Emanuel Ginobili It bites the ball with some rage on the parquet of the Oracle Arena. The Spurs are eight points down and the few seconds left are not enough for an epic draw. At his side the players begin to greet each other, that formal protocol of the consummate thing.
The buzzer sounds, the Warriors have just eliminated San Antonio, and although it is not known (but it is suspected), that was the last performance of the number twenty with the Texan jersey, which became part of the landscape in Argentina, as iconic as the celestial of Napoli de Maradona in the ’80s.
After an entire career in the elite, the compatriot who reached the top retired from the competition. The Golden Generation, the team that put national basketball on the international map, had completed its cycle a couple of years earlier at the Rio Olympics. Then the unknown: How to turn the page?
Three years later, Facundo Campazzo preheats to debut from the start in the NBA Playoffs with the Denver Nuggets, Gabriel Deck get off to a promising start in Oklahoma City Thunder and Luca Vildoza He disarms his suitcases in the Big Apple to join the New York Knicks.
They can be added Leandro Bomaro, with real chances of reaching the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Florence Chagas, chosen by Indiana Fever in the WNBA draft. They are not isolated cases but part of a litter of players that in the coming years could reach the North American franchises to continue the golden legacy.
These guys made their own way and against an adversity: to be in the shadow of what we were as a national team. In ten years we are going to see other boys who will be the result of seeing Deck, Campazzo
Throughout history, only fourteen Argentines managed to play in the largest league in the world. Those who opened the doors were the Colorado Rubén Wolkowyski in Seattle Supersonics and Juan Ignacio Pepe Sánchez in Philadephia 76ers, who debuted the same night in October 2000.
However, the foundation stone took place in 2002 at the Indianapolis World Cup, where the Argentine team that had Ginobili, Fabricio Oberto, Pepe Sánchez and Luis Scola, among others, would defeat a North American Dream Team made in the NBA by 87-80. That World Cup would escape in the final lost against Yugoslavia, but it would be the beginning of the Golden Generation.
A few months after the 2002 coup, the young Manu disembarked in San Antonio to take command of Greg Popovich, in one of the best signings in history: an international without a badge who would leave with his number removed and four champion rings.
He would be followed by Carlos Delfino, Andrés Chapu Nocioni, Oberto, Walter Hermann, Scola, Pablo Prigioni, Nicolás Laprovittola, Nicolás Brusino and Patricio Garino, each with different routes.
“The Argentine player earned recognition from the Golden Generation: he may have more or less talent but he will leave everything on the court”, says the journalist Matías Baldo, author together with Pablo Pokorski of the book Golden and eternal.
Baldo, who lived in San Antonio and followed Manu during one of his last seasons, believes that teams are inclined towards Argentine players because they “provide solutions”, a delivery that is not always reflected in the statistics of a sport reigned by metrics. .
“These guys made their own way and against adversity: to be in the shadow of what we were as a national team. In ten years we are going to see other boys who are going to be the result of seeing Deck, Campazzo ”, says Nocioni through a Twitch live organized by the Argentine National Basketball League.
“We thought it would go a long time without Argentine players in the NBA and we already have three. And surely there will be more ”, he closed.
I wanted to try, I wanted to compete and see if my best version would help me to be there.
Campazzo’s talent “caught on” quickly in a very competitive team like Denver.
The new triad
For the three players who today are fulfilling their dream, the path had similar points: a origin in neighborhood clubs, the National League as a school, Europe as a graduate, difficulties and a talent that was perfected through professionalism.
Reaching the top from below is the way of the classic hero of sports mythology. Campazzo added a twist to his route: reach the highest being low, 1.78m.
Hyperkinetic, his mother, Elena, took him as a boy to practice sports at the Municipal Club of Córdoba, which with his hand began to beat giants like Atenas or Instituto. At 18 he made his debut in the Primera de Peñarol de Mar del Plata and at 23 he was taken by Real Madrid, the most important club outside the NBA world, which also ended up at his feet.
He could have been comfortable being a figure there, but his competitive spirit required him to prove himself. “I wanted to try, I wanted to compete and see if my best version helped me to be there,” he said in a talk for Juan Pablo Varsky’s podcast.
Denver Nuggets, who had been a finalist the previous season at the hands of Serbian Nikola Jokić, bet on his ability.
In the Deck family, the basketball player was Joaquín, the older brother. But Gabriel took a liking to it. The mid-2000s in the town of Colonia Dora, a town of 2,500 inhabitants 160 kilometers from Santiago del Estero. Since the Miter Club basketball courts used to be busy, the Deck brothers made their hoop in their backyard, just out of a welded tractor wheel. There it was the starting point for that boy who plays under the spotlight of the most important league as if he were still in the back of his house.
But his path was difficult. At home there was no money, the boys left at dawn to gather alfalfa with their father, sometimes they came back at night. As they already stood out, Quimsa offered them to move to Santiago to play for the club. They accepted, to continue their career and also to lower their family expenses.
