The best international basketball player gives us a piece of advice: “in order to succeed in basketball, talent alone is not enough! He looks back at his career from the time he was still worried if he would grow taller, he talks about doubt and how to face it, about the responsibilities that derive from standing at the top of success, about the role of a leader and explains how he managed to come out on top even through the most negative experiences of his life.
Born leader in life and basketball
By Christina Katsantoni
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
When he was young he was worried about becoming tall enough. He used to drink a lot of milk and made his mother count his height every day to see if he’d added any centimetres. Perhaps milk played an important role in all this, but judging by his later career, what was really important was his strong will he had as a child. “He got taller and beyond the boundaries of the measuring tape and overcame any obstacle while reaching the top in both Greece and Europe. His name? Usually it is sung rhythmically Va-ssi-lis Spa-nou-lis…
Vassilis Spanoulis was born to play basketball. He’s had it inside him from the time he was a baby and looked for it as a child in his first experience with sports. At the age of 12 and still worried about growing taller, he realised that basketball was his destiny when playing with his friends in the sandlots of Larissa. However, inside him he was always certain that he would do this for the rest of his life – and he would do it so good.
The Discouragement and the Promise
His first discouraging experience came when playing in the first team of E.A.L. where he was benched for good. But this discouragement didn’t unsettle him. He wasn’t disappointed. He went to the Athletic Association of Larissa where he met Nikos Chatzis; the first coach that saw his basketball nerve and his potential, predicting to Vassilis’s father that: “if he reaches 1.90 m. he will make history…”. And he did, let alone given the fact that he has now passed that point.
When he was 15 years old he lost his father. After that, Vassilis Spanoulis gave a promise to himself; he was going to make his father proud, he was going to make his dreams come true not only for himself but also for his father. And he continued “growing taller”…
The First Steps
He is professional career started in Marousi in 2001. In the beginning it was not so easy. He found himself in a city that he didn’t know. He experienced rejection and spent most of the games in the bench. But doubt didn’t discourage him. On the contrary, it made him more stubborn. He started working hard and made great efforts. As a consequence he quickly became a complete point guard that was gradually improving his statistics.
Vassilis Spanoulis soon became the best young player of the year in 2003, intrigued Dallas Mavericks and made his debut in the Greek National team in Athens Olympics. And that was just the start.
The Dream and the Nightmare
The next step was Panathinaikos where in his first season he won the Greek championship and cup and became the team’s first scorer in Euroleague.
The NBA dream became a reality when Houston Rockets called him in 2006. But the dream came out to be a nightmare as the coach, Jeff Van Gundy, didn’t have him included in his plans. Yet, it’s an ill wind as they say. He did the toughest training of his life and that paid off upon his return to Greece, one year later, for the sake of Panathinaikos.
Within the next three years, Vassilis Spanoulis won three Greek championships and his first EuroLeague title in 2009. In 2010, as if been ready for a long time and as courageous as he was, he completed his transfer to Olympiacos...
A Born Leader
The cause of such a decision can be traced in karma or maybe in his character. He has always found motivation through very difficult tasks and under high pressure. He wasn’t influenced by the reaction of others. He aimed at leading the team to a rebirth and he was going to achieve that sooner or later. And that’s what actually happened as history obeyed to his will.
Two years later, Olympiacos returned to winning titles in Greece and Europe having Vassilis Spanoulis as the team’s indisputable leader. The team won two consecutive EuroLeague titles, an intercontinental cup, three Greek championships and one Greek cup. Vassilis Spanoulis became top scorer in the history of EuroLeague and top assist man.
He stayed loyal to the belief that to be a leader you must inspire and achieve, you must be a role model and deliver successfully. Being tall and athletic are not enough. You must display strong character daily.
With this philosophy in mind, Vassilis Spanoulis raises as a traditional father his six children that he has with Olympia Chopsonidou and he doesn’t forget to pass them the message: when you’ve got dreams and work hard for what you love, there is no concern, you will “grow taller”…