A poet who writes poems in a yellow-navy blue jersey, a Fenerbahçe lover who is always with us, an intellectual on the streets of Kadıköy… Gigi Datome, a.k.a “The Painter”, who was the fans’ lover and one of the important names of our EuroLeague championship between 2015 and 2020, when he wore the Fenerbahçe jersey, answered the questions of Erdi Tiran and Özgün Can from Salon Tribünü.
- You were born on November 27, 1987 in Italy. Can you tell us about your childhood years and meeting with basketball?
Basically, I don’t remember my first day of basketball since my father was the president of the club in my hometown, the name is Santa Croce Olbia. My older brother was also playing at this club and so our free time was in the gym. I always spent my time with basketball and this is how it started. In the mornings, I was going to school, in the afternoons I was in the gym.
- You started your professional career at Montepaschi Siena in 2003 and you were loaned to Serie B2 team Santa Croce in your first season. You were called back to Montepaschi before the end of the season because of your great performance, and despite playing only thirteen games in your first season in the league, you won the league championship and the super cup. You broke your career record by scoring 26 points against Air Avellino, on February 12, 2006. Can you tell us about those years?
Actually, I played in Olbia, my hometown, until 2003. That’s why I played in Serie B2 which is the fourth division in Italy. After that summer I played in the EuroBasket U16 and I was the top scorer of the tournament and I signed with Siena. I was practicing with senior team, but I was playing with the youth team. Also, I was only practicing with senior team. In my third year, I was actually playing. I was playing more or less fifteen minutes in the Italian League. I played also EuroLeague, but not much. I was doing my thing. I was 18 years old. I was very young, but showing that I belonged to that level. You mentioned the Avellino game that I scored 26 points, but also in the same season, I played games against Obradovic’s Panathinaikos. I scored 15 points at home and 17 points in Athens. Also, I learned that you have to work hard while I was 18.
- You were loaned to Scafati Basket during the half-time of the 2006-07 season and although you didn’t play many minutes this season, you had the averages of 9.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in the 2007-08 season. Can you tell us about this short process?
My fourth season at Siena, after the pretty good season. My minutes were really limited, coach was Piagiani (he came later on Fenerbahçe). So I decided to go another team to have more minutes on the court and that team was Scafati, but in my second year I was playing and playing, my stats were not bad and still 20-21 years old. After that year, we had the best season as a team. Roma called me, the GM was Dejan Bodiroga. He called me. For me it was a good opportunity to come back on a bigger team with a bigger role.
- Then you were released in the summer of 2008 and signed with Virtus Roma. In the 2008-09 season, you were selected as the Italian League’s Best Under-22 Player of the Season with 8.9 points and 3.1 points per game in the league. At the end of the season, you participated in the 2009 NBA Draft, but you were not drafted. What can you tell us about these years?
Yes, my first year in Roma was pretty good because the team was very good. We had very good players like Sani Becirovic, Primoz Brezec, Andre Hutson, Rodrigo de la Fuente. I was the backup, but I had good minutes. Then I didn’t put my name on draft, that year it was the age that either they call you or they don’t call you. You cannot do anything. I had to put my name on draft because they call me regardless. I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t do anything special to be called. Also, I was very focused on finding a good and a bigger role in the team to develop my game.
- In the 2012-13 season, you had the averages of 16.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, and you were awarded the MVP of the Italian League in the regular season, and you became the first Italian basketball player since Danilo Gallinari, who achieved this success. In the same season, although you and your team reached the finals in the play-offs, you lost the championship 4-1 to Montepaschi Siena. What can you say about that season Gigi?
That season was my fifth season in Rome. I spent five years there. I struggled because of injuries. Year after year I gained the position, minutes and an important role in the team. For sure 2012-2013 season was the best for me. I was the MVP of regular season. The team’s aim was not to relegate the second division, but we finished the league in third position and played the finals. So it was an incredible run. After the season, we played very good. I had a chance to play in NBA with a contract as a free agent because I was undrafted. The tenth season for me as a pro, it’s the right time to go another level. I said before, between Siena and Scafati, I tried to find my position and it was the breakout season for me. That season was the other breakout season for me.
