Spanish basketball star turned his back on the NBA


rudy-fernandezIt’s the dream of millions of basketball fans around the world – to be an NBA star. But for Rudy Fernandez, who leapt to fame with his “hellacious” dunk in an Olympic final against the U.S. Dream Team, playing in “the best league in the world” was not enough.

Just 27 years old and reaching his peak as a player, he has bucked convention by leaving the NBA and returning to his native Spain, CNN reported.

“Here probably I’m a better player, I can do everything – not like my years in the NBA,” Fernandez told CNN’s Human to Hero series.

“The NBA, it’s a business for sure, so when you sign a contract you have to know you might get traded to another team, another city. And you start playing 82 games in one season, it’s a lot of basketball.”

Fernandez moved to the U.S. after the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing, where Spain lost to the Americans, and spent three years with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Fernandez played 4 years in the NBA, three of them for the Portland Trailblazers. He averaged career high in his rookie season with 10.4 ppg in 25.6 minutes of action in 78 games.

Fernandez holds career averages of 9.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg and 2.2 apg in 249 NBA games (10 started).

“They gave me the opportunity to play in the best league in the world,” he said.

However, his later move to Denver Nuggets was not a success – partly due to a back injury, and partly due to a league lockout that shortened the 2011-12 season to 31 matches.

In the middle of the NBA pay dispute, he signed an interim deal with Real Madrid – a division of one of the world’s biggest soccer clubs – and enjoyed his time back home so much that he later took up the option of a three-year deal worth a reported €8.1 million ($10.5 million).

“I came here to be the leader and win trophies,” he announced on his arrival.

Juan Carlos Navarro

Juan Carlos Navarro

Fernandez has proved as good as his word, averaging nearly 17 points per game for Real in the current Euroleague season and winning rave reviews for his performances. Real also top the domestic ACB league in Spain.

Fernandez played football as a youngster on his home island of Mallorca, but basketball ability was in the family genes with both his parents players, while his elder sister Marta plied her trade in the American WNBA before also returning to Spain with her current club Salamanca.

Spotted by Barcelona-based Joventut, Fernandez was set on the course to be a professional player from his mid-teens and was included in the Olympic squad for the Athens Olympics in 2004 while only 19 years of age.

He went to Portland as the 24th pick in the draft.

“All the community from Portland helped me a lot with the the transition. The first year was difficult, but basketball is basketball,” he added.

Averaging 10.4 points and with a formidable conversion rate for three-point efforts and from the free throw line, Fernandez repaid Portland’s faith in his abilities during his first season.

His amazing air skills were also noted and he was picked to take part in the four-man NBA Slam Dunk Series at the 2009 All-Star Game.

Fernandez was eliminated at the first round stage but had made a lasting impression, wearing a No.10 Trail Blazer shirt in tribute to former Portland star Fernando Martin, the first Spaniard to play in the NBA.

Martin was killed in car accident in 1989, but had led the way for the likes of Pau Gasol and Fernandez at the highest level of basketball.

Fernando Martin (right) battles Tom Chambers for a rebound

Fernando Martin (right) battles Tom Chambers for a rebound

Fernando Martin played one season with the Portland Trailblazers, appearing in 24 games, and recording a total of 22 points and 28 rebounds.

With Portland unable to make it past the first round of the playoffs in his time there, Fernandez went to Denver in a three-way trade.

He needed surgery on his troublesome back problem but recovered in time to play at the London 2012 Olympics.

“We are probably the second team in the world. I remember a long time ago in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, no team could compete against the U.S. Dream Team, but now there’s a little bit of respect paid by them to the other teams,” Fernandez said.

He is not the only member of that team to return to Spain from the NBA.

Navarro left Memphis in 2008 after just one season, and has since been an outstanding player for Real’s archrivals Barcelona.

In the NBA, Navarro played all 82 games for Memphis in 2008, averaging 10.9 ppg in 25.8 minutes of action.

“Right now I think Navarro dominates the Eurobasket,” said Fernandez.

“He decided to come back to Spain like me and he is probably one of the best shooting guards in the world as he demonstrated in the Olympics and in the world championships.”

There is still the possibility that Fernandez, a passionate music fan who has dreams of becoming a DJ, will have another go at cracking the NBA – if his body can withstand the strain.

“Who knows in two years, three years, I could back to the NBA if I start to feel better about my back.”

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