With the Italian finals tipping off on Saturday, Nicolò Origgi has found a player he can relate to well. Like Esteban Batista, he’s got some experience between the sticks, and the Reyer Venezia man is looking to climb to the top with the ball in his hands over the next couple of weeks
Just as if the still painful ousting at the hands of a hard-working and unselfish Trento team was not enough, Olimpia Milano also has to swallow the way their former centre Esteban Batista is rounding into shape at the right time for a Venice squad that has just secured a spot in the Lega A finals. Arrived on the lagoon this spring at the end of the Chinese league with less time to adapt than last season in the fashion capital, the Uruguayan bruiser also had to watch multiple games from the sidelines due to the import players turnover dictated by restrictions to the number of foreigners allowed per roster, but the match-up with an even more imposing phisycal presence such as Avellino’s Kyrylo Fesenko seems to have given him some extra motivation to step up his game no matter what.
Batista, a living mountain with an extremely low centre of gravity that enables him to maximize his reckless strength and unsuspectable mobility, is only the latest among a long list of great big men who have honed their athletic skills on the football pitch between the goalposts. Some other names? From the absolute master Hakeem Olajuwon, through other elite international performers such as Marcin Gortat, Mehmet Okur, and Ronny Turiaf, to lesser known yet remarkable professionals like Serbian standout Zoran Krstanovic – a household name in Romania with high-scoring spells in Austria, Hungary, Ukraine and Switzerland as well.
After wandering for some time in the Spanish minor leagues, a breakout performance at the 2005 Americas championship for his national team – his commitment to the Albiceleste side that he has carried on his back for more than a dozen years would deserve an additional piece – suddenly put Esteban on the radar to the point that he immediately tasted the NBA only five years since he had picked up a basketball for the first time. Unsatisfied by the limited playing time and the futility of those years’ Hawks teams, he took his talents to Tel Aviv. As a Euroleague rookie, this human tank showcased an impressive ability to impact games in limited minutes by overpowering opponents, crashing the offensive glass and fostering solid two-man partnership with any lucky ball handler benefitting from his huge ball screens.
Following a season closer to home in Argentina in order to take on a bigger role, he came back to Europe ready to handle a starting gig in Fuenlabrada, earning through stellar ACB play a new chance to compete in the Euroleague on a rebuilding yet ambitious Baskonia squad. As an almost natural consequence, Turkish giants soon knocked on the door, but the subsequent Anadolu Efes stint did not meet the expectations and led to a deal with perennial outsiders Pinar Karsiyaka. As it had already happened, though, Batista turned what could have easily looked like a demotion into an opportunity: back into a leading frontcourt role, he posted then career-high numbers and helped the green-and-red underdogs lift the Turkish Cup.
Once again, such rediscovered brilliance did not go unnoticed as the first Obradovic-less Panathinaikos in a couple decades secured the Montevideo native’s services. Clearly past their zenith and with a way less stellar roster than in the recent past, the Athens powerhouse put together an extremely unsuccessful campaign given their high standards – a lone Greek Cup is a mere afterthought – but the former extra-large goalie, although inconsistently, was one of the few bright spots for the passionate green faithfuls. Quite predictably, that was not impressive enough to settle in OAKA anyway, so Esteban’s globetrotting life had to go on in China. Thanks to the more compressed league format, after amassing some unprecedented gaudy stats in the Far East there was still time to finish off the season on a high note in Milan. A new quick stop in Beijing followed and the rest of the story is still to be written on Italian soil.
As we have learned in recent weeks and so many other times, an Italian scudetto wearing Olimpia’s jersey should never be taken for granted in spite of the unanimous predictions, but how can it be compared to a very possible repeat in Venice? However we look at this, the only certainty would be the bulky trait d’union between these two different yet winning scenarios.