm a little nervous. I'm not worried if I will do it. I'm nervous because I want to show them everything i got without having to change. I want to be the one I was all those years ago and I'm happy that they know very well which player they got, spending so much money. Really, how big an honor is that? Wow!!! Wow, wow wow!!! Anyway. I'm going to Moscow to do what I've done throughout all my career. I will play defense, i will give everything to my team, i will help in offense when needed. I don't want to and I'm not going to be crazy, believing that, now, i am someone else. That i've become someone else. No! I am and will remain myself. And…
“Thank you mom and grandma for raising me so. Yes, now it’s time to shout out myself the biggest "thank you" of my life”.
And all of a sudden, through the face of my mother, my grandmother, my friends that we grew up together, my mind starts to go back and fourth... They say that in beautiful moments, human’s mind effortlessly flashes back and forth and for some seconds takes you back where you come from, on the difficulties you encountered, the moments you lived... Hey. It's true. Now, writing this letter I'm still travelling. I still do. My mind goes back to my mom and grandma, and the sacrifices they did for me. Goes back in Italy, where I started playing basketball in the C2 category. Also in Germany. But above all… It goes back in this corner, placed so close to my house. In San Carlos playground. Where I played basketball for the first time. Where I saw my uncle playing basketball and I loved it. Where we were going every weekend with my friends setting up improvised basketball events, listening to music and playing basketball. In those times you feel that no matter how much you felt the pain, you are excited because finally... you did it.
I'm not saying Good Bye Athens… See you soon