NBA exile Kendrick Nunn finds happiness in Europe as EuroLeague champion

2024-05-27T02:12:47+00:00 2024-05-29T13:36:51+00:00.

Antonis Stroggylakis

27/May/24 02:12

Kendrick Nunn completed a debut EuroLeague season for the ages in dreamlike fashion.

By Antonis Stroggylakis /

BERLIN– Kendrick Nunn was a believer from Day 1.

Back in October following a summer in which no NBA team came knocking at his door and after realizing that the way forward in his career requires a detour, Nunn, a former All-Rookie Team member, decided to make a necessary leap of faith and move his game overseas He signed for Greek powerhouse Panathinaikos Athens, one of the most decorated organizations in the EuroLeague and, at the same time, a struggling team that was unable to make even the playoffs the previous years.

The 28-year-old Nunn wouldn’t embark on this journey into basketball unknown if he didn’t believe it would work. If he didn’t believe that he would succeed on both individual and team level.

Several months afterward, Nunn’s belief paid off with the biggest prize imaginable. Winning the EuroLeague championship, Panathinaikos‘ first since 2011 and seventh in club history.

“It’s been a long year,” Nunn told Eurohoops. “I came here. Just believed in myself. Just giving all I can to this team.”

“I believed in us,” Nunn added. “I believed in myself and knew nothing was impossible as long as you do the right things every day and take the right steps into being a champion.”

It was a process indeed. It took Nunn a bit of time when he arrived in Europe to adjust to a basketball territory that was alien to everything he knew, completely uncharted for him. To convert his abundant scoring talent and slick skills into winning performances. To get accustomed to defensive schemes, unlike anything he had witnessed before. To adapt to life overseas.

His family, the rock that’s giving him strength, was the one constant he could count on.

“They sacrificed a lot all year,” Nunn said, becoming visibly emotional. “To be here all year. Brand new. Not knowing anything. Not knowing anyone. They’ve been holding me down all year. Without them, I couldn’t do it.”

Once things began clicking for Nunn and the more he began getting in sync with his new surroundings, he emerged as one of the most important players for Panathinaikos. He added a new, much-needed dimension to the team’s offensive game, provided leadership, buckets aplenty and several clutch moments. All of them were critical in shaping a squad that was transforming into a contender. Pivotal in changing the Greens’ destiny.

The pinnacle of his pre-Final Four contributions arrived in the playoffs where he averaged 19.2 points (on a superb 16 – 31 threes), 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists to lead Panathinaikos past a very tough Maccabi Tel Aviv team. He dropped 27 in a “win-or-go-home” Game 4 for his team and 26, including all sorts of daggers, in the decisive Game 5 victory that followed.

Thanks to these performances, Nunn more or less secured his spot on the All-Euroleague First Team. Multiple basketball experts argued that he maybe also deserved MVP.

Nunn was pivotal also in the Final Four. 14 points against Fenerbahce Beko in the semifinal and 21 points in the championship game to help bring Panathinaikos to the throne of EuroLeague.

“Hell of a feeling man. Hell of a feeling,” Nunn said.

Along this adventure, Nunn fell in love with both Panathinaikos and EuroLeague basketball despite growing up in entirely different hoops culture.

“I appreciate it a lot,” Nunn mentioned. “The EuroLeague fans. The Panathinaikos fans. Just the passion that everyone around Europe has for this league. It’s unbelievable to play for. I’m very happy. I’m  happy I came here and I had to experience it.”

Nunn signed a contract extension with Panathinaikos back in May. While the club announced the deal after Game 5 vs. Maccabi and the qualification to the Final Four, the player had put his pen to paper to sign earlier.

This contract includes some NBA out clauses that the Nunn can exercise if he finds what he considers to be an ideal situation to get back in the league.

If not? Nunn will wear the Green jersey once again next season and lead the quest for the back-to-back EuroLeague championship.

“I mean, have to weigh my options,” Nunn said when asked if what he’s experiencing as a EuroLeague champion is enough to make him perhaps ignore any NBA offers that may come his way in the offseason. “I have to see how’s it’s looking. If it’s not what I particularly want and I don’t feel comfortable with going there. I signed extension here and we can pretty much run it back if I want to.”

“I want to relive these moments,” Nunn admitted while celebrations were at full swing, often at exuberant fashion, in the locker room of Panathinaikos. “Nothing beats being a champion. Nothing. This is what I play basketball for.  This is what I’ve played basketball for. I play to be a champion. To leave my legacy in the game.”