Davis Bertans reveals ideal career finale, stance towards naturalized players in Latvia

Giorgos Kyriakidis
Staff Writer
2023-08-30 05:33

Davis Bertans explores his ties with Serbia, recounts an anecdote with Dusko Vujosevic, and comments on Partizan's series vs. Real Madrid. The OKC forward reflects on his recent trade and takes a clear stance regarding naturalized players in the Latvian NT.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Davis Bertans apparently was in a good mood during Latvia's practice before the game against Team Canada. Trying his signature long-distance shots from every corner of the main court in the Indonesia Arena, he seemed to have placed a bet with himself. 

One day earlier it had been confirmed that his brother, Dairis Bertans, would miss the remainder of the 2023 FIBA World Cup and close to another month of action due to a partial tear of his left hamstring in the contest vs. France. That win vaulted Latvia into the Round of 16 and secured the Baltic team's participation in the Olympic Qualifying tournaments that will be held next summer a few weeks before the Paris Olympics.

Following the loss to Canada (75-101), Latvia stands at 2-1 and will have to beat both Spain and either Brazil or the Ivory Coast to make the quarter-finals. For Davis Bertans, inarguably the most seasoned player on the roster, having gotten that far means a lot. 

Davis Bertans

Davis  Bertans
Position: SF
Age: 30
Height: 205 cm
Weight: 95 kg
Birth place: Valmiera, Latvia

"It's unbelievable. For a country of less than two million people playing on the biggest stage of the world is unimaginable," he told BasketNews.

"You can see how many people are here and you can imagine how many are back home, watching from big screens anywhere, in any city."

Bertans, 30, was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder this summer, after his previous team, the Dallas Mavericks opted for the 12th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft (Dereck Lively II) and a traded player exception. The Latvian forward is on a $17 million deal for 2023-24 and could earn up to 16 million for 2024-25. However, if he fails to play in 75% percent of his games next season, he can be waived for just $5 million.

A second-round pick (No.42) in the 2011 Draft, Bertans entered the NBA in 2016 after playing five seasons in the EuroLeague. His outstanding shooting skills shined during his last campaign in the Old Continent, when he was one of Baskonia's cornerstones in their 2016 Final Four run. Bertans shot 47.4% from behind the arc and 90,5% from the free-throw line that year.

However, it was his stint with Partizan Belgrade that put him on the map for good. Over the course of 2.5 seasons (2012-14), he won three Serbian league titles, one domestic cup and the ABA League in 2013. What's more, he created a strong bond with the club and its fans. Having learned the language when he was still a 5th-grader, Bertans had no problem adjusting to a different country and to a demanding coach like Dusko Vujosevic. 

And even though his NBA career is still active and he's by no means planning to retire anytime soon, he wouldn't mind doing so in a packed Stark Arena. 

How's the team's shaping up after losing Dairis?

The team starts and ends with him, so everybody has to step in. He's left a hole that we'll have to patch up. But it's not going to be one person's job. It's going to be all of us, coming together and giving everybody a little bit extra. 

Coach Luca Banchi suggested teams should be allowed to register more than 12 players before a big tournament. Would you be in favor of that proposal?

Definitely. I think there should be something like that. It's a really tough competition and you got a lot of games in a few days. So, injuries are going to happen.

If your team gets lucky during the tournament, that's great. But there should be something like a FIBA doctor who says, 'This guy isn't able to play, so you can replace him with someone who's been previously on the list.' That's definitely something that FIBA should implement. 

If the win against France was the biggest in Latvia's basketball history, how big would a quarter-final spot be for this team?

We achieved the small goal of coming here, which was beating Lebanon and getting into the Olympic Qualifiers so that we have the chance to go to the Olympics. The small goals are set, now we have the big ones left. Another win would mean being one step closer to the quarter-finals. 

There's been some rumors about Mike James having been considered for the Latvian national team. What's your take on naturalized players joining in?

I'm extremely proud of our country. We have our values and we want to have every single Latvian on the team; every single one that has the chance to play for the national team. From the 12-man roster, all 12 will always be Latvian as long as I'm playing. I can guarantee you that. And I mean born and raised Latvian, not with a given passport.

How did you manage to adjust so quickly to the NBA?

Well, for me, it didn't really change much. I just shoot. It's the same game in that way. The distance is bigger, but for me not really because I don't shoot from the line (smiles).

The only difference for me is on the defensive end. You can't defend the paint from the weak side here as much as you want and have more help on defense. You can't trust that your big is going to be there when you're guarding in the perimeter.

That's definitely the easier thing in the FIBA tournaments. In the NBA, if you're left alone with a great iso player, you'll get scored out more often than not. 

What do you think will be different for you in Oklahoma compared to Dallas?

After the trade, I was in touch with the coach and the GM. They said I'm going to have a fair shot at playing. They told me they depend on me. So, that's all that matters to me. I missed two months last season with a knee problem. It's kind of hard to jump in when everybody's in their top form and I'm just getting started. Now, the main thing is that I'm in good shape and ready to go as soon as I get there.

Do you keep track of the EuroLeague?

I mostly follow Partizan games. I definitely wasn't happy about the playoffs. I watched the whole series with Real Madrid. The way things turned out, with Partizan having more players out for one of the most important games of the season wasn't fair. It wasn't their fault that the fight broke out. That was tough to watch.

Other than that?

No, that's about it. It's all Partizan.

No Baskonia on the menu?

Not that much. I don't have that much time. Partizan is the first big team that's in my heart. Of course, I always wish Baskonia well and I hope they're going to compete well in the EuroLeague and the Spanish league. But with the limited time I have, I follow Partizan more. 

How did your relationship with Serbia start?

First of all, when I was 12-13, I learned Russian early. So, moving to Serbia, within three months, I understood every single word they said. Then, it took another 3-4 months for people to find out.

Actually, a funny thing happened with coach [Dusko] Vujosevic. The paychecks were always late. So, he tells us, 'Our sponsors paid some money. Who hasn't got a paycheck?' And he's speaking always Serbian. Without the translation, I was the first guy to raise my hand. He was like, 'So, now you started to understand Serbian.' Since that day, he made me speak to the media in Serbian during the press conferences, before and after the games.

So, that really helped me improve on the language and start speaking. Now, I'm not going to say my Serbian is as good as my English but it's close.

Do you keep in touch with people on the team?

Mostly with Bogdan Bogdanovic. During the NBA season, we meet each other plenty of times. We try to keep in touch, by texting. 

Credit Reuters-Scanpix

I guess Partizan would be your first option if you were to ever come back to Europe, right?

Definitely. Partizan is always in my mind and in my heart. But we'll see what the future holds -- how many years I have left and how many I've got in the NBA. 

Would you like to retire in the NBA?

Of course. That's the number one league in the world and it was always a dream to play there. So, yeah. But at the same time, in a way, it would be a dream to finish my career with a game in a big arena in Belgrade.


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