KK Partizan lost a game of basketball on Thursday night to Real Madrid but they succeeded where it mattered and that will never be forgotten
We have a saying in Ireland, we describe people as “More Irish than the Irish themselves.” It refers to people that move here and adopt our habits, our mannerisms, our view on life, everything that is quintessentially Irish. When I look at Mathias Lessort I see a man who is more Partizan than Partizan itself. He embodies the spirit, the love, the passion, and the unending spirit that defines that club.
He always brings it but, on Thursday evening, it felt that bit more special.
Sport is, outside of everything else, a release. It is 40 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, 5 sets, however many laps, and so on away from all of life’s problems. Be it in a kitchen in Dublin viewing on a laptop or amongst more than 20,000 screaming friends in the Stark Arena, that bond is the same even if the experiences have understandably different flavours.
I can’t possibly begin to understand what the people of Belgrade are going through right now, let alone those close to those who were murdered on Wednesday, but I do know two things. I know what it is to hurt and I know what it is to need a break, any kind of break, from it even if it is only temporary. The distraction sport brings can’t make the pain go away but it can at least make it subside briefly.
On Tuesday evening, as Partizan fans went home to bed, their only concern was whether their team would be able to get the win on Thursday. On Thursday, whether they won or not, having Partizan in their lives gave them a salve.
The moments before the game were exactly what we expected, pure class from the Partizan faithful. Then came the matter of a basketball game with stakes, at least as far as there are stakes in sport, of the highest order.
That last sentence felt extremely stupid to write. In the grand scheme of things, sport is so unimportant yet it is that lack of importance that makes it matter. It is where we are allowed to feel without great risk to our wider lives. It is where friendships are forged and nurtured, it gives us something to discuss with friends, memories of joy and pain to share, moments that get etched in our minds forever, and we all get to go home and sleep it off in the end.
On Wednesday, 9 people of whom 8 were teenagers didn’t get to go home. Many more who did and the families of all those affected will never forget this day much as they wish beyond all that they could.
I doubt, well I know, that for most of those who survived or who are close to those impacted, that a game of basketball in Belgrade would have meant little or anything but I also know that any help whatsoever that sport can bring is worth the effort.
It is our helplessness in such impossible situations that leads us to our finest moments. We do whatever we can to aid those who hurt. To a man, from players, to coaches, through administrators, volunteers, and, of course, fans, Partizan showed their character and their courage. All of them will feel it was not enough because that is human. Players will be frustrated at missed shots or broken D. Coaches will feel they made the wrong calls. Fans will wonder if they willed their team enough.
That’s why, especially if you are a Partizan fan reading this, I want you to think of Mathias Lessort. He only came to your club in 2021 yet look at how he embodies the very best of what you are. Every break of the ball had him fighting, sometimes failing but always fighting, because you made him one of you. You made him believe in what Partizan is and he has embraced it like it was always his home. Even in this kitchen in Dublin it is as clear to me as the day what you have done.
Partizan lost a basketball game. It happens. Partizan won over one old cynic in Dublin tonight and countless more across the continent. That, to me at least, seems like the win the people needed above all others tonight.