Chicago Bulls point guard Goran Dragic hailed the path Europeans face to get to the NBA as he ‘matured’ faster than American stars.
Dragic blazed a trail that would be trodden by future MVPs Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic. While the Greek Freak started with Filathlitikos and Jokic began his career representing Belgrade’s KK Mega Basket, Dragic entered the NBA in 2008 after spending time with Slovan and Olimpija in Slovenia either side of a spell in Spain with Murcia.
Since arriving in the league, Dragic has established himself as one of the top guards in the NBA. The Slovenian was an All-Star in 2018 while he was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2014. He was also named to the the All-NBA Third Team in the same season, which perhaps signalled the pinnacle of his 15-year career in the league.
The 36-year-old has returned to his home continent as the Bulls touched down in Paris ahead of their clash with the Detroit Pistons on Thursday. The match marks the NBA’s first return to Europe since January 2020 when Paris also hosted the Milwaukee Bucks and the Charlotte Hornets.
Dragic believes the path from Europe to the United States helped develop him into a far more effective player, whose intelligence belied his years. He suggested modern stars in the mould of Antetokounmpo, Jokic and Luka Doncic can play across multiple positions in the NBA.
“[Playing in Europe] definitely helped me to grow up faster because I had to leave my country when I was 16 or 17 to experience different cultures,” Dragic exclusively told Mirror Sport. “Suddenly, you are a pro and you have to battle with veteran players.
“It toughened me up for the NBA when I came over. European basketball is different; it’s more like a system game. When I reached the NBA, I still needed time to adjust to American basketball and its culture, but I felt like I matured earlier than other players in the United States.”
To those with the untrained eye, basketball in the United States may appear similar to its European equivalent. Dragic claimed there was a key ‘huge’ difference between the two, adding: “In the United States, the game is faster and more athletic.
“It’s longer; you have more games in the season and there is a travelling aspect - we are travelling all the time, almost every day. In Europe, the game is more technical and fundamental.”
Dragic has already alluded this NBA season may be his last - a final swan song in Europe before he hangs it up therefore seems fitting. His Bulls sit 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 20-24 record and will hope a win over their rival Pistons could lead to a turnaround and playoff push.
The 12-35 Pistons are enduring a tumultuous season which took a turn for the worse when Cade Cunningham - the first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft - was ruled out for the rest of the 2022/23 season. Their poor form means the Pistons are in prime position to acquire generational prospect Victor Wembanyama, who will be in attendance at the Paris game. Regardless, Dragic hopes both sides put on a show for the European fanbase.
“It's really exciting to go to Europe and Paris because most of the guys have never been there, but for me, Marko [Simonovic] and Nikola [Vucevic] it's fun because we are closer to our home,” Dragic added. “I’m expecting a lot of friends and family to come over and enjoy those five days in Paris but we want to just try to win our game versus Detroit.
“For the fanbase, it's just awesome to travel to a different continent and interact with different followers. It’s truly awesome to bring NBA games to Europe so the European fans can connect to the league and come watch all these incredible players.
“The history between the Bad Boy Pistons and the Chicago Bulls is awesome, although those games were different than now; a lot more physical and fiery. It’s great these two franchises are set to come to Europe and put on a spectacle.”
Watch the Chicago Bulls vs Detroit Pistons in the NBA Paris Game 2023, live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Arena from 19:30 on January 19