It happens here in Australia just as it does everywhere. Eventually, every great basketball player leaves their home nation to make their name known in the NBA. Whether it be the draw of huge sums of money offered for contract buyouts and salary, the excitement of playing for a globally recognised team or a multitude of other things, there’s one thing for sure: the basketball world is quickly becoming flat, a zero-sum sport where you either make it, or you don’t. That outcome usually revolves around a draft into one league only – the NBA.
Sergio Llull bucks the trend completely. Despite the Houston Rockets spending a massive $3.5 million AUD to secure his NBA rights from any other team, Llull can’t find any pertinent reason to leave Madrid anytime soon.
Llull is a talented shot, able to pass and handle the ball on offence and also effortlessly switch positions on defence. For these reasons, Daryl Morey, the Rockets general manager, believed 3.5 million AUD, the most money ever spent on a second-round draft pick, was well worth it.
That draft pick was back in 2009. Morey and the Rockets have been waiting for Sergio Llull ever since.
Now, nearly a decade later, in a recent interview in Spain Llull gave the press the same message he’s been giving the Rockets for years: He’s not planning to leave Madrid.
“It’s home,” said Llull, now aged 30. “I came here when I was 19-years-old. I was a kid. I grew up here as a player and person. I’m really happy to be here and this is the place I want to be.”
Sergio Llull’s contract with Real Madrid technically lasts another three years but there are a multitude of great reasons for him to accept a buyout and leave for the Rockets, just as many have done before him and many will continue to do for years to come. Particularly because Llull is a two-time Euroleague champion with Real Madrid and a three-time Eurobasket gold medalist with his national team. In terms of big fish in small ponds, Llull could be seen as a whale.
But Llull says he’s comfortable where he is, doing what he loves in a place he loves. He also gets to wear number 23, the number of basketball legends LeBron James and Michael Jordan, as he wins championships as the hero of his hometown team, two things that probably don’t do much for convincing him to change his current situation.
To this day, the Rockets executives pay him a recruiting visit him at least once a year and still send him constant text messages. They’re confident that one day he’ll want to scratch that NBA itch.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, Llull says he’s itch-free where he is: in Madrid.