By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The night before the EuroLeague championship game, Anadolu Efes swingman Elijah Bryant stood in front of a mirror in his hotel room and began repeating a mantra ahead of the biggest moment of the season and one of the greatest challenges in his career.
“I was telling myself last night in the mirror: ‘You are going to be a champion tomorrow – you are going to be a champion tomorrow,'” Bryant told Eurohoops some minutes after his thoughts and dreams of Friday night materialized with Efes winning the title. “Trying to reiterate, trying to visualize everything. And then it actually happened. It just feels amazing man.”
The dramatic finale of the tight battle vs. Real Madrid was immediately followed by some equally intense and emotional reactions by Efes players and coaches as they began celebrating the back-to-back championship title. Bryant couldn’t help but break into tears when the final horn sounded and upon the realization that all the efforts and hard work that he and his teammates put on came into glorious fruition.
“I cried, I just cried,” Bryant said. “Vasa [Micic] came over, hugged me, and kissed me on the cheek. It felt like I was dreaming.”
Some Efes players were carrying mementos from the game while walking through the mixed zone to talk to reporters. Back-to-back Final Four MVP Vasilije Micic became the owner of one of the basketball nets, while big man Chris Singleton was wearing the other.
Bryant got perhaps an even more special, invaluable souvenir that will probably be placed on a special spot in his trophy room: The ball of the game. “It just means so much,” Bryant said. “I know I didn’t do anything tonight, offensively. It’s just a lot of emotions that I felt and I wanted to take the ball to remember it. Put it in my house to really remember these emotions. The time I spent with these guys and the gratitude I feel for these guys.”
While Bryant didn’t have the strong impact he had in the semifinal vs. Olympiacos, he finished the championship game with a team-high eight rebounds while putting up some fierce fights against the much bigger size and bodies of the Real Madrid squad. On Thursday (19/5) he had done his part also on offense with 16 points on 4-6 3-pointers.
At the end of the tournament, the 27-year-old Bryant found himself becoming the second player (and not the first as I mistakenly told him) in basketball history to become NBA and EuroLeague champion in back-to-back years.
Bryant won an NBA ring last season as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and now got the chip in EuroLeague with Efes. He joins a very exclusive club that was opened by Jim Brewer when he won the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers and EuroLeague – or “European Champions’ Cup as it was named back in the day – with Italian side Cantu in 1982 and 1983 respectively.
“Gratitude man,” Bryant said. “I’m grateful for my lord and savior Jesus Christ. Grateful for this team, this organization. Grateful for the owner and just for the opportunity to play this game.”
Efes picked Bryant and brought him back to EuroLeague after his stint with Maccabi Tel Aviv few days after the former Cougar was waived by the Bucks in October. He was hired to provide some muscle, athleticism and defensive punch to a group that was the reigning champion but had began the season with four straight losses and looked to be in serious need of some toughness back then.
Bryant’s contract is until the end of the 2022-23 season but he sees himself potentially staying with Efes much longer than that.
“Obviously, I want to be here long-term,” Bryant said. “Right now, I’m more focused on what we do tonight and I want to celebrate.”