By Aris Barkas/ barkas@Eurohoops.net
Since 2008, when Keith Langford decided that his career as a professional basketball player will be centered in Europe, he emerged as a trademark name in European basketball and despite being 37 years old, he does not intend to stop anytime soon.
The former player of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, Angelico Biella, Virtus Bologna, and Olimpia Milan in Italy, Khimki and UNICS Kazan in Russia, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Rishon Lezion in Israel and also Panathinaikos and AEK in Greece, talked to Eurohoops about a sporting life spent in Europe.
With US players being a big part of the European basketball scene, Keith Langford is the right guy to explain the mentality of import players, the trials that a career in Europe includes, and the perception or even stereotypes that those players have to face.
The two-time top EuroLeague scorer (in 2014 and 2017) had a long talk with Eurohoops about his ongoing European basketball journey, explaining what means to be an American player in Europe, the way those players are treated back in the States, and the time he owes to his family and friends.
– After three years in Greece, playing for Panathinaikos and AEK, do you still have a lot of gas in the tank?
“I do. Of course, I also realize that the end is near. Once I stop playing, I understand that it’s really over, that I will never play basketball again. When you know the end of something is coming, you try to maximize it as much as possible and enjoy it. I have a freshness in my mind about the end of my career because I know when I am done, I am really done.”
– Do you feel you have been part and you are still part of the heydays of European basketball?
“It’s the weirdest thing. So, I am 37. I played against guys like J.R. Holden, Matjaz Smodis, and Gregor Fucka. I have also played against the younger generation of Vasilije Micic and these guys. So, I am stuck in the middle of two generations. It’s kind of a cool thing. I have been able to see both sides. My career has covered a lot of time. It has been extremely fun. I am proud of it.”
– Do you consider yourself a typical US player in Europe or do you have a different mentality?
“It’s different. There was a point in time in my career where I finally let go of the NBA and let go of anything basketball-wise happening in the United States. And I put two feet in Europe, and I put my mind, my body, and my soul in what was happening in Europe. From that point on, not only my career and my game go to another level, my mentality, and acceptance of Europe and the culture, and all of the countries I was playing, it gave me a different level of appreciation and enjoyment.”
– Do you feel that the mentality of guns for hire, one more day one more dollar, this kind of mentality ultimately hurts you when you are trying to make a pro career in another continent?
“It can. I think what happens a lot of times in Europe and in the States is people mistake your style of play for your character as a person.
For example, I am a scorer. People will think he shoots a lot, maybe he is selfish or this and that. I am very aggressive on the court. Off the court, people may look at me and feel the same way. ‘Oh, he is arrogant and unapproachable’. It’s totally different. Being a gun for hire is negative in that aspect, but in the positive aspect when you are a very very good slash great at what you do, there is always a need for you.
You can always get paid at a high level. That’s what I have been able to do for fifteen or sixteen years now.”
– I am talking also about the mentality of the players. There are a lot of guys missing their families staying on another continent for eight or nine months. Do you feel this kind of grind is something that is not conceived by the general public in Europe because they generally consider every US player a star?
“That comes with the territory. I think the sooner that Americans coming to Europe start to look at it and treat it as this is your career, your craft, your profession, and stop looking at it as a ten-month jail sentence or I am a gun for hire. All that stuff does not matter. You are here to play basketball and to be really really good at basketball. I think it takes away from your game and from your focus and concentration, building your career and your name. The thing to do is embrace it. Once you are over here, be over here all the way in. Forget the mentality. You are a basketball player and you get paid to be really good at it. That’s all that matters.”
– It was a totally conscious decision from your side to have your family also in Europe, to not be alone, to enjoy the culture with you?
“I have done both. I have spent six or eight months without my family at times because I felt that was necessary for whatever reason. And I have played at places before where it wasn’t very family-friendly. My career was my priority. I would make the sacrifices so later on in my career I could be in a family-friendly place or I could make a decision based on comfort. Before that, it was all about how high can I achieve in my career and how far I can take basketball, how far I can push myself to be as good as I can possibly be.”