(Reuters) – Slovenia’s Goran Dragic competed in his first NBA All Star Game on Sunday, completing a 15-year journey in professional basketball involving thousands of games played in arenas around the world and a handful of individual awards.
When the 31-year-old entered the game as a Team LeBron member during the first quarter, he became the first ever player from Slovenia to achieve the honor.
“For me it means a lot,” the Miami Heat guard told Reuters on Saturday following a practice with his Team LeBron mates.
“For my country, for my people for my family, we have a lot of NBA players in this league, but this is the first time that a Slovenian player makes it. I’m really happy to be a part of this event.”
Dragic recorded two points and four rebounds as Team LeBron defeated Team Stephen 148-145 but there was plenty of significance in his night.
Dragic, who’s enjoyed a globetrotting career and speaks four languages, became the third-oldest guard in NBA history to make his first All Star appearance and it highlighted a long professional road for the veteran. Dragic broke into the NBA in 2008 with the Phoenix Suns, after five years playing in Slovenia and Spain. Playing behind eight-time NBA All Star Steve Nash, Dragic did not enjoy much playing time or success upon his arrival to the United States. “I was thinking of going back to Europe,” Dragic said. “Luckily, I had (team mates) who told me to stay patient and that I would get my opportunity. At the end of the day it happened.”
But it was a slow burn for the crafty left-hander who does not possess the exceptional athleticism of some of his peers.
Dragic was traded to the Houston Rockets during the 2010-11 season, and in his first full campaign with the franchise, he averaged double figure scoring for the first time in his career.
He has never looked back. Dragic was named the NBA’s Most Improved player in 2014 and this past year has reaped the full rewards of a player who stayed the path.
Dragic’s Slovenia captured the EuroBasket 2017 championship in September.
Through his 17.4 points per game average, and a few injuries to players on the original Team LeBron All Star roster, Dragic found himself rubbing shoulders with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the other greats of the game during a night he had long imagined.
“(I used to watch) Michael Jordan, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd and all those guys,” Dragic said. “I was dreaming about this moment and hoping one day to be in their shoes. I tried to practice more and hopefully that moment would come. It did.”
(Reporting by Jahmal Corner; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)