I got a bit sad reading your last interviews. You say basketball stopped being you passion, that you don’t have as much energy as you used to and that your time in the NBA runs short.
Physically, I feel great. I’m doing everything to stay in shape for as long as I can, but I’m not getting any younger. Basketball is a very straining discipline. During the season, I play almost every two days. Sometimes I can play even 120 games in a couple of months. Add to that everyday training in the gym and on the court. I don’t know what is going to happen in a year or two. It is important to remember that my future in the NBA doesn’t fully depend on me. My current contract runs out in a year plus some. Then, it will turn out whether some team would like to sign a new one with me. NBA itself has changed over the last few years. There are no centers, which means players like me – playing cover and staying near the hoop. Nowadays everyone throws for three, something that is outside my repertoire. The era of players playing in the old style slowly becomes history.
Michael Jordan finished his career, when he was 40 years old. This month you will be 34. Isn’t it too soon to quit?
Why shouldn’t I say that Marcin Gortat won’t be running on the court for the best league in world forever? I have my years and my own dreams but it’s hard to keep them both together with this pace of work. Besides, I have been playing professionally since I was 19. I have dictated my whole life to basketball but life isn’t just work. I have other goals and non-basketball ideas, I’d like to realize.
Then why NBA?
Surely, I won’t be doing anything that requires my dedication 365 days a year. Unless we’re talking about family.
I don’t want to spread myself too thin and put my face on every product. Or to endorse with my name just about anything. I prefer to focus on developing my own Schools of Sports Mastery, of which I currently have four.
Marcin Gortat, the coach?
I will help young basketball players in honing their skill but it won’t be a full time job. I also want to do something for my home town of Łódź. I’d like to have some influence on city’s development. I definitely don’t want to be Mr. CEO, governing from behind a desk. Simply because I can’t sit long in one place. Even on vacations after laying on the beach for an hour I feel I need to vent my energy.
Perhaps a position in the Polish Basketball Association?
I am not going to spoil my retirement with involvement in the PBA. It is a rigid organization that should be rebuilt from the ground up. But I have a feeling it isn’t doable for now and it still won’t be for some time.
You have been saying for years that a family is your biggest dream. To have a wife, four children who run around and pull your beard. This house and the family – do you imagine them in the US?
I want to divide my life between Poland and the US. I conduct my business in the USA, which won’t end with my retirement from the NBA. Besides, I can’t imagine a wife that isn’t Polish. We really have intelligent, exceptional, beautiful women who share similar values. I also want for the kids, if they ever come around, to speak perfect Polish and know their parents country very well.
You are probably the biggest private Polish ambassador abroad. You organize the Polish Heritage Night in Washington, appear on American television talking about Poland, show America our history, invite and introduce Polish veterans. What’s the point in all this?
Why wouldn’t I do that? I am Polish and proud. The yearly Polish Heritage Night is the best proof that Americans take interest in our country, yet still know little about it. Every year, during the Night, the stands are filled with more and more people from the US, which is why it’s not only a sport event, but also a lesson about Poland, its history and tradition.
Other Poles, who made a career in the States don’t promote Poland so willingly. They say that they have full filled their „American dream”, that America has given them success, as they start speaking Polish with an American accent. Where does it come from?
On the one hand, I want to laugh at this, on the other I grind my teeth pretty hard when I hear about such cases. I have met many such people personally but I don’t stay in contact with them. The „American dream” doesn’t exclude being Polish. It is owing to the help and support of many people from Poland that I managed to achieve professional success. I met a lot of helpful people in the US too, but motherland always comes first. These Poles, who forget Polish after a few month or hide their origin must have some big personal issues. I pity them, but I won’t tolerate stupidity, so I keep my distance.
You say you’re a patriot but you have experienced the Polish hate first hand. It was when you were asked to participate in the fund raiser for sick Antoś. Polish web surfers mocked that Gortat has millions and he’ll probably donate a hundred zloty. You paid the whole remaining sum of 125 thousand zloty. This donation shut their mouth.
Hate is all over the world, but I have a feeling it is more brutal in Poland. If I were to care, I wouldn’t go anywhere in my whole life. If somebody sees me as an enemy, because I help those in need and promote my country the best way I can that means,it’s them who’s got a problem, not me. What I am actually seeing for some time now, are more divisions among Poles. And I’m not only talking about politics. I hope we’ll finally understand that strength comes with unity and that if we do not start to take care of our country, the effects might be dramatic. But I believe in Poles, we have spunk.
And how are we perceived by the Americans?
Contrary to the popular opinion, which I have heard many times in Poland, Americans see us in a great light. They take us for reliable partners. But they also see the divisions, which are getting stronger for some time. Looking at the Polish Diaspora living in the US, I see that Americans appreciate us more than they used to. Poles start to work at higher positions, owing to which they live better than ever.
You, playing for the Washington Wizards, earn over 45 mln zloty per season. You invest your money in real estate, joint-stock Wall Street companies, even in horse racing. Do you have managers whispering into your ear: “Mr. Marcin, it would be wise to invest here” or do you make these decisions yourself?
For years, I have been working with trusted people, but when it comes to business, the last word has to be mine. Also, I will never invest in some business on a whim, because that’s just burned money.
Do you remember you first job and first earned money?
My first job was de facto playing basketball. In school I focused on learning and training. I didn’t have the time to work somewhere else. Even during summer. I had some pocket money and an occasional job at helping a family move, which was enough opportunity to earn some cash.
When did you make your first million?
First million – dollars, not zloty – appeared on my account when I was barely 25. Of course I bought myself my dream car, but I stuck most of the money under the mattress. I knew from the start that I could be a professional sportsman for some 10-15 years max, so I tried to spend my money wisely. I didn’t waste them on unnecessary things, though certainly things have happened.
And what was the case with the restaurant you bought in Orlando? You just walked in for a meal, liked it and said to yourself: “Ah, I’ll buy myself a restaurant. After all, I always wanted to have my own joint”.
I would have never decided on the gastronomy branch on my own but I met a man, who has successfully stayed in it for the last couple dozen of years. I received a properly crafted business plan. I convinced myself to this investment. It was risky, but, on the other hand, there aren’t any risk free businesses.
What was your best-spent money?
Those invested in real estate in the US and in Poland, obligations, shares of technological companies.
Tuning my beloved BMW, which I drove very shortly, for instance. Nowadays I look at it this way: I wasted money I could have spent sending couple dozen of kids to sports camps.
Over half of NBA players end up their career in bankruptcy. Why?
They entrust their finance to wrong people. They are often cheated by their managers, even by bankers. They decide to keep their whole families on their salary. They invest badly in real estate or waste their fortune on incredibly expensive, unnecessary things. Luckily, nowadays these cases are fewer than before.
Do they train you how to avoid going bankrupt?
The NBA has been organizing seminars for years, where we learn the stories of those who went bankrupt, but we also meet with people professionally handling finances. They teach us how to make proper use of the money we earn. Thanks to these meetings I know that in my case, I probably won’t fall into the wrong category. Besides, I had the luck to meet really rich people, during my NBA career, whom I gladly spoke with about how to invest, what to avoid, when to risk it and when to let it go. Now, I think three times before investing my money somewhere.
What is money to you?
An addition to life. It can be very pleasant and give joy. Definitely not health, but surely joy. Money is also strictly tied with responsibility and teaches assertiveness. One of the first things I had to learn, after earning my first million dollars, was the word “no”. When everybody knows how much you make, everyone wants a piece – an investment in their business, a loan to finish an apartment or to pay off loans made in a casino.
Have you ever felt lonely because you are rich?
I have never felt lonely, at all. Well, unless I needed it. I mean here both the girlfriend and the friends. I have plenty of friends, but these are the people I know since childhood or met at the beginning of my career in NBA. It’s owing to their support that I am, where I am, and I know they didn’t stick with me for my money, because I simply had none, back then.
Do you know now, how to see if a girl likes you for yourself or for your credit card?
There is no golden rule. If you’re afraid that she is a gold digger, take her for a kebab as a date or give her a sandwich with pate and cucumber and watch her react. (laughter)
Have you ever felt used for money?
It has never happened to me. I’ve got enough brains to see when someone is in my corner because he likes me or because of some financial gain.
You engage yourself strongly in charitable work. Have you ever summed up how much you spend on charity, in a year?
Yearly, if it’s through my foundation or from my private assets, we allocate around 2-3 million zloty for veterans, education, helping those in need or supporting the families of the fallen soldiers.
Your e-mail box must be exploding with letters from people in need. These are hard decisions: I’ll help this one, but not that one?
For over 11 years of the MG13 „Aim High” Foundation, we learned to meticulously verify each request. There were many cases, when someone fabricated a tragic story, just to wheedle some money. People think that we will help by directly transferring a sum of money. It doesn’t work like that. We need to keep invoices, hospital bills and stay in direct contact with the facilities that are engaged in, e.g. the treatment of a sick child. Nowadays we check every request very carefully, to avoid getting scammed by cons, who unfortunately appear increasingly often. g
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