- You played for the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics in the NBA between 2013-2015. How was your NBA experience and what was it like playing in the NBA?
I had this opportunity to sign a contract with NBA teams. To take this two years to see if I belonged to that level. It was not easy for sure. Especially I had the real chance, but still incredible experience and always thankful and grateful to Joe Dumars signed me that year. But for sure at Boston I had a better chance. I played more, every night. I had a role in that team. I showed that I could play at that team. Especially second year in Detroit, I was not playing at all and got traded to Boston and got opportunity to show my value. I was so excited and happy of course. I had great memories at Boston because over there I played real minutes and felt like real NBA player.
- In the 2015-16 season, you signed with Fenerbahce. This season, we won the Turkish League and the Turkish Cup. In the Euroleague, we unfortunately lost against CSKA Moscow in the final game. How would you rate this season?
I think it was incredible. I was the best season for any Turkish team because at this team until that season nobody could reach the EuroLeague final. We were so close to get the title. Viktor Khryapa scored the basket and we lost at the overtime. We won the Turkish cup with a buzzer shot from Bogdan Bogdanovic. We played against Efes in the Turkish League and won the cup. That Anadolu Efes team was also good team. They had Cedi Osman, Dario Saric, Jayson Granger, Derrick Brown, Bryant Dunston. I was the MVP of the finals I remember that. It was the first season of me after coming from NBA. I didn’t play a lot so, I was missing the opportunities, responsibilities and playing for a title. I was 28 and I didn’t win anything until this season. It was time for winning something because it is the ultimate goal for every basketball player. Fenerbahçe gave me the opportunity and I fell in love with city, club, teammates, coach and it was a great experience.
- Speaking of the 2015-2016 season, we still remember your good game in the Real Madrid series in the Playoffs. We would like to hear about that season from your point of view.
Actually, I don’t remember very good series from my standpoint. I played okay, nothing incredible. I think I played very good at Top 16, but yes we won 3-0 against Real Madrid so, I felt really good because two sold out games and the fans were amazing. The atmosphere was incredible. Zeljko Obradovic chose me as an important piece for the team so, he gave me a lot of motivation, but in that team as you know we were the core of the team; Bobby, Kostas, Jan, Kalina, Pero, Ekpe, Bogdan… During the season everyone got important minutes. For sure this season is so special for me because it is one of the best seasons for me.
- In the 2016-2017 season, we won the EuroLeague title, and then became the champion of the Turkish League. Could you tell us if there were any unforgettable memories in the process that lead you to the EuroLeague championship?
We struggled whole season, but I can say one game that we lost against Baskonia at Vitoria. After the game we watched the game and we saw that we played very bad. Everybody felt so bad. But for sure we worked a lot. We did look ourselves and tried to gain a lot of confidence. We managed to finish it strong. The play off games against Panathinaikos was incredible. We won twice in OAKA and we did 3-0. After that we won the EuroLeague title. It was also incredible. After winning the EuroLeague, we won the Turkish League, but it was not easy because we lost lot of energy in EuroLeague, but we managed our energy correctly and won the league too.
- One of the most critical steps on the way to the EuroLeague championship was the Panathinaikos Playoff series, and we all remember the good game you played in this series. Is there any memory you can’t forget and how were the first two games in Greece?
The atmosphere was insane. The people in the basketball court were insane, but we played incredibly good, we played unbelievable. We focused and concentrated better and showed our character. It was not easy, but at the end of the day we were healthy and the score was 2-0. That double win made us understand that we were ready to get the EuroLeague championship.
- How was the atmosphere and the fans in the games against Real Madrid and Olympiakos in the Final Four, played in Istanbul that season?
It was insane. OAKA was the best environment until we played in Istanbul and it was the best environment. 13 thousand people singing all together with yellow t-shirts, it was unbelievable. They boost our energy and of course we played very good so the atmosphere was really good. I will never forget that moment. I felt so lucky to play in such an atmosphere and this organization. Winning the EuroLeague title in front of our fans was incredible.
