The passing of FIBA General Secretary Patrick Baumann at just 51 has stunned the basketball world. Emmet Ryan shares his thoughts
A whole bunch of new stuff had just happened. He’d just overseen the first World Basketball Summit, the seasons for competitions he spearheaded such as the Basketball Champions League and FIBA Europe Cup were just under way. The first qualifiers for next year’s FIBA World Cup had just been decided. All of that seems so whimsical in comparison to what is the case now.
The position you don’t want to be in, that is least comforting, when something like this happens is to be the one who has to act like things are normal.
Someone in Mies, Switzerland, in the headquarters of FIBA has to be that person on Monday. That person, who could be just the person that unlocks the door all the way up to someone in the highest corridors of power, can’t let the reality that how they live has changed radically because everyone is hurting and someone has to be the one taking care of the small stuff to ensure the space required to grieve is there for everyone but them.
Someone in Patrick Baumann’s family has the same task and it can only be an even greater burden as the lives of his wife and two children have changed forever.
Those with these unenviable roles came to mind when the WhatsApp arrived this morning. This corner has jousted plenty with FIBA over the years, that’s a key role of the media, and had a gentlemanly but direct encounter when interviewing Baumann earlier this year. It wasn’t just that the Swiss had made the trip to Ireland, it was that when I was asking if he’d been here before it was obvious that he had more than once already.
Baumann saw the basketball world in the most literal sense of that description. He got himself where he needed to be when he needed to be there to meet as many people growing the game worldwide as he could.
His commitment to the job, whatever disagreements anyone had with him over issues within the sport, couldn’t be questioned. He sought to absorb knowledge from the stakeholders he represented, he made the smaller outposts of the sport feel relevant. That was a result of raw legwork.
He was only the third person to hold the job and both of his predecessors have been recognised at international level by FIBA. Renato William Jones, known mostly as William Jones but Americans with memories of 1972 tend to remember him as Renato Jones, has an annual international tournament in Chinese Taipei named for him.
Borislav Stankovic, widely associated with pushing to get NBA players into the Olympics, has one on China named for him that’s essentially meant to be FIBA’s answer to the Confederations Cup.
Baumann had his own massive focus on Asia, with his five year project around the region picking up steam with next year’s FIBA World Cup in China, following on from the first World Basketball Summit there earlier this year, and concluding in 2023 with the same competition is across Indonesia, Japan, and Philippines. Despite that, the more natural long-term memorial to Baumann might best be served closer to home.
Baumann’s work in making small nations feel better about being themselves, about being relevant in the sport, was felt directly on the ground. The FIBA Small Countries championships in Europe have seen more than a few makeovers across the years. Renaming them the FIBA Baumann Cups would seem an apt legacy for someone who worked to spread the sport.
The tributes have poured in from every corner since this morning for Baumann. He took a chair that wasn’t easy to sit in and made it relevant in the sporting world, moving his own standing beyond just basketball as he grew into broader sporting bodies. Patrick Baumann did a lot in his role and he worked hard at it.
There will be ghoulish duties that nobody wants the next few days. They come, both at home and in work, with the passing of anyone. It’s not fun, it’s unavoidable, and those who take the burden often have no choice in the matter. Basketball must continue and the gears that crank it worldwide, for a large chunk of the sport at least, get in motion in Mies.
In Buenos Aires, a man of 51 suffered a heart attack he never recovered from. Two children lost a father. A wife, her husband. An office, its boss. A sport, a force within. My deepest sympathies to any and all who knew him, I wish I could only sympathise but unfortunately most of us can imagine what you are going through. That’s the rub.
If you are the person who has to act like it’s okay just know this: It’s most definitely okay to not be okay.