Sarunas Jasikevicius has had a remarkable basketball life spanning the globe to play the game he loved. After growing up in Lithuania, Saras played high school and college ball in the United States before becoming a star in Euroleague and really catching the attention of NBA folks with his play in International competitions for Lithuania.
Larry Bird liked what he saw and was able to win a battle for his services against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The initial signing turned out to be the highlight of the relationship, but Jasekivicius addresses all of the issues with the Pacers and his preparation which includes a few interesting stories.
Here are some tidbits of interest Saras shared about his time with the Pacers and the underachieving 2005-06 Pacers.
- After signing with the Pacers, Jasikevicius admitted not working out with the expectation he would play himself into shape during training camp. No only did he not pick up a ball the summer prior to starting with the Pacers, but he hurt his knee jumping up and down at a U2 concert. He had great things to say about the Pacers training staff but understood the hole he dug.
Meanwhile, I soon realized that I had committed a serious mistake by not touching a single ball throughout the whole summer. With a body like mine, I should have trained constantly: Jamaal Tinsley was the starting point guard and he was definitely better than me, because he could provide a much more consistent defensive presence. Things went worse than I ever expected.
- Jasikevicius loved Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh but didn't like the way he was treated by his coach, Rick Carlisle. Considering the shape he arrived in, it actually makes sense that Carlisle would move on to other options thinking he couldn't rely on Saras. He also thought Carlisle was a little strange because he taped his ankles like the players before games.
- Saras didn't elaborate much but did confirm that a few players on the roster didn't roll out the welcome wagon. Fred Jones and Eddie Gill are mentioned as two that weren't happy to have Jasikevicius on the team.
- Stephen Jackson was a great teammate and even took Saras to a special party.
A little at a time, I discovered a new world, like when Jackson invited me to a party with his gang, the "Bloods". At first, I was scared; there were at least 300 people, of which only 3 or 4 were white, but that invitation was a beautiful sign of friendship, and the statement that Stephen considered me one of them
- The following excerpts further confirm the nuttiness that came with the talent of that 2005-06 Pacers team. Hard not to imaging Carlisle exhaling with a smile the day he was let go following the next season. First we learn about team that wasn't exactly on the same page nor disciplined.
The season did not start on the right foot. Carlisle chose to focus on his most important players, letting me stew in my own juice, giving me less space than I thought and certainly not putting me in a position to play my game. Moreover, not everyone welcomed in the team. Several players, like Fred Jones and Eddie Gill, were not happy that I had come from Europe and signed a good contract, and perhaps because of that, their contract would not be renewed or revised. It never happened to me to be uncomfortable with my teammates. Jermaine O'Neal was perhaps not the superstar who would take a franchise to win the title, but he was ok. As for the others, they had personalities that would tear Carlisle apart: Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley, Ron Artest... Rick was too easy going; it would take a much harder and rigorous coach to manage such a group. One day Tinsley showed up wearing flip-flops and he told Carlisle he was ready to train. The coach saw that he had been drinking and he told him to go home. The answer he received was, "You go home; I'm training!"
- No story of the mid-2000's Pacers would be complete without an appearance by Ron Artest.
I liked NBA basketball because I loved the idea of playing many games rather than train... and you always traveled first class. In that situation, I still had to take advantage of every opportunity I had to work alone, because playing so rarely, I had to keep in good shape by myself. We had the talent to win against anyone, but what we needed was continuity. Walsh and Bird realized the mess that the team had become, and the fact that there were too many unmanageable personalities.
To give you an idea of what kind of atmosphere it was, this game played in Seattle can be certainly the best example: by half time, we were below by a little. At the beginning of the third quarter, we were taking a partial loss. Carlisle called time-out and Artest (aka Metta World Peace), came to the bench and said, "Coach, tonight ask Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh to trade me, I cannot play the game you want." It was surreal. Rick did not flinch: "Ok, Ronny, no problem". I tried to calm him and encourage him, but I saw the others around me making strange faces and signaling me, whispering things like, "Shhh, quiet, he'll soon forget." It's a miracle that we got to the playoffs with that attitude.
The book is a translation of the original already published in Italy, Lithuania and Greece and some times reads like it, but the compelling basketball journey of Jasikevicius playing at all levels in the United States and Europe with varying levels of success makes for a good read.
To enjoy all of the stories Saras has to tell, you can buy ‘To Win is Not Enough: My Life, My Basketball' at Amazon.