The Sports Rabbi had the privilege to interview Real Madrid star Sergio Llull ahead of the club’s game at Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday at 21:05 at Yad Eliyahu. The 6”3 guard has been with Real since 2007 and has won almost every possible award both in the Euroleague and the ACB as he is in the midst of his 13th year with the club.
With two Euroleague titles under his belt in 2015 and 2018 including the MVP Award in 2017, six Spanish League championships while earning the Finals Most Valuable Player award in 2015 and 2016, Llull added a World Championship to his resume this summer to go along with his 3 EuroBasket Gold Medals. There’s certainly no question that the Mahon, Balearic Islands, Spain native is one of the greatest ever to represent his team and country on the grand stage.
In 2012, Llull was part of the Spain National team that played the United States in the London Olympics Final which featured of course Kobe Bryant who tragically passed away this past Sunday in a helicopter accident. Llull was very emotional when he thought back to the times he met Kobe on and off of the court, “This has been a tragedy still hard to believe. Kobe Bryant has been one of the greatest basketball players of all time, a legend not only of basketball but also of sports in general. His death has been shocking, a heavy blow for everybody. He always showed respect towards us every time we played against him. I would like to send a big hug to his family and friends.”
When looking at the impact that Kobe had on not only the NBA but on the game around the world, he was the special FIBA Ambassador for the World Cup that just took place this past summer in China which Spain won for only the second time in their history. Llull’s squad were not the favorites, but through determination and guile were able to take the crown, “I feel so proud for having the privilege of being part of the national team. What we did as a team in the World Cup was just amazing. We competed extremely well there. There are not so many people who can say that he or she is a world champion. We did a great job and we are all very happy with such an achievement.”
At the start of the 2017/18 season, Llull tore his ACL in his right knee and was out indefinitely. However, he came back in time for the last two games of Real’s quarterfinal series against Panathinaikos and played an integral part of the club’s Final Four championship in wins over CSKA in the semifinals and Fenerbahce in the title game. Of course rejoining the team just in time for the playoffs is never easy and a challenge for both the player and team, “The challenge is always helping the team in everything I can to win championships and to celebrate them with our fans. This is what we play for. My injury made me more mature as a human being, as a player. It also made me introduce healthier habits in my daily work and modify my game in order to become a better player.”
The Euroleague Finals MVP that season was Luka Doncic who was just a month shy of joining the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks after being selected by the Atlanta Hawks and then traded for Trae Young. Llull was able to see Doncic mature and grow up throughout his teenage years before heading to North America while also acting as a role model for the budding star, “He is a very special player due to his youthfulness and the way he dominates the game at his age. He is an extremely talented and skillful player who understands very well the game. He is showing it every day in the NBA. He is probably one of those players who comes out every 20 or 30 years and we were lucky enough to have him in our team. We still enjoy him in the NBA.”
While on the topic of the NBA, Llull was selected in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. Today his rights are owned by the Houston Rockets but interestingly enough he never made the move like other Spanish stars whether it was Victor Claver, Sergio Rodriguez or Rudy Fernandez who all had short spells in the NBA or the likes of Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka or Pau Gasol who have had extended stays. “I have already explained this many times. I am so happy in Madrid. Real Madrid is the team I wanted to play for since I was a little kid. It was my dream when I was a child and I am fulfilling it every day. The NBA is there but I love competing to win titles and I believe I am in the best place to achieve it.”
Real Madrid is always a perennial contender for the Euroleague title and this season is no different as they sport a 15-6 record good for third place as they enter the contest with Maccabi Tel Aviv. With the club heading into the stretch run, Llull explained the club’s objectives for the upcoming couple of months, “I think the team is doing a great job so far. Euroleague is so long right now. It is always good to move from less to more in order to try to be among the first four places of the regular season, enjoy the home court advantage in the playoffs, and have chances to play the Final Four in good shape.”