Nikola Mirotic is the highest-paid player in Europe and if not the top player, then certainly “one of the top players”, as he admits.
After winning the Spanish Cup and the Spanish league title last year and also reaching the EuroLeague Final, the former NBA player and current star of Barcelona talked to Eurohoops about the upcoming season, his performance, the treatment of players moving from Real Madrid to Barcelona and vice versa, and also his decision to leave the NBA behind.
Eurohoops: The clock is ticking, just a few days for the beginning of the Euroleague season… How do you think the team is?
Nikola Mirotic: Very good. We are spending some time with the new players, knowing them better and the team is very excited and ready to do what we like to do, playing basketball and winning.
EH: The team is very excited and looking forward to this season, but how are you on a personal level?
NM: I am fine. I had a great summer with my family, doing some personal stuff, but I really wanted to get back with the team because playing basketball is what makes me happy, I enjoy playing. Not being with the national team allowed me to unwind, to spend time with my family, and now ready to play and fight for every title.
EH: Now that you mention the word titles, I remember that when you came here you said that your main goal was to win trophies. It took two seasons for them to come, last season you won two of the big titles and you got really close to winning them all, and they both were won with Saras as head coach. Did you expect this much success with him this early?
NM: I would make a correction there. I think the first year was really tough with the COVID situation, the Euroleague season couldn’t come to an end, the way we ended that year’s Liga Endesa made it even harder to win… Basically, last year was our first one. Winning two titles is something really big, Barça hadn’t won Liga ACB and Copa in the same season for many years so we have to be happy about that. I said it myself, this is a process. A lot of people thought that in the first year we would win everything and things don’t go that way. If it was a winning team and it was only my addition to the team it would have been easier, but it wasn’t like that so it’s a process and our goals will be slowly but surely achieved.
EH: As you said, Barça had been a lot of years without winning big things. The fact that the team has started to win again changes your goals for this and the seasons to follow?
NM: Barça is a team that can win everything and every player on the roster is very ambitious. We want to have a better season than the last one. But we have to be humble and smart, step by step.
EH: This year’s roster has some changes: four players left and the same number of players got to the team. One of these players is Nico Laprovittola, who last played for Real Madrid. But he is not the only one to sign with your arch-rival team since Adam Hanga and Thomas Heurtel will play now for Real Madrid. Do you think they will get the same treatment you had when your move to Barcelona was completed?
NM: Not even close (Laughs). I don’t think any of them will get treated like me, they will have it easy. But I think that this kind of things have to be a little bit more normal. The way Barça fans welcomed me here was amazing, they gave me a lot of love and support since the first day, but when you leave Barcelona… things are different (Laughs). But I wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last one to do that. You tell me when was the last time Barça signed a Real Madrid player and Real Madrid gets two Barça players? Can’t think of any other occasion… As you can see it can be something more normal.
EH: You just mentioned how much of an idol you have become for Barça fans even though you have been here for not so many seasons and for a lot of time the stands have been empty because of COVID. There is some news on this situation because now 40% of seats will be available for fans, I guess that you are very excited about having your fans back at Palau Blaugrana, aren’t you?
NM: Forty percent? That’s great news. As you know I had a really strong connection since day one with the fans and it’s very important for me. I think that the support and trust they gave me were reflected in my games and I’m very excited to see them again. I really missed them last season, it was a weird year but we could at least have them for the very last stages of the season. It was only a thousand of them but that’s a lot in Palau Blaugrana (Laughs). I hope this year they can enjoy it even more.
EH: It’s been a few years already since you came back from the NBA. Is there anything you are missing from those years?
NM: I would say I only miss playing against the best, those superstars like Durant, Harden, Steph, Giannis… It’s something unforgettable. Playing against LeBron… just amazing. Thinking that I also played with some of them like Anthony Davis, Giannis himself, Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose… An amazing experience. You always want to play against these guys but apart from that, I don’t miss the NBA.
EH: The best players are in the NBA but the level in Euroleague is also really high and you have become one of the big names in the competition. Do you feel like the top player in Europe?
NM: Absolutely. I consider myself as one of the best players because I know how my game is and the things I can give to the team. Last year you could see my level, it could have been better, no doubt about that, and I want to be better every year. I will have to take a step forward every year, especially when you put a team in a position to win. Of course, I feel like a top player in Europe.