- The following season, in the Final Four that took place in Belgrade, we lost against Real Madrid with 85-80 in the final game. What do you think went wrong in that game? Also, what would you like to tell us about the Turkish League championship we won that season?
As you know, Final-Four is always so difficult to win because everybody has a chance to win. I think we had the best team, but Real Madrid managed better how to play in the final. They were leading, we couldn’t find any solution to stop Walter Tavares’s offenses. We didn’t play our best game for sure. We could have played better to win. After the final, we won the Turkish League and it was the third championship in a row. Turkish League is so tough and hard too so, it was not easy to win.
- In the 2018-19 season, we finished the EuroLeague regular season in the first place, but due to the injuries towards the end of the league, we lost the games against Anadolu Efes in the Final Four and in the Turkish League final series. Therefore, we finished the season by winning the Turkish Cup only. How would you rate this season?
We were the best team in EuroLeague, no doubt. However, after the injuries of Joffrey, Jan, Kalina, they came to the Final-Four with no preparation. We won the Turkish Cup against Efes it was an unbelievable game. I won the MVP award. It was a really beautiful game. But we didn’t finish the season good. We lost the Turkish League title on game 7. We fight until the last second, but we lost. Also we had many injuries, I came back at game 3, but I didn’t have any preparation. We lost Jan and Joffrey. It was tough. Also, Efes was starting to build their team. They won back to back EuroLeague titles. After that we lost important games, but sometimes you cannot control. We were so sorry for that season.
Champions of Turkish Cup, Fenerbahçe and MVP Gigi Datome.
- We can say that 2019-2020 season was bad for our team, but we took the Turkish Cup to our museum again. What do you think went wrong in the EuroLeague?
That year a lot of players came from a workout with their national teams. We could not prepare much and good. We were not in a good shape to start on a season. We had a great roster; Nando, Derrick and the other players. We were just not in a good shape, but before the pandemic we were back on track I think for a play-off spot. For sure that if we kept on working and increasing our level, it would be different, but the pandemic came. We had to stop the season. We finished the season with the Turkish Cup championship. I was the MVP and it was so tough. We were happy for it.
- You left Fenerbahçe after this season. You are playing for Milano now. How was your last two seasons with Milano and what are your expectations from the next season?
It was very hard for me to leave, but I think it was the right moment to come back to Italy because I want to retire in Italy. Also I won nine cups with Fener, and I want to win trophies in Italy too because I don’t have any trophies in Italy.
- In the last two seasons, you played against Fenerbahçe. How did you feel in these games?
It was so tough for me to play against Fenerbahçe. Yes, Italy is my home, but also Istanbul, Fenerbahçe is my home too. My team, my colors, my club, my teammates… Nobody is more important than Fenerbahçe. Players come and go, but Fenerbahçe stays forever. So I came and went to wear another jersey. I had to focus on my goals that I was trying to win. Also we won at Ülker Arena twice and lost at our home twice. For me playing at Ülker Arena was very difficult because it was home for me and it was hard to play. Playing at Ülker Arena with Milano jersey was one of the most difficult games of my life.
- We would like to hear about Zeljko Obradovic from your point of view, too. What can you tell us about Zeljko Obradovic?
Zeljko was a huge leader of our team. He was the main motivaton for Fenerbahçe’s success. He taught me how to win. I carried what he taught to me to Milan with me because also in Milan I have possibilities to win trophies. For sure I’m very grateful and happy to be one of his players. We reached so much success together.
- After leaving Fenerbahçe, how would you evaluate the current status of our team as a former athlete?
I think Fenerbahçe changed some players. I liked of course how they played against Efes and they won the cup in the finals. I am so happy for them. They were amazing, they were able to beat Efes and deserved the title. I feel sorry for Sasha Djordjevic. He did good job, but this is the part of the business. Also, Dimitris Itoudis is a super high level coach in EuroeLeague and I am sure that he will know how to bring back Fenerbahçe to the elite level of EuroLeague. I saw some players. I like some players and I wish them all the best except our games because next season of course we will play against Fener again.
- Dear Gigi Datome, thank you very much for participating in our interview. We are grateful to you for your contributions to Fenerbahce, on behalf of our fans.