Recently, I got the opportunity to talk to Željko Rebrača, the retired 7'0" center who played for the Yugoslavia Dream Team of 1990. That team won gold in the FIBA World Championships after running by the U.S. in the semifinals and the Soviet Union in the finals (yes, take a moment to reflect on what different times we live in now).
Rebrača went on to play for the Detroit Pistons from 2001-2004 before being traded to the Atlanta Hawks as part of the Rasheed Wallace deal, and he would watch his former teammates win the title without him that year. He spent his final two years in the league with the Clippers.
Asked about his take on international ball as compared to the NBA, Rebrača compared the international game to the NCAA. He said that it is much slower, more agile, and not as physical as the NBA. Many international players don't make the transition smoothly, and he cautions those who try to make the leap. In fact, his response seemed to imply that he discourages players from even venturing over to the NBA when they could instead play a style that they've grown up playing closer to home. He also claims that he is not the only one to have these sentiments after playing in the league. It makes you wonder: how many foreign players regret their decision to play in the NBA by the end of their careers? We will never know, but it gives us all something interesting to think about over the next few years as we watch young foreign players such as Enes Kanter and Ricky Rubio progress in the league.
So what does the retired basketball legend do in his free time now? Anything but basketball, apparently. Since he retired in 2007, Rebrača claims that he has (shockingly) watched only two games of basketball. He also has not played any ball at all, even something as basic as a simple practice or a pick-up game.
Instead he spends his days running businesses in Serbia, including a sky lounge overlooking the city of Sombor and a sports recreation center with a top-notch restaurant. Though it seems that fewer and fewer athletes today know when to walk away from the game, Rebrača appears to be on the other end of the spectrum, having cut basketball out of his life entirely. Good for him. Perhaps today's aging stars can take a page from his book when the time comes.