Though he was born in a proud sports city like Boston, David Blatt of Olympiacos Piraeus considers himself a European basketball coach. It was in the United States, however, that Blatt fell in love with the sport. He started playing because his sisters did so before him, and during a certain autumn during which he could not play football, basketball took over for good. Blatt played for Framingham South High School under Coach Phil "Smokey" Moresi, the most influential person in his basketball career. Blatt proceeded to Princeton University before playing as a pro in Israel from 1981 to 1993 while also coaching youth teams. The rest is history. His Turkish Airlines EuroLeague titles with Maccabi both as an assistant (2004) and head coach (2014), his 7DAYS EuroCup crown with Darussafaka in 2018, three Olympics and EuroBasket medals with the Russian national team, and his reaching the NBA Finals with Cleveland all have made Blatt one of the best-traveled and most successful coaches in the sport.
"The first memory I had was a very, very young age, probably six or seven years old, going to a basketball gym where the kids were playing in some type of organized fashion and getting the ball and making my first shot -- only it was on the wrong basket! Which taught me the value of many things! Knowing you have to understand what you are doing. It is good to do the right thing, but you have to do the right thing in the right place and the right time. And finally, you cannot allow disappointment to cause you to lose your love for anything. The second thing is that my older sisters were basketball players, and they used to play outside of my house, and I began to practice because I saw them practicing all of the time. Very quickly, I became competitive about it because I wanted to be better than my sisters, and that is what really caused me to begin to commit to improving myself and catch up with them.
"I wanted to be better than my sisters."
"As a kid, I was involved in all kinds of sports. I grew up in the Boston area and Boston is a famous sports city, has all the major sports teams -- the Boston Celtics, of course, who I listened to on the radio, from the time that I was seven or eight years old, with Johnny Most announcing and of course, the great dynasty of the Bill Russell era. I felt in love with all sports: I played basketball, American football, baseball, hockey... Ultimately, I turned to basketball only in the sophomore year of my high school period because I was injured in the summertime and I couldn't play football that fall. I could only play basketball that year, which I did, and I had success, and recognized that was something I should concentrate on for the future of my high school career and for the possibility of finding a college experience that included sport at a high level. And that is why I really focused on basketball.
"My high school coach, Phil "Smokey" Moresi, who coached me from the time I was 14 until the time I was 18, he was really the biggest influence in my basketball life, both in terms of learning the game and learning, I think, the important things about it, but learning about life as well. He became a mentor for me, a father figure for me, because my father had left home when I was very young. I needed that kind of influence, and he gave me that in the form of a coach and a man. He was really the most influential character in my basketball career.
"Again, I loved all sports. I was very, very involved and engaged in all kinds of sports because it gave me a sense of purpose and sense of discipline and a kind of camaraderie with the people that I was playing with or competing with. Basketball, obviously, was a big part of that, and ultimately became the central thing in my life at sports. It has always been a central part of my life growing up and obviously, throughout my entire life.
"The team gave me a sense of belonging."
"The interesting thing is that even when I was first playing professionally at the age of 22 with Maccabi Haifa in Israel, I also coached a youth team, and every year that I played professionally, wherever I was, I always made it a point to ask the club if I could coach a team in their organization, whether it be kids, youth, juniors or whatever the case may be. And I did that throughout my entire career. And then when I was injured at the age of 33 and a half -- I had a full rupture of my Achilles and my career ended -- I began, of course, to coach professionally, although it wasn't really something that was in my mind as being my lifelong career. Honestly, I couldn't have told you at 33 or 34 that it was what I was going to do in my life. I didn't really have that specific plan. I had other ideas but basketball took over.
"Basketball won over football because I got injured in that summer -- and I'm glad it did because I've lasted a lot longer in basketball than maybe I would have in football. But what really made the difference for me was, as I told you, my high school basketball coached was central to me, growing not only as a sportsman but also as a person. And because I was good at it and it gave me a sense of confidence, and the team gave me a sense of belonging. And I loved the teamwork aspect of basketball. It just seemed to speak to me on a visceral level, and it is probably what make me stay interested in the sport."