A wide generation of fans of the NBA in Spain was born in 1984 with the Olympic Silver Medal obtained by our national squad against the troops of Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing in Los Angeles. The team assembled back then was extraordinary, the best in the history of our country until then. Names as Epi, Fernando Martin, Corbalán will probably not ring any bell among the American fans of this site but they certainly marked a new era in sports in the Iberian Peninsula. Many kids (as me) stayed late watching TV with their parents to witness an extraordinary success in a sport that supposed a fresh new alternative to the national team: soccer. I was 7 years old back then, and I still remember my father living intensely every game even though it was so late in the night. After that, the first NBA games were shown little by little on TV. Believe it or not, we could basically watch 2 or 3 games per year in the mid 80's and not live.
The passion for the NBA in Spain started to grow when for the first time a Spanish player signed for the best basketball league in the world: Fernando Martin became a member of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1986. He only played 24 games in that season and in his career, for a combined 146 minutes, 22 points and 28 rebounds. Those numbers meant nothing compared to the symbolic heroic achievement back then. A Spanish player (and also one of the first European players overall) got to play against Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Julius Erving...words can't describe the impact he made on a country that lives and breathes sports with more than superlative passion.
In the next 16 years we could progressively witness the greatness of our Celtics and their rivalry with the Lakers, the Pistons "Mafia" years, the greatness of Olajuwon and Robinson and the Michael Jordan domination in the 90's. The NBA became normal part of the conversation, every kid was fan of the Celtics, Lakers or Bulls. Even my best friend in the neighborhood was a fan of Dominique Wilkins and the Hawks after the Slam Dunk contests in the late 80's.
16 years after our own Spanish Prometheus, a new wave of players arrived to the NBA and increased the number of news and league jerseys in our country. But this time it wasn't meant to be a one season stand. The American fans would also appreciate and highly value the players coming from the other side of the ocean. We would learn to hate (as Celtics fans) and admire Pau Gasol as the most important player ever born in Spain, become amazed at the potential of his brother Marc in Memphis, enjoy the dunks and athleticism of Rudy Fernandez in Portland, value the team oriented play and vision of guard José Calderón in Toronto, thrill with the electric play of Sergio Rodriguez in New York... so many moments to share and live, proud to be a long time fan of the NBA and also proud to witness the rise of Spanish players in the NBA. This league and its players meant a lot for the fans in our country, and I think it was fair that we also contributed to the magic of this game with some players born in the Mediterranean land of passion.
The next step will hopefully witness the first Spanish player to wear our beloved Celtic green. That, my friends, will be of another dimension: Spanish pride joining basketball greatness