Ex-NBA star's fond feelings for former coach David Blatt

Russian big man reflects on relationship with Israeli from national team and NBA’s Cavaliers

DAVID BLATT (inset) had Timofey Mozgov on the Russian national team and with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the center has nothing but praise for his former coach (photo credit: REUTERS)
DAVID BLATT (inset) had Timofey Mozgov on the Russian national team and with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the center has nothing but praise for his former coach
(photo credit: REUTERS)
   Just two months ago, in August, Israeli basketball coach David Blatt revealed that he had been diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS) shocking the entire basketball world from the NBA, Euroleague and literally every country around the globe.
Blatt made the announcement while preparing for his upcoming season in charge of Greek powerhouse Olympiacos Piraeus and received full support from the club’s ownership and management.
However, Blatt was relieved of his duties just one game into the Euroleague season when his squad was blown out 82-63 by newcomer ASVEL Villeurbanne in France. In no way was Blatt the sole person to blame for the French debacle, but as the head coach he paid the price and is now on the unemployment line.
The 60-year old American-born Israeli coach was entering his 12th season as a Euroleague head coach while guiding five different teams including, of course, Maccabi Tel Aviv. He led the yellow-and-blue to three Euroleague Final Fours and took the championship in 2014, which then led him to the NBA and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When he took the Cavs job he was brought in by owner Dan Gilbert to begin building a new team of young up-and-coming talented players, but less than a month after being named to the post, LeBron James came back home to Ohio and the game-plan changed drastically.
In his first year in charge Blatt took the Cavaliers to the 2015 NBA Finals, but they fell to the Golden State Warriors. The following season he was let go midway through the campaign, which ended up seeing his assistant, Tyronn Lue, taking home the title in seven games against the same Warriors.
One of the players that Blatt brought in to his Cavaliers team was big man Timofey Mozgov, whom he was very familiar with from his time as the Russian national team coach. With Russia, Blatt won a gold medal at the 2007 Eurobasket and bronze medals at both the 2011 Eurobasket and 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The Jerusalem Post had a chance this week to sit down in the Russian capital with Mozgov, who is now playing with Khimki Moscow, to reflect on his time together with Blatt and what he gained from his former coach.
“The most important thing I learned from Coach Blatt is that you always have to stay positive,” said the 33-year-old 7-foot-1 (2.16m) center. “He always stressed that it doesn’t matter how the game goes, win or lose, but you have to be true to the game and the game will then be true to you. That’s exactly the principles he coached and has lived by throughout his entire life.
As a player who has played under many coaches, Mozgov believes that Blatt was right up there with the best of the best.
“I think he is one of the best coaches that I have ever been associated with, so it’s just very hard for me to see him in his current situation right now.”
An emotional Mozgov related to Blatt’s situation personally.
“We spent a lot of time together and he’s a part of me. In essence he is part of me and he has a very big place in my heart.”
Blatt has always believed in Mozgov’s abilities and not only nurtured him along, but also gave him his big break as a basketball player.
“He gave me a chance to show myself to the world and play basketball,” noted Mozgov. “He always believed in me and was always just so nice.”
There’s no question that the Massachusetts native is adored by almost all who have been in contact with him and he is always friendly and kind. When a number of Israeli media members visited him last year in Greece before the season opening contest, he apologized to the over 30 local journalists and asked them to wait a few minutes so he could speak with his visitors first.
Just this past July at the Under-20 European Championships that were held in Tel Aviv, and before his medical revelation, Blatt – who was seen limping around the Drive In Arena – stopped to take photos with every person that requested. In fact, it took him almost 15 minutes just to get to his seat. He is revered by fans and players alike, as Mozgov described.
“He’s just a good guy and it’s tough to see him in his current situation.”
When Blatt released his dramatic statement, he quoted the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who said: “Things work out best for people who make the best of how things work out. It’s my responsibility to be an example for all to continue to live their life in the best way possible and to never, ever, ever give in or give up.”
David Blatt is a fighter and a battler. There’s no way that a stumbling block will stop him. As Mozgov concluded: “I hope he can fight, battle his illness and be strong. All of our prayers are with him.”
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at [email protected].