year rivalry rooted in respect and pursuit of greatness

year rivalry rooted in respect and pursuit of greatness

DENVER The rise of Nicolas Batum into a budding NBA star took root 10 years ago, in Europe, when he was an awe struck 14 year old sitting at the end of the French National team bench.

France was playing Italy, and Batum said he sat wide eyed, mouth agape, wondering how such a big kid for Italy could be so skilled.

“He was bigger than everyone, the tallest out there, and he played point guard,” Batum recalled. “And he was good. Real good. I remember sitting there going, ‘Whoa. Who is this guy?’”

It was Danilo Gallinari, the No. 1 prospect in Europe, and from that moment on Gallinari became the barometer for how Batum would judge his own game.

“I wanted to be the best of my generation in Europe, the best,” Batum said. “But he was. He was the best. So every time we would go against each other, I knew it was something special.”

Ten years later, Batum and Gallinari meet at the Rose Garden tonight adding another chapter to their ongoing rivalry. Batum has since closed the gap on Gallinari, becoming not only an equal, but a more highly paid player. In both areas on the court and at the bargaining table Batum has Gallinari to thank as motivation. He was his carrot, his drive, his measuring stick.

And through all the competition, all the comparisons, and all the years, Batum found his pursuit of Gallinari produced something more than just motivation: Friendship.

“We have some pride with each other,” Batum said. “I respect him a lot. Because he was the best, and I wanted to be the best. People always considered me No. 2 in Europe, even if I won MVP of a tournament they considered him the best. And he was. But the thing I’ve always liked about Gallo is he’s a good guy. He was the best, but he never showed up acting like he was the best, that he was a star, like some guys in Europe. He just played. And he played like a veteran.”

Since reaching the NBA, both Gallinari and Batum said their rivalry has lost some of its edge. They are no longer the two standouts, looking to get the upper hand on the other. They both view themselves as good small forwards in the NBA, looking to hold their own among LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, the heavyweights of their position.

The only thing different about tonight, both say, is their counterpart shares some history.

“I approach him like any other player, but I must say I’m always up for playing against him because we can talk,” Gallinari said this week. “Talk about other things. So it’s like a friendly way to approach the game. I think when you grow up together I mean, we’ve known each other for 10 years now you think about after you retire and what we can talk about.”

Batum says he already knows what he will bring up to Gallinari years after their matchups are over.

“The thing is, I don’t really lose a lot against Gallo,” Batum says, smiling.

Gallinari winces upon hearing Batum’s words. Since they have been kids, France has dominated Italy in basketball. In their celebrated European age group which includes Nikola Pekovic, Alexey Shved, Omri Casspi and Victor Claver Batum and France won European titles in 2006 and 2008. And since they have joined the NBA, Batum is 6 0 against Gallinari.

“Wow. 6 0?,” Gallinari said. “Their national team is better than our national team, and has been for years. So most of the time we play against each other with our national team, he wins. But 6 0 in NBA? I’ll say this: I look forward to winning (Thursday).”

Each have blurred memories of their matchups, sometimes they forget the year, and sometimes they forget where the game was played.

And each has a different defining moment of their history.

For Gallinari, it was 2004, at the U 16 European Championships held in Amaliada, Greece.

“The thing that I’m sure of is that he wasn’t as good when he was younger. He has improved a lot. But I remember one the first tournaments we played against each other. We were in the middle of nowhere in Greece, and there was nothing to do at all. But our teams were staying at the same hotel. After the tournament, I remember meeting him and exchanging our jerseys. His was No. 5. I wonder if he remembers that.”

Batum lit up when hearing Gallinari’s account.

“Yes, now I remember,” Batum said. “I had forgotten. cheap nfl jerseysBut now I remember it well. It’s blue. No. 12.”

For Batum, he remembers a December 2007 game when both were stars in the Euroleague and had stated their intentions to enter the NBA draft. The game was in LeMans, France, the homecourt of Batum’s team. But there was more than just Gallinari and his Milano team in town.

“I’ve never see that many NBA scouts at one game,” Batum said. “Isiah Thomas. Chris Mullin. Kevin Pritchard . there must have been 20 NBA teams there.”

Gallinari, who would go No. 6 overall to New York in the 2008 draft, said he vaguely remembers all the scouts, but he added he was used to NBA scouts at his games. He remembers because it was a rare win against Batum.

“That’s one I won, right?” Gallinari said smiling.

Gallinari’s team did win, in large part because he dominated Batum. He scored a game high 15 points while adding seven rebounds and five assists. He also drew 12 fouls, including two on Batum, limiting Batum to 19 minutes, five points, zero rebounds and two assists.

“Two early fouls on me, both drawn by Gallinari,” said Batum, who would be drafted No. 25 overall, 19 picks after Gallinari. “Then I was scared to play defense, and he had a big game. They won. It was a big game. It was my chance to show my game, but he took me out of my game. That’s how I remember our last year in Euroleague: he played like he was 25 year old guy, and he was 18. I mean, he was good. No, he was great.”

Once the two Europeans reached the NBA, their rivalry might have faded, but their interest in the others’ game has not.

On Monday, the day after Batum recorded 11 points, 10 assists, five steals and five blocks against New Orleans, Gallinari was quick to recite Batum’s assists, while adding that he recalled a bunch of blocks and steals. And on Wednesday, the day after Gallinari had 28 points and 9 rebounds in a win against San Antonio, Batum was quick to recite Gallinari’s stats.


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