After a difficult start, Gabriel adapted and started a dizzying career: first for Quimsa, a League title, Rio Olympics, a League of the Americas with San Lorenzo and a sale to Real Madrid, where he also stood out again.
In March of this year, Oklahoma made a bet and decided to take it over at the end of the season to test it. The debut did not weigh on him, he played 10 games and averaged 8 points in a franchise that seeks to rebuild.
For Luca Vildoza, perhaps one of the most talented and eye-catching players in this litter, things would cost twice as much. Marplatense, from a basketball family, his mother Gabriela played in Kimberley and his father Marcelo wore the shirts of Peñarol and Quilmes.
Since he was a boy, he was surprising what he did on a court. But the physicist hindered him. Back pain, broken toe, stress injuries, ankle discomfort, and even a fracture in both wrists during his junior years.
In 2013 he was close to releasing everything. He had just broken his ulna and radius in a friendly preparation to start playing the TNA, the Argentine second division. He was 18 years old and very angry. But also temper to overcome the pains and continue.
He seized command of a newly descended Quilmes, returned it to first gear, and put it in competition. He went to Spain’s Baskonia in 2016 and was consecrated, including a historic double in the last seconds to win the League against Barcelona. He was MVP (most outstanding player) of those finals that opened the doors for him to try his luck at the New York Knicks.
Luca Vildoza in action. He joined the New York Knicks.
The origin of the new wave
A squad made up of boys born after 1990, plus the experience of the stainless Scola, broke all forecasts and showed that they were ready to make their way. An oiled collective performance, a signature claw and a handful of individual performances that alerted the basketball world that the page had been turned.
Jokić’s Serbia, one of the candidates, ate a dance. France, which had just eliminated the Dream Team, was 14 points down. A legendary performance that served as an accolade for this litter. A way to take the pressure off for continuity.
Perhaps the most relevant high bar the Golden Generation left for the rest is professionalism. Delivery, conduct, commitment, physical care, food and an elite attitude 24 hours a day.
“They discovered what the road was like. For all the others who wanted to try to reach the elite, they already knew where it was and the things to try to do ”, says Leandro Ramella, current coach of Peñarol and one of the first coaches Vildoza had.
Ramella has been in the profession for more than 30 years and witnessed the paradigm shift that sports went through from the ’90s to now. That is why he is also convinced that the first turning point was the creation of the National Basketball League in the ’80s.
“Argentina is a constant source of talent, there are very good trainers, trainers who put passion into the game. The League is very strong and it forges kids with a competitive character that distinguishes them at the world level, it is not silly ”, adds Baldo.
Although they later polish the game in the big clubs in Europe, the competitiveness of the LNB prepares them.
Gabriel Deck already stood out on talent spotting shows. The experts told me that he would play for the national team and then for the NBA.
Arnon de Mello, director of NBA Latin America
A new NBA
Far from the figure of the “international who is a rarity”, foreigners gain more place in the NBA and become figures within their franchises. The last All Star Game (which brings together the best) had 7 of 24 born outside the United States.
This landing responds to a process of globalization in which the parties began to reach the screens of the entire planet, and that forced the North Americans to leave the navel and seek talent outside their borders.
At the turn of the century, the NBA began with programs around the world. Basketball Without Borders, one of the most relevant, is a global clinic that gathers a hundred promises every year: it serves to teach, but also to see the possible stars of tomorrow. There, jumping capacity, weight and arm length are measured: a full X-ray that allows evaluating future performance.
“There is no Latino player who comes to the NBA who has not participated, we are always attentive to these talents,” explains Arnon de Mello, senior vice president and managing director of NBA Latin America.
Chatting with VivaRemember you first saw Deck at one of these events in 2013, where he was voted MVP from talents from around the world. “It already stood out. The experts told me that I would play for the national team and then for the NBA, “he says. According to their own league data, 70 BWB participants made it to the NBA.
In addition to Deck, among others Campazzo (2009), Vildoza (2013), Leandro Bolmaro (2017 and 2018), Florencia Chagas (2017, 2018 and 2019) or Francisco Farabello (2017), a 19-year-old boy who plays at TCU University and is expected to make the leap in the coming years.
But for the most famous sports organization in the world, it is not just about looking for talent, but about conquering new markets. And the Facumania that it originated around Campazzo did not go unnoticed.
Argentina grew 140 percent in the number of subscriptions to the NBA League Pass in 2021, the streaming service that allows you to watch all the games. In addition, it was placed in the Top Ten of countries globally and they hope that it can get into the top five from next year, already with Deck and Vildoza installed.
“Manu was the best player in Latin America. And now that he retired, talents continue to come, that is important so that children can see each other playing in the NBA one day, ”de Melo analyzes.
The dream of the boys and also of the basketball homeland, which adopted San Antonio as an Argentine city outside the territory and got used to loving the Spurs, Nuggets, Sixers or Knicks as their own, is not only a return but the tip of spear of a landing. The NBArgenta.