Leadership with a smile comes to basketball country

  • 2002-01-24
  • Tassos Coulaloglou
VILNIUS - Basketball is a national obsession in Lithuania. So, when the popular Lietuvos Rytas team, named after the country's leading daily newspaper, hit the court this year, everyone was curious to see who was leading the team to victory.

Born on May 4, 1972, in Detroit, Michigan, Walsh Jordan moved to Dallas, Texas when he was 13. After playing basketball in university, he bounced around the States playing in countless semi-professional leagues, like the Continental Basketball Association and the United States Basketball Association, before making the move to Europe.

He's now been playing in Europe for four years - in Germany, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and now Lithuania. He's the only foreigner on the Vilnius team.

The Baltic Times: What did you know about Lithuania before you came to play here?

Walsh Jordan: Not too much. Don Nelson, the coach of the Dallas Mavericks (in the U.S. National Basketball Association), got me here. He's really good friends with Jonas Kazlauskas, the coach for Lietuvos Rytas. I was working with NBA teams when he suggested it to me. At first, I was thinking of going back to Slovenia to play, but I came here instead.

TBT: Did you know anything about Lithuanian basketball?

Jordan: Well, I knew they had a good tradition and that they almost beat the U.S. Olympic basketball dream team, so their coach was good. I also knew about Arvidas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis (two Lithuanians who played in the NBA).

TBT: Before you came to Europe, what did you think about the competition here in terms of basketball?

Jordan: Honestly, I thought Europe was going to be easy. I didn't think anybody would play that well. But these guys can play. There are some players over here who are better than players in the States.

TBT: Would you say your style of game has changed since coming to Lithuania?

Jordan: Yes. When I played in the past, I was known for scoring. I averaged 30 points a game in high school and had similar numbers in the States and Europe. Later, I was Most Valuable Player in the SBL, one of the leagues in the States, and we won the championship in another league, the IBA. If you ask some of my NBA friends and other guys I used to play with, they'll say, "Walsh passing the ball? No way." But here my role has changed and I've had to adapt. So I get my teammates involved. Winning is more important for me than individual honors.

TBT: How do you like Lithuania?

Jordan: It's cool. It isn't a problem, because I can adapt. Some guys who come here right from the States may have difficulty, but by now I'm used to moving around Europe. I played in Bosnia-Herzegovina in a small town with a coach everyone called "the dictator." He was real rough. I think that now I can handle it when it comes to where to live and play.

TBT: Are you recognized on the street?

Jordan: Yeah, some recognize me as a basketball player and some, well, I'm not the only black guy, but I'm one of the few. They put two and two together and say, "Yeah, he plays basketball." People smile at me and I smile back. Sometimes kids want to come up to me and say something, but they're a little scared. So I just tell them to come on over.

TBT: Out of all the places you've played basketball in Europe, which did you like the best?

Jordan: Germany. Nothing against Slovenia or Lithuania, it's just that Germany wasn't really like Europe because there were a lot of American kind of things I could do. There were hip-hop clubs, something I don't have here. There was American food, while the only American place here is Rita's Hideout. I could go to the army base and go shopping. Where I stayed in Germany was like a little piece of America.

TBT: How long do you think you will be playing in Vilnius?

Jordan: My contract is only for this year. So, I may be leaving as soon as May.

TBT: Do you want to stay here?

Jordan: If they want me back and everything is right. Hopefully, because I like playing here. We have a good team and the fans know the game of basketball. This is a basketball country and I love that.

I just wish we could get our more intense fans closer to the court - right now they are in the dark way up in the top of the stadium. But in general, I like playing here, and the atmosphere is great.