Jusuf Nurkic’s vibrant message: “We have to change something in Bosnia and Herzegovina” – BeBasket

Jusuf Nurkic's vibrant message: "We have to change something in Bosnia and Herzegovina" - BeBasket

As Bosnia and Herzegovina’s training draws to a close, Lanxess Arena employees are busy in the stand reserved for Balkan ultras on Sunday afternoon. “The biggest victory in the history of Bosnian basketball” has left scars on the magnificent colonial compound: dozens of seats have been unbarred, making the area inaccessible to the opposition between France and Hungary. Nothing insurmountable, however, in a room where it is said that nothing will ever surpass the European coronation of Vardar Skopje (handball) in 2019…

The magnificent scenes of joy seen at the end of the Bosnian feat narrate everything that this team has had to endure since the beginning of summer: hotel rooms shared by four, waiting for a push from the Estonian federation to be able to travel to Tartu to preparation matches, air travel in economy class for giants over 2.10 meters, the threat of withdrawal from the EuroBasket due to economic difficulties…« At the end of August, the Council of Ministers had promised us a deposit in our bank account during the first week of August. This did not happen, and therefore the departure of the men’s team to a tournament in Estonia, as well as participation in the EuroBasket, is in question “, the Bosnian federation had written on August 10.

The check finally arrived and the Bosnian delegation was able to deposit their bags on the banks of the Rhine in Cologne. A happy ending as the Dragons look more and more like the excellent surprise of the EuroBasket as they are at the gates of the round of 16, with a game and a cohesion that arouse general admiration. “It’s inspiring to see them playunderlines in particular Rudy Gobert, he left again for a great duel on Tuesday with Jusuf Nurkic.

The star center of the Portland Trailblazers agreed to stop for five minutes in front of the microphones of French journalists, taking the opportunity to deliver a vibrant new message for the Bosnian people, far beyond simple sporting considerations. For many months, the specter of war has hung over Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the Republic of Serbia threatening to secede. Thirty years after the start of the siege of Sarajevo, the longest in modern history, the scars of the conflict are still present in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country still divided between three ethnic groups: Croats, Serbs and Bosnians. In fact, the nation has three presidents, one for each population group, and that of the Republic of Serbia, Milorad Dodik, has repeatedly referred to the dissolution of the central state this year, suggesting the threat of a return of what tragic… In this context, while the presidential elections are scheduled for October 2, Jusuf Nurkic called on his fellow citizens to vote to change things.

Jusuf Nurkic celebrates the feat against Slovenia (Photo: FIBA)

Jusuf, the preparation of your EuroBasket was marked by…

(short) I’m tired of this story! I’m sick of repeating that our nation has a problem with government and that normal people just don’t want to suffer. We represent the real country. Whether you come from Bosnia or Herzegovina, I am convinced that we are one and that is what we showed on the ground. Our preparation was hellish! Imagine that the France team does not have a hotel to sleep in or food for its players. In fact, I can’t even find the words to express it. But at least we will say that it is stupid to have had to manage that. Now that we are here, we really wanted to get to Cologne. As soon as we are on the ground, we no longer think about it. For a young team like ours, what we are achieving in the Euro will be very beneficial for us!

Can this eventful preparation explain the cohesiveness that emerges from your team and the quality of your performances?

It is very difficult to find yourself in such a situation! For most players, it might seem normal to be in such an unstable environment, but for me, having played in the NBA for years, it really isn’t. That is what I am trying to tell the Bosnian people: it is not normal. We shouldn’t worry about that, we should only worry about whether we play well or poorly. I hope that changes one day.

“We try to put aside our pride and our egos:
we play for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina”

Could your good results contribute to it? Do you play for that too?

No, we don’t play for… (interrupts) Sure, we play for better training conditions, a better gym, etc. But we play for the people, we don’t play for politicians or people like that. I don’t really play for them! You could see that what our victory yesterday (against Slovenia) meant to the country, it meant a lot. When we see that, we try to put aside our pride and our egos to become the best team possible. So, could the EuroBasket change the vision of our politicians? The war (in Yugoslavia) did not change his vision, nor did the pandemic. I don’t think anything you can do will change anything, even if you won a gold medal… That’s been the reality for 30 years. I don’t trust them, most people don’t trust them. The citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina must go to vote, there are presidential elections this year. We have to understand that something has to change after 30 years: we cannot continue with the same government and the same regime for so many years. We have to achieve something more modern, people have to be able to live. Our children are constantly leaving the country… It’s not that bad but the population is emigrating to other places, the youngest continue to study abroad where they will have more opportunities. 30 years later, people no longer want to hear about the war. And today we have our politicians coming out of nowhere to say that a return to war is a possibility? But we don’t want to hear about it! I don’t want to hear about it, 99% of people don’t either. That is our mentality: we want to give something positive to the country, forget all that for one day.

So celebrating your achievement against Slovenia with your fans went beyond basketball?

Several thousand fans traveled from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Cologne (photo: FIBA)

Absolutely, it’s bigger than basketball. All the games here are about more than basketball. We didn’t come here to make money. I didn’t come to the European Championship to get rich, nor did my 11 teammates. The important thing for us is to represent our people. That’s what I told the guys before the start: even if we lose, we have to at least look like a team! We don’t want people to say we don’t fight or play hard. However, since the beginning of the summer, in all our games, I don’t think anyone can say that about us. And that is our goal!

You beat France nine days ago in Sarajevo in the qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup. What do you expect for tomorrow’s reunion?

Now you know it was not a lucky day. We deserved this victory. Tomorrow will be a completely different game. They know us, we know them, we can no longer hide anything. I think it’s going to be a great meeting. They have excellent players and very good players. For us, France is a big country, we only have 3.5 million inhabitants. One thing is for sure: we will play hard and we will be ready!

Interviewed in Cologne,


September 5, 2022 at 4:25 